Film Review: Talk About a Stranger (1952)

Also known as: The Stranger in the House (working title), The Enemy (script title)
Release Date: April 18th, 1952
Directed by: David Bradley
Written by: Margaret Fitts
Based on: The Enemy by Charlotte Armstrong
Music by: David Buttolph
Cast: George Murphy, Nancy Davis, Billy Gray, Lewis Stone, Kurt Kasznar

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 65 Minutes

Review:

“Something doesn’t stand up. A guy like Matlock who lives like a pig and dresses like a hobo, drives a nicer car than I do and has a $500 watch!” – Talmadge

Talk About a Stranger is a little known film-noir that was made on a fairly scant budget but still lost money due to it not performing very well at the box office. It was washed away and forgotten about over time but it was recently featured on TCM’s Noir Alley, which is where I saw it.

The story stars a young boy, Billy Gray, who plays Bud Fontaine. He meets a new neighbor, who he instantly dislikes and starts to blame for everything wrong that happens in the story. Eventually, Bud discovers his new dog is dead and it looks as if the animal was poisoned. He immediately blames the new neighbor, Matlock.

Bud gets more and more unhinged as the film rolls on. He wants to believe that Matlock is an evil man so badly that he acts out, becoming a little terror obsessed with exposing the quiet recluse that just wants to be left alone.

Eventually, we find out Matlock’s true story which is sad and heartbreaking. The boy realizes his folly and this at least ends with a happy ending for everyone. Matlock even gives the boy a puppy to help him heal and to show that he’s not angry with the little hellion.

Billy Gray was best known as another character named Bud on the hit TV show Father Knows Best. He was also in the classic sci-fi film The Day the Earth Stood Still. He was the son of actress Beatrice Gray, who would bring Billy to set with her a lot. Billy then got into acting at a very young age.

His performance here is quite good. He gets annoying but it’s the role he’s playing and not his actual performance.

The story is pretty good and it almost had a bit of The ‘Burbs feel to it. Granted, it’s not a comedy and the neighbor doesn’t end up being the bad guy but it deals with similar issues in how it delves into paranoia surrounding a new and mysterious neighbor.

This isn’t a memorable film but it was still entertaining and it flew by rather quickly at just 65 minutes.

Sadly, there isn’t a trailer online that I can link below per usual.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: another film-noir staring a young kid, The Window.

Film Review: Crack-Up (1946)

Also known as: Galveston (working title)
Release Date: September 6th, 1946
Directed by: Irving Reis, James Anderson (assistant)
Written by: John Paxton, Ben Bengal, Ray Spencer
Based on: Madman’s Holiday by Frederic Brown
Music by: Leigh Harline
Cast: Pat O’Brien, Claire Trevor, Herbert Marshall, Ray Collins

RKO Radio Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Wouldn’t it be smarter to go to Cochrane and get this thing out in the open?” – Terry Cordell, “About as smart as cutting my throat to get some fresh air.” – George Steele

I had never heard of Crack-Up until it was featured on TCM’s Noir Alley.

While not a great noir, it was certainly intense and it kept you glued to your seat, as things escalated and layers of this mystery started to be peeled back.

It stars Pat O’Brien and Claire Trevor, both of whom did quite good in this. I’ve always liked Trevor’s work, especially in noir.

The film was directed by Irving Reis, who wasn’t usually behind the camera on noir pictures and was more famous for directing films like The Bachelor and the Bobby-SoxerThe Gay Falcon, The Big Street and The Four Poster. He also didn’t have a terribly long career when compared to other well-known directors of his day but he did have a real knack for framing shots superbly and for utilizing the tools around him.

While this film does grab you quickly, it starts to taper off a bit towards the end, as it inches towards its climax. It wasn’t a big issue for me but it lost some momentum and probably could have been more effective at around 75 minutes with the final act fine tuned more.

For the time, the lighting effects were solid and I love the scene where O’Brien is watching another approaching train that he fears is going to collide with the one he’s riding on.

I loved the use of trains in the film, as well as setting some scenes in a museum while also critiquing art critics. I’m not sure if that was done in defense of art that challenges tradition or if this film wasn’t that smart. Regardless, it was interesting to see.

With lots of suspense, this is a better than average thriller that is maybe a bit too unknown and probably underrated.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other RKO Radio Pictures film-noirs of the era.

Film Review: Too Late for Tears (1949)

Also known as: Killer Bait (reissue title)
Release Date: July 17th, 1949 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Byron Haskin
Written by: Roy Huggins
Based on: Too Late for Tears by Roy Huggins
Music by: R. Dale Butts
Cast: Lizabeth Scott, Don DeFore, Dan Duryea, Arthur Kennedy

Hunt Stromberg Productions, United Artists, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t ever change, Tiger. I don’t think I’d like you with a heart.” – Danny Fuller

This was a film that was lost for decades but was recently restored by The Noir Foundation.

It stars two noir greats: Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea.

That being said, the performances are damn good. Lizabeth Scott is, by far, one of my favorite femme fatales and Dan Duryea is just a perfect noir heavy.

The story starts with a couple driving through the Hollywood Hills at night. They stop during an argument and a car speeding by literally throws a bag of money at them. They take the bag, just as another car approaches them, obviously on the hunt for the cash. They get away with the money but the greed overcomes the woman, who spends the rest of the film succumbing to her greed and destroying anything in the way of that greed.

It’s not a greatly conceived plot but it works for the heyday of film-noir.

The film really is carried by the performances of Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea. In fact, it suffers a bit once Duryea is killed off.

Still, the cinematography was good and the direction was solid.

This wasn’t the best outing for either star but it was fun seeing them together and their chemistry worked.

Also, it is great seeing films like this restored, after being missing or incomplete for years. I always look forward to seeing films resurrected for modern audiences, whether they are good, bad or somewhere in between.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures with Lizabeth Scott: Pitfall, Dead Reckoning, Desert Fury, Dark City, The Racket and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.

Film Review: Watchmen (2009)

Release Date: February 23rd, 2009 (London premiere)
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: David Hayter, Alex Tse
Based on: Watchmen by Dave Gibbons, Alan Moore (uncredited)
Music by: Tyler Bates
Cast: Malin Åkerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, Stephen McHattie, Matt Frewer

Warner Bros. Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Lawrence Gordon Productions, 162 Minutes, 186 Minutes (Director’s Cut), 215 Minutes (Ultimate Cut)

Review:

“None of you seem to understand. I’m not locked in here with you. You’re locked in here with me!” – Rorschach

When Watchmen first came out, I was super excited just based off of the trailer alone and having just come off the greatness that was Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. However, once seeing the film, I was pretty disappointed. Because of that, I never watched it again until now, ten years later, shy of two months.

I really wanted to give this another shot but if I was going to watch it, it had to be the Ultimate Cut. I needed to see the director’s complete vision and adaptation of the comic, which I have loved since first picking it up in the early ’90s.

I don’t know if it’s because I finally watched the Ultimate Cut or because all those years ago, I saw this three hour epic at a midnight showing and grew dead tired but this was not the same experience. This was something much greater and even closer to what Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ great comic was supposed to be. I’ve been hard on Zack Snyder before and while this isn’t perfection, it’s still a stupendous adaptation that hits the right notes narrative wise and tonally.

I think that one major issue I had with it initially, is that it is almost a panel to shot recreation of the comic. I thought that it should have taken a bit more creative license but seeing the complete version, I’m glad that they didn’t and my initial assessment was wrong.

It’s been so long since I saw the theatrical version, so it’s hard for me to tell what wasn’t in that one and what was added to this version but the most notable addition is the inclusion of the animated bits, which tell the story of The Black Freighter, which had its story sprinkled throughout the original comic. The movie felt like it was missing that in the original version and the way that they use it here is really cool. Also, the animation was incredible and also matched the tone of the comic quite well.

The only big difference between this and the comic is the omission of the giant kaiju monster that wrecked New York City. It’s replaced here with a more realistic threat but I felt like the kaiju thing was always really cool and I feel like it would have worked in the film. But it’s exclusion doesn’t really hurt the movie. I’m just baffled as to why it was changed when everything else is so damn close to the source material. Plus, kaiju make everything better.

I thought that the acting in the film was exceptional and as great as it is, there are two people who really stole the show: Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian. These two guys had an incredible presence when they were on the screen. This was also the first time I noticed Morgan and I’m glad to see him carve out a fine career since this picture.

Malin Åkerman and Patrick Wilson carry the bulk of the acting duties, as the story seems to feature them the most, even though it balances all these characters very well. I thought both of them put in solid performances. But I can’t really knock anyone in the movie for not carrying their weight and doing the source material justice.

This was and still is the greatest thing that Zack Snyder has ever directed. I’m not trying to knock his more recent work but I feel like he’s always trying to recapture the lightning in a bottle that he had here and it just isn’t working on the same level for him.

The Ultimate Cut is very long, almost four hours. However, it moves swiftly and a lot of ground is covered in that time. As I get older, I don’t have the attention span to sit and watch long movies like this in one sitting but the length didn’t bother me here. I was glued to the screen and sucked into this universe.

I’m glad that I finally got to revisit Watchmen and that I went with the Ultimate Cut. This should be the version that everyone watches and the only one that exists.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: it’s pretty damn unique but I guess if you needed to pair it with something, Blade Runner or The Dark Knight.

Film Review: The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)

Also known as: The Lodger (shortened title)
Release Date: January, 1927 (London premiere)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Eliot Stannard
Based on: The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes
Cast: Marie Ault, Arthur Chesney, June Tripp, Malcolm Keen, Ivor Novello

Gainsborough Pictures, Carlyle Blackwell Productions, 74 Minutes (National Film Archive print), 90 Minutes (TCM print), 67 Minutes (video version), 98 Minutes (Ontario version), 92 Minutes (2012 theatrical version), 90 Minutes (2012 restoration)

Review:

“Tall he was – and his face all wrapped up.” – Female Eyewitness

Being a big Hitchcock fanboy, I thought I really owed it to myself to go back and look at his really early work. So, with this, I went back to the silent era. This was also made before he made his way to Hollywood and became the premiere director of his time.

The Lodger is a dark and dreary film but it does have its lighthearted moments too. Hitchcock, even as early as 1927, was able to create a good balance between an intense thriller vibe and humor. This skill allowed him to lighten the tension, at the right moments, and he could do that like no other director from his era. And, in fact, seeing it used so well here, shows me that he was ahead of his time in how he constructed the narrative of his thrillers.

Another thing that was ahead of its time or, at least, much more advanced than the industry standard, was how Hitchcock did the title cards in his film. Many of them were animated and had a life and vibrancy that was unseen. He also used really interesting colors with them, which provided a bit more tonal context. You couldn’t watch this compared to what was common at the time and accuse this film of lacking energy.

Also, Hitchcock did a lot of interesting shots of people in close ups, reacting to things. While that’s not uncommon for the 1920s, he did it in a more avant-garde way.

Ultimately, this film really felt like Hitchcock was experimenting with a lot of techniques and style but it works really well here.

The story deals with a serial killer. He is only described as being tall and having a scarf around the lower half of his face. Not too long after that, a mysterious man moves into a room in the neighborhood and he fits the description of the killer, who is still at large.

I don’t want to spoil anything beyond that but this almost has a plot that feels noir in its style. But then a lot of Hitchcock films had noir qualities and tropes.

For 1927, this is a really solid motion picture. It was a very effective thriller that had me engaged from start to finish. It has an atmosphere that envelops you.

What The Lodger really showed me, however, is that Hitchcock was a pretty capable director from the get go and a true auteur.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other very early films by Hitchcock.

Film Review: Rashômon (1950)

Release Date: August 26th, 1950 (Japan)
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Written by: Akira Kurosawa
Based on: In a Grove by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
Music by: Fumio Hayasaka
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyō, Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki

Daiei Film, 88 Minutes

Review:

“It’s human to lie. Most of the time we can’t even be honest with ourselves.” – Commoner

Kurosawa is one of the best filmmakers of all-time. I have a deep admiration for a lot of his pictures. However, Rashômon isn’t at the top of my list, even though it really brought him worldwide notoriety and won an Academy Award.

It’s still a really good film but I always gravitated to his action heavy samurai epics like Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood and Yojimbo or his crime films like Stray Dog and Drunken Angel. But this film is still very engaging and maybe more intimate than the others, as it has a very small cast and really just focuses on a single event.

The purpose of the film is to tell the story of this event from four different perspectives. Kurosawa did this because he wanted to show how different interpretations can greatly vary. Also, within that, Kurosawa wanted to show how memory or bias can sway factual accuracy.

Initially, Japanese critics weren’t too fond of the film and they were a bit baffled when Western audiences praised it. Ultimately, this film opened the gates for Japanese cinema, as it was now being appreciated by audiences across the world.

The film deals with some heavy subject matter, especially for 1950. The story deals with the rape of a woman and the apparent murder of her husband. I don’t really think that this is a film that could have been made in America, at the time. I also think that its gritty realism is what caught audiences by surprise and captivated them, as Hollywood films were typically so clean and pristine. Even the grittiest of film-noir pictures didn’t get this dark.

Historically, this is one of the most important foreign films of all-time. It paved the way for other directors and new genres that made their way to the States. It allowed Kurosawa to have the respect and freedom to make better films, some of which became the best movies ever made.

I don’t want to take anything away from this. It’s doesn’t necessarily resonate with me like a lot of Kurosawa’s other work but I can’t deny it’s place in history, its influence and the great craftsmanship it took to bring it to life.

Also, the sequence where the dead husband speaks through a medium is legitimately creepy. I did love that part of the film.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other Kurosawa films of the late ’40s and early ’50s.

Film Review: You Were Never Really Here (2017)

Also known as: A Beautiful Day (Germany, France, Italy)
Release Date: May 27th, 2017 (Cannes)
Directed by: Lynne Ramsay
Written by: Lynne Ramsay
Based on: You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames
Music by: Jonny Greenwood
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alex Manette, John Doman, Judith Roberts

Film4 Productions, British Film Institute, Why Not Productions, Page 114, Amazon Studios, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Where you spend your time? What do you do?” – Joe’s Mother

I heard a lot of exceptional things about this film and it sort of came and went without much fanfare, even though it premiered last year at Cannes. It’s an Amazon Studios film and they’ve been putting out a lot of great indie pictures, as of late.

While I enjoyed this, it didn’t blow me away like it seems to have for so many others.

To start, Joaquin Phoenix is damn good in this. He plays this character almost in monotone and it’s an understated performance but it works so well that it gives the character more depth and meaning than being overly emotional or rampaging against the vile scum in the film.

Phoenix is almost sweet even though he becomes a one man killing machine in his effort to save a very young girl from high profile sexual predators. The film is similar in a lot of ways to Taxi Driver but the main character is almost the antithesis of Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle. Granted, both men are damaged but Phoenix’s Joe is a lot less outwardly emotional.

Young actress, Ekaterina Samsonov, was also pretty stellar and her performance was understated, as well. It makes me wonder if things naturally flowed this way or if it was the director’s choice to have her two leads perform in a more subtle style. Whatever the case, it works for both characters and the tone of the film, as it feels more organic and natural than what’s typical in these types of pictures.

I thought that the cinematography and mise-en-scène had an enchanting quality from shot to shot. There was a lot of detail to absorb but the stylistic choices really supported the narrative and the overall tone.

All the parts came together quite nicely but if I had to nitpick, I’d say that this did lack some excitement. It’s hard to see a picture like this and not expect some good action. There almost is none, really. This is more about the emotional journey of the characters within the story than being an uber violent revenge flick.

I’m all for artistic license but I really wanted to see Pheonix actually go ape shit on the evil bastards in the film. But I’m also a child of the ’80s and devoured ’80s action films like an old lady at a bon bon buffet.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other modern vigilante films: the Death Wish remake, the Taken films, Death Sentence.