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: 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: Woman On the Run (1950)

Release Date: October 12th, 1950 (Boston premiere)
Directed by: Norman Foster
Written by: Alan Campbell, Norman Foster, Ross Hunter (dialogue)
Based on: Man On the Run by Sylvia Tate
Music by: Arthur Lange, Emil Newman
Cast: Ann Sheridan, Dennis O’Keefe, Robert Keith

Fidelity Pictures Corporation, Universal Pictures, 77 Minutes

Review:

“Frank’s condition isn’t any worse than tons of men that strain their hearts running in track meets in the misguided belief that they were building up their bodies.” – Dr. Arthur Hohler

I didn’t know much about this movie until it was featured on TCM’s Noir Alley. But apparently the Film Noir Foundation restored it almost two decades ago and then about ten years ago, that print was lost in a fire. Then, more recently, a negative print of the film was found in London and it was restored for a second time.

It’s a pretty unique and energetic film-noir that really is carried by the charm of Ann Sheridan. But in addition to that, she’s paired up well with both Dennis O’Keefe and Robert Keith. She is usually playing off of one actor or the other from scene to scene but man, the dialogue exchanges between Sheridan and both of the top billed men is really entertaining stuff.

Plus, the writing is witty and clever and Sheridan’s charisma is only enhanced by the strong dialogue and unique situations she finds herself in.

Really, all parties involved are top notch in this movie and while I can’t quite call this a film-noir masterpiece, I think this is better than several of the films that are looked at in much higher regard than this nearly lost gem.

Originally, it was supposed to be filmed in New Orleans but due to the movie being produced by a new, upstart studio and the budgetary concerns that come with that, it was shot in San Francisco. But this actually benefits the film, as it really captures noir era San Francisco in a beautiful way. Although, with so many film-noirs being filmed in San Francisco, a New Orleans setting could have made this a bit more unique.

Additionally, this picture feels like a moving painting. Since it spends a good amount of time looking at art, within the film, it’s kind of neat to see the motion picture have the same sort of majestic allure as a beautiful painting. The lighting, cinematography and shot framing are incredible, especially in the big finale at the amusement park.

That being said, the amusement park stuff is stupendous. I love the sequence with Sheridan on the roller coaster even if it looks hokey and dated almost 70 years later.

In fact, as much as I like this film, it’s the big finale that really takes things to another level and cements this as a real worthwhile and enjoyable classic film-noir.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Too Late for Tears, Please Murder Me!, The Man Who Cheated HImself and Impact.

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: Nobody Lives Forever (1946)

Release Date: November 1st, 1946
Directed by: Jean Negulesco
Written by: W.R. Burnett
Based on: Nobody Lives Forver by W.R. Burnett
Music by: Adolph Deutsch
Cast: John Garfield, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Walter Brennan, Faye Emerson

Warner Bros., 100 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t wanna get rough with you unless I have to!” – Nick Blake

This film starts out as a very gritty film-noir crime tale. But it actually evolves into something with a real sweetness to it once the two leads, John Garfield and Geraldine Fitzgerald, come into contact with one another and romance blooms. Granted, this is not a romance film, in the traditional sense.

It also has a solid femme fatale, played by the incredibly alluring Faye Emerson.

This picture is well acted from top to bottom and as much as I love Garfield, Fitzgerald and Emerson, there is a real scene stealer in George Coulouris. Man, this guy just takes over each scene where he appears.

The story follows a con man and former World War II soldier that wants to go straight. However, as noirs go, he has to pull off one more job before he can attempt to live a normal life. And also as noirs go, there are twists and turns and this last job isn’t going to be an easy one. Especially when a woman gets caught up in the middle of it all and melts his heart. It also doesn’t help that his ex-girlfriend shows up to throw a wrench in the machine.

The film is written by W.R. Burnett, a man who wrote solid films like Little Caesar, Scarface, High Sierra, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Asphalt Jungle, The Racket and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. Burnett always seemed to write things that I thoroughly enjoyed and this picture was no different. It’s well paced, has layers, surprises and doesn’t get bogged down by being too typical for a noir.

The cinematography is superb but it’s really the set design that gives this film its visual life. Everything either looks opulent and pristine or it looks lush and robust. Even the dim and gritty looking finale of the film has a set with character.

Not to spoil anything but its nice that this film doesn’t end in complete tragedy and that the protagonists go on to live the life that they want. Sometimes that’s nice in a noir, as it certainly isn’t the standard. Here, it just works and by film’s end, I was glad that these two endearing characters weren’t fodder for the bullets of the law. Maybe that’s because despite some of his shady actions, Garfield’s character still had a good moral center and never got wrapped up in the femme fatale’s tentacles and instead, chose the good woman.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: High Sierra, Humoresque, Three Strangers and He Ran All the Way.

Film Review: Border Incident (1949)

Also known as: Border Patrol, Wetbacks (working titles)
Release Date: October 28th, 1949
Directed by: Anthony Mann
Written by: John C. Higgins, George Zuckerman
Music by: Andre Previn
Cast: Ricardo Montalban, George Murphy, Howard Da Silva, James Mitchell, Charles McGraw

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 94 Minutes

Review:

“What is cheaper than time, señor? Everybody has the same amount.” – Zopilote

This isn’t my favorite film-noir by Anthony Mann but it is still a quality film that rivals his other ones.

A very young Ricardo Montalban is the star here, and man, he shines like a supernova and really carries this badass movie on his shoulders.

What’s unique about this, is that it takes place on the Mexican border and was mostly filmed in the wilderness in the desert areas of Southern California and the northern portion of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. The location shooting made this majestic and added some gravitas to the already heavy and serious proceedings.

The plot is about a gang that smuggles Mexican farm workers across the border into California. The gang ends up killing the immigrants, which leads to federal investigators going undercover to destroy the gang. With typical noir twists, the agents end up having to fight the gang leader for their own survival.

Montalban and George Murphy were both superb as the agents seeking justice, while Howard Da Silva was a perfect, sinister heavy, out for their blood.

The film is certainly intense and it has a gritty realism to it, even for its time, where many big studio motion pictures had a lot of visual luster and prestige. But Mann was perfect at achieving his vision in a time where his stylistic choices weren’t common.

Border Incident has stupendous cinematography and lighting. Mann was a master of mise-en-scène and this motion picture is just further proof of that. The use of natural lighting was especially impressive in the outdoor scenes. Mann knew how to manufacture doom and gloom, visually.

I really liked this film and I believe that is the last of Mann’s noir pictures for me to review. That’s kind of sad and I put this one off for awhile because of that.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Anthony Mann film-noir pictures: T-Men, Desperate, He Walked by Night, Raw Deal and Side Street.

Comic Review: Tinseltown

Published: April 19th, 2018 – January 10th, 2019
Written by: David Lucarelli
Art by: Henry Ponciano, HdE

Alterna Comics, 118 Pages

Review:

I’ve gotten way behind on comics and my Alterna stack has been piling up, as a few different series have come to an end over the last few months. I’ve been waiting to read this one since I got the first issue, almost a year ago, but I was waiting to get the entire story so that I could binge read it.

Tinseltown is one of the best books I’ve read from Alterna but the company produces so many good indie comics that this really is head and shoulders above a lot of the other stuff on the shelves.

The story is about a young woman living in Hollywood who has aspirations of becoming a cop in an era where women weren’t really accepted on the police force. She starts out as a security guard for a film studio but soon finds herself caught up in a noir-style mystery.

If you like cop stories, historical fiction, the golden age of Hollywood or film-noir, then there is certainly something here for you to enjoy. If you love all of those things, than this comic book is a real treat.

David Lucarelli wrote a very good story and the art by Henry Onciano did a fine job of capturing the style and tones of the era.

This was a fun read with a lot of energy and heart. I’m not sure if there is a future miniseries in the works or not but I liked this enough that I hope this isn’t the last we see of this character and her journey.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other recent stuff from Alterna Comics.