Film Review: Grand Central Murder (1942)

Release Date: May, 1942
Directed by: S. Sylvan Simon
Written by: Peter Ruric
Based on: Grand Central Murder by Sue MacVeigh
Music by: David Snell
Cast: Van Heflin, Patricia Dane, Sam Levene, Cecilia Parker, Virginia Grey, Tom Conway

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Where were you raised? Didn’t anyone ever tell you its bad luck to whistle in a dressing room?” – Mida King, “I’m sorry miss, I… I was raised in a cattle boat, where folks whistle when they feel like it, including the cows!” – Whistling Messenger

Grand Central Murder is an example of a very early noir picture just before the style really started to take shape. It’s also a comedy and because of that, isn’t a straight crime picture but more of a tongue-in-cheek, amusing take on the evolving crime genre.

This sits just between the super popular gangster films that ruled the ’30s and the noir boom that happened in the mid-’40s. It also stars Van Heflin, who might just be the perfect guy to be featured front and center in a film that works as a bridge during this stylistic shift.

While I liked the amusing bits, I think that this would’ve been a much better and actually, really good, crime picture had it played it straight.

What I did like about this movie is that it doesn’t waste time and it moves at a brisk pace getting from point-to-point without trying to pad itself out with a bunch of filler. Even with the comedic moments, the film still flows like a steady river and picks up the right sort of momentum, leading into the climax.

Like a typical noir picture, it has a mystery that comes with some swerves. But I thought that the reveal and the solving of the crime was well done, especially in a time where this picture couldn’t be influenced by all of the other films like it. For the most part, those films didn’t exist yet.

Granted, I can’t necessarily call it an intelligent film but it’s more than competent and it certainly entertained this noir buff for 73 minutes.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other very early film-noir pictures.

Film Review: Hell Bound (1957)

Also known as: Cargo X, Dope Ship (working titles)
Release Date: October, 1957
Directed by: William J. Hole Jr.
Written by: Richard H. Landau, Arthur E. Orloff
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: John Russell, June Blair, Stuart Whitman, Margo Woode, George E. Mather

Bel-Air Productions, Clark Productions, 69 Minutes

Review:

Someone, but I forgot who, told me that Hell Bound was a hidden noir gem at the end of the classic film-noir era. While it’s okay, I thought it was hardly a gem.

From a criminal scheme standpoint, the film is intriguing, as it follows a gang plotting to rob a cargo ship carrying two million dollars worth of narcotics left over from World War II. Although, by 1957, those drugs may have expired or turned extra deadly. Adjusted for inflation, though, that two million is over eighteen million in 2020.

The heist falls apart when one of the gang member’s girlfriend falls in love with an ambulance driver who has been set up to be a pawn in the scheme.

I think the only real high point in the film is the finale. It sees a big confrontation that takes place at the Los Angeles Harbor, where, at the time, it was the resting place of hundreds of scrapped trolleys.

The film is competently shot, fairly well acted but it doesn’t offer up much that is notable outside of the climax and the scope of the heist.

As far as noir pictures go, it’s not bad but it’s far from great. Mostly, it’s forgettable.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures of the ’40s and ’50s.

Film Review: Casablanca (1942)

Also known as: Everybody Comes to Rick’s (original script title)
Release Date: November 26th, 1942 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
Written by: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, Howard Koch
Based on: Everybody Comes to Rick’s by Murray Burnett, Joan Alison
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre

Warner Bros., 102 Minutes, 82 Minutes (cut version)

Review:

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.” – Rick

As much as I love Humphrey Bogart, noir-esque pictures of the classic era and the films of Michael Curtiz, I’m still going to be that oddball that says that this film is slightly overrated.

Don’t get me wrong, I still adore Casablanca and it has left the universe with possibly more famous lines than any other motion picture but it’s not perfect, even if I still see it as a cinematic masterpiece.

I also can’t fully quantify or elaborately explain why I don’t view it as “perfect” but I kind of just put that on the fact that it’s not a film I really want to revisit all that often. In fact, as much as I do actually like it, I put off reviewing it for a long time because I just wasn’t ever in the right mood for it.

Full disclosure, I was also waiting to revisit it on the big screen but it’s one of those all-time classics that hasn’t played on the big screen in my area since before I started Talking Pulp. If my local theater plays Gigi one more time over anything else, I’m going to throw popcorn bucket at the theater director.

Moving on, as much as I like Bogart, I wouldn’t call this his best performance. It’s absolutely exceptional but I still think it falls below his acting in 1950’s A Lonely Place. Bogart was always on his A-game though, and this film is no different and it still ranks up towards the top of greatest acting performances of all-time from any era.

I also really liked Ingrid Bergman in this and it made me realize that I need to go back and watch some of her other films, as this is the first thing I’ve reviewed with her in it. Her performance in Notorious was also top notch and that may be the first one I revisit.

The film also features Conrad Veidt, a guy mostly known for his work in the silent era. In fact, his role in 1928’s The Man Who Laughs was so chilling and iconic, it inspired the creation of The Joker, Batman’s top nemesis. In Casablanca, it is really neat hearing him speak and seeing him have to act in a different style, as he plays a Nazi commander and primary antagonist in the story.

Claude Rains and Peter Lorre also show up and both men are legends of not just the horror genre but of motion pictures in general, as their range is far greater than just playing silver screen monsters.

More than just the stupendous acting and fabulous story, the film’s greatest asset was its director, Michael Curtiz. The man is a legend and it definitely shows in this picture from his ability to get some of the most iconic and replicated shots in history, as well as getting performances out of his actors that eclipse even their own greatness. He also shows that he had the right crew working to achieve his vision just based off of how perfect and majestic the general cinematography, lighting and set design were.

Casablanca is a special film. It definitely deserves its historical status, even if I don’t see it as a pillar of absolute perfection. It’s still significantly better than some of the other films in history that are debated over as the best of all-time.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: other Bogart starring pictures of the ’40s and ’50s.

Comic Review: Daredevil: Born Again

Published: March 27th, 2014
Written by: Frank Miller
Art by: David Mazzucchelli

Marvel Comics, 231 Pages

Review:

After Frank Miller’s historic Daredevil run, he returned to do the graphic novel Love & War. A few years later, he returned to the regular Daredevil title for this story arc, which really was the exclamation point on Miller’s Daredevil work before Ann Nocenti then started her awesome run for several years.

This story starts with The Kingpin finding out Daredevil’s identity. He then uses this knowledge to try and destroy Matt Murdock’s personal life and thus, crush the Daredevil persona that has been a thorn in his side for years.

This is probably the darkest moment in Daredevil’s life, as he hits rock bottom, his former love Karen Page also hits rock bottom and the guy has to build himself back up after legitimately losing his mind for awhile.

I like this story, quite a bit. However, the breaking of Daredevil seemed a bit forced and it got somewhat over the top. I get it, though, Miller only had so many issues to work with and the pacing of comic book stories was much different in this era, as they weren’t writing for the trade paperback market and just told single issue chapters from month-to-month. But this did have the plot elements that should’ve been used and fleshed out to make this more of a lengthy epic than it was.

Still, this is a solid piece of work by Miller. I can’t say that it’s better than his lengthy, original run but it still feels married to it and it brings the character to new depths before handing the reins over to another fantastic writer.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil.

Vids I Dig 426: Filmento: ‘Blade Runner 2049’: Why Great Movies Fail

From Filmento’s YouTube description: 2017’s Denis Villeneueve cyberpunk film Blade Runner 2049 is a remarkable experience… but still ended up flopping in the box office and losing a big bunch of money. We’ve been talking about bad and mediocre box office flops recently like John Carter and The Lone Ranger, but today let’s look at the same topic from the other side of the fence — why a great movie ended up losing money. It’s not the biggest box office flop of all time but still. They have Villeneuve making Dune for Warner Bros now, so here’s a few things to keep in mind for that.

Film Review: Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947)

Also known as: Smash-Up (working title, alternative title)
Release Date: March, 1947
Directed by: Stuart Heisler
Written by: Frank Cavett, John Howard Lawson, Dorothy Parker, Lionel Wiggam
Music by: Frank Skinner
Cast: Susan Hayward, Eddie Albert, Lee Bowman, Marsha Hunt

Walter Wanger Productions, Universal Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“I just remembered, I have an appointment with a headache.” – Martha Gray, Elliot’s Secretary

I’ve heard good things about Smash-Up from multiple sources and books I’ve read on film-noir. Unfortunately, it didn’t resonate that strongly with me and just came across as fairly meh.

That’s not to say that the performances weren’t good. I’ve liked Susan Hayward in everything I’ve seen her do but even her performance didn’t really keep my interest for too long.

The story is about a woman that hits rock bottom and gets burned in a fire after her daughter almost burns. It’s one of those noir stories that starts at the end and then recounts the events that led the main character to their terrible fate. Granted, this one does have a more positive and hopeful outcome than say, Double Indemnity.

It’s also nowhere near as great and iconic as Double Indemnity.

While this came out in 1947, at the height of film-noir cinema, by that point it already seemed derivative of other movies like it. It feels like the plot of a half dozen Joan Crawford flicks but without the Crawford magic and intensity. Frankly, it feels like a lighthearted and thin copy by comparison.

In the end, I did like the music and Hayward was still good. I also liked Stanley Cortez’s cinematography but there are dozens of better noir pictures that deal with similar subjects.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other classic film-noir of the ’40s and ’50s.

Comic Review: Daredevil: Love & War

Published: 1986
Written by: Frank Miller
Art by: Bill Sienkiewicz

Marvel Comics, 65 Pages

Review:

This was a one-shot graphic novel that came out a few years after Frank Miller had completed his Daredevil run. However, it was a return to form, narratively speaking, while also coming off as even darker due to the haunting and beautiful visuals created by one-of-a-kind artist Bill Sienkiewicz.

The plot is fairly short and sweet but it’s important to the overall character development of The Kingpin, as well as his relationship with Daredevil.

The story sees The Kingpin try his damnedest to save his beloved wife Vanessa. He does some pretty heinous shit while trying to get her the treatment she needs. However, this all horribly backfires in a way that will effect him forever.

Additionally, there is a side story about the doctor’s wife and her situation, as she is being watched over by a violent madman that believes her to be an angel.

This has a very layered story and it taps into neo-noir and psychological horror vibes.

While this does feature Daredevil, he almost feels secondary to the majority of the story. He just sort of moves in and out of it and the real players moving the chess pieces on the board are the doctor and The Kingpin.

Ultimately, and without spoiling too much, this is really compelling stuff with exceptional art and some of Frank Miller’s best writing.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil.

Film Review: Psycho (1998)

Release Date: December 4th, 1998
Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Written by: Joseph Stefano
Based on: Psycho by Robert Bloch
Music by: Bernard Herrman, Danny Elfman (adapting), Steve Bartek (adapting)
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Julianne Moore, Viggo Mortensen, William H. Macy, Anne Heche, Robert Forster, Philip Baker Hall, Anne Haney, Rance Howard, Chad Everett, Rita Wilson, James Remar, James LeGros, Mike “Flea” Balzary, Gus Van Sant (cameo)

Imagine Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“A boy’s best friend is his mother.” – Norman Bates

If you ever thought that a shot-for-shot remake of a masterpiece with added gore and vibrant color was a good idea, you’re in luck because this motion picture exists!

If you’d rather see someone take old material and give it new life and a fresh perspective, well… don’t watch this motion picture.

It’s baffling to me that the director, Gus Van Sant, came right off of the critically acclaimed and multiple award winning Good Will Hunting and churned out this pointless, vapid turd.

I’ll be honest, I never wanted to see this film because the original Alfred Hitchcock classic is damn near perfect. However, it’s the only Psycho-related thing that I haven’t watched and reviewed. Sadly, it makes the worst of the sequels and re-imaginings look like classics by comparison. Hell, even the strange Bates Motel TV movie from the ’80s is much better than this.

What’s weird is that the acting actually isn’t bad, it’s just that this uses the same script and only really alters it to feature some extra violence and to update it due to technology changing from 1960 to 1998. The problem with that, is that this feels more like the actors trying to emulate what came before with just a little bit of their own flourish added to it. But I can’t really say that it’s their fault, as how can one not be influenced by the great performances that already turned this same script into a real cinematic classic?

As a film, this is embarrassing. I feel bad for everyone involved in it and I just don’t understand why this was made and who thought it’d be a good idea. Some of the sequels and other takes on the material were good. It would’ve been a lot cooler to see a new take on the story, as opposed to just making it in color, more violent and more modern.

Eh, whatever… fuck this movie.

But I guess it’s worth checking out if you’ve ever wanted to see Vince Vaughn fap.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: spoiled milk and stale Zebra Cakes.

Film Review: Champion (1949)

Release Date: April 9th, 1949 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Mark Robson
Written by: Carl Foreman
Based on: Champion by Ring Lardner
Music by: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Kirk Douglas, Marilyn Maxwell, Arthur Kennedy, Paul Stewart, Ruth Roman

Stanley Kramer Productions, Screen Plays, 99 Minutes

Review:

“I’m expensive. Awful expensive. I didn’t want you to think you could buy me cheap.” – Grace

I heard pretty good things about this motion picture before I actually sat down and watched it. A lot of the film-noir books I’ve read over the years have praised it. It’s also often times discussed alongside The Set-Up, another film-noir from 1949 that features the sport of boxing. In fact, both movies came out less than a month apart and both are very good.

While I give The Set-Up a slight edge, Champion is almost on its level.

To start, this was directed by Mark Robson, who was most known for his noir-esque horror pictures before this. But his transition into more traditional film-noir was incredible and this film truly is a crowning achievement in his directing career.

Robson re-uses a lot of the visual cues from his previous horror work. While noir takes a lot from the visual style of German expressionist films, so did American horror. Robson employs a very chiaroscuro look and it gives certain scenes in this film a very brooding atmosphere. The lighting is fantastic from scene-to-scene and the general cinematography is impeccable. Even in the boxing match sequences, the look stays consistent, giving the bouts a real sense of high stakes and danger.

It’s nice to see how well Robson’s style evolved and developed, just within the 1940s, as he started out as an editor working on the earliest Orson Welles films: Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons. He also spent a lot of time working under RKO horror producer Val Lewton. But, honestly, what better filmmakers could one have worked under at the time?

Beyond just Robson, the film greatly benefits from the magnificent performance of Kirk Douglas, who is, hands down, one of the greatest manly man actors of all-time. He plays the main character, here, an opportunist, conman-esque piece of crap that ends up becoming a great boxer but it’s really neat seeing a guy known for being heroic, play a real scumbag. And despite the character’s terrible nature, Douglas plays the role so well that his fate in the film is still sort of a punch in the gut.

Also, Douglas didn’t have to do all the work and carry the load alone, as the film is full of great performances by several actors who probably deserved bigger careers. I especially liked the scenes he shared with Ruth Roman and Marilyn Maxwell.

Champion is a great sports-based classic film-noir. It does just about everything right and it’s carefully crafted, meticulously executed and just a beautiful looking film with depth, character and real human emotion.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: another 1949 film-noir surrounding the sport of boxing, The Set-Up.