Film Review: Desperate (1947)

Also known as: Desesperado (Brazil, Spain, Portugal)
Release Date: June 20th, 1947
Directed by: Anthony Mann
Written by: Harry Essex, Dorothy Atlas, Anthony Mann
Music by: Paul Sawtell
Cast: Steve Brodie, Audrey Long, Raymond Burr, Jason Robards Sr.

RKO Radio Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Out of every seven guys who go to the chair, six go yelling, “I’m innocent!”” – Det. Lt. Louie Ferrari

I’ve said it before (a lot more than once) and I’ll say it again (and again), I love Raymond Burr. I especially love him when he plays a slimy, evil bastard. Add in Anthony Mann as director and you’ve got a solid film-noir with real gravitas.

This was put out by RKO Radio Pictures, the real house of noir. This is one of those quickly shot, cheaply shot, B-movie pictures but RKO had a real knack for making these pictures work. And while RKO certainly wasn’t a B-studio, they could still be quick, frugal and turn out quality while pinching pennies.

Steve Brodie and Audrey Long are both kind of lovable in this and it sucks seeing them being pulled into Burr’s evil orbit, turning their lives upside down.

The story sees a truck driver get used to haul some illegal goods. The driver (Brodie), isn’t aware of what’s happening and quickly finds himself in a situation where everything goes wrong and a cop ends up dead. Burr plays a heavy that makes the driver and his wife’s life a living hell. At one point, Burr threatens to mutilate her if Brodie doesn’t play ball with him.

This is dark and desperate, pun intended. It’s a film that really show’s America’s darker underbelly in the post-war years. It’s like the big swampy beast crawled out of the muck and rolled over, exposing that underbelly for all to see.

This has good cinematography and an almost enchanting beauty to its darkness. All of this is of course accented by a nice musical score from Paul Sawtell. The film and it’s atmosphere was like a snake as it slowly slithers along but is always ready to strike with a lot of energy.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Anthony Mann film-noir movies: Raw Deal, He Walked by Night, T-Men and Side Street. For Raymond Burr noir pictures: Please Murder Me!, Pitfall, Crime of Passion, The Blue Gardenia and Red Light.

Film Review: The Locket (1946)

Also known as: What Nancy Wanted (working title)
Release Date: December 20th, 1946
Directed by: Jason Brahm
Written by: Sheridan Gibney
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Laraine Day, Brian Aherne, Robert Mitchum, Gene Raymond

RKO Radio Pictures, 85 Minutes

Review:

“Okay… you be the dropper, I’ll be the deer!” – Nancy Monks Blair Patton

There are two things I really like: classic film-noir and Robert Mitchum. When you put these two things together and under the banner of RKO Radio Pictures, you can bet that I’ll be interested in seeing it.

However, while this is noir, it isn’t my cup of tea.

The story is about a woman who has been married multiple times, has a very checkered past and is just pretty damn shady, in general.

The film plays out showing her life’s story but primarily focusing on her many relationships and how she is a self-absorbed narcissist that doesn’t much care for the wreckage she causes. A real femme fatale but not as cool as most of the other femme fatales from her day. Although, Laraine Day is incredibly beautiful and her charm is effective. Her character just comes off as fairly generic and that’s probably got more to do with the writing and direction than Day’s skill as an actress.

This film is just fairly boring for its subject matter and these stories have been done much better.

The film’s style is noir-esque but lacking in style. There are some good shots and framing in the picture but nothing seems like it fits the great detail and noir aesthetic that was synonymous with RKO’s other pictures in the genre. Everything is just pretty standard and pedestrian and this looks more like a noir picture from Poverty Row than one from a major studio, let alone one that specializes in the style.

The Locket is still an okay watch. To the layman, it will probably be boring but to someone who has invested a lot of time in the film-noir style, it was worth my time and I enjoyed it regardless of what I felt it lacked.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: When Strangers Marry, The Racket, Undercurrent, Angel Face, The Big Steal and My Forbidden Past.

Film Review: Scene of the Crime (1949)

Release Date: July 28th, 1949 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Roy Rowland
Written by: Charles Schnee
Based on: the article Smashing the Bookie Gang Marauders by John Barltow Martin
Music by: Andre Previn
Cast: Van Johnson, Arlene Dahl, Gloria DeHaven, Tom Drake

Loew’s Inc., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 94 Minutes

Review:

“I’m no Humphrey Bogart. He gets slugged and he’s ready for action; I get slugged and I’m ready for pickling.” – P.J. Pontiac

I like Van Johnson. Seeing him in a film-noir is a treat. Although, this was his only one, as MGM put him back into comedies and musicals because they didn’t feel that the public could buy Johnson as a harder, more serious character. Honestly, I don’t think that he’s unconvincing here but this really isn’t his normal forte.

Additionally, being that this was put out by MGM, was a rare thing, as they didn’t really care about making crime pictures like a lot of the other studios. However, in 1949, after a change of the guard, MGM went crime heavy and thus, created some memorable films that embody the noir style.

While this fits within the stlye, it is less noir and more like a simple police crime drama. It lacks the gravitas of most noir pictures and the ride isn’t as turbulent or shocking. But it was still a good attempt at MGM trying to contribute to a trend that they tried to work around for the majority of the ’40s.

This film deals with a detective investigating the death of a fellow detective, who was apparently working security for a bookie on the side. He uncovers that something larger is afoot, as all the bookies in town are being robbed. He must traverse through the noir styled twists and turns of the criminal underworld while trying to balance his personal life.

I thought that the film was pretty average overall. It’s far from incredible and hardly memorable in a vast sea of 1940s film-noir and crime dramas but it was still entertaining and engaging.

The acting was mostly good, the direction was above par but the cinematography and look of the film were pretty standard.

Still, it was cool seeing a great talent like Van Johnson get to stretch his legs and do something else for 94 minutes.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: He Walked by NightRaw DealSide Street and T-Men.

Film Review: Mildred Pierce (1945)

Release Date: September 28th, 1945 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
Written by: Ranald MacDougall, Catherine Turney (uncredited)
Based on: Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Eve Arden, Ann Blyth

Warner Bros., 111 Minutes

Review:

“If you take a swim, I’d have to take a swim. Is that fair? Because you feel like killing yourself, I gotta get pneumonia.” – Policeman on Pier

Mildred Pierce is one of the most critically acclaimed film-noir motion pictures of all-time. But when you put master director Michael Curtiz with acting legend Joan Crawford, a magical concoction is ensured. It was a fantastic pairing that lead to Crawford winning the Academy Award for her performance. Curtiz wasn’t nominated but he probably should have been.

Ann Blyth and Eve Arden both got nominations for Best Supporting Actress but lost out to Anne Revere for her role in National Velvet. The film also received nominations for Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography.

This is also considered one of Crawford’s best performances. Honestly, she has hit it out of the park with every single performance I have seen from this era. She was one of the most capable actresses of her time, or any time, and she elevated not just the picture but the other actors around her. She had to carry many scenes but she was able to pull some of the best work out of her co-stars that they have ever showcased. I can’t ignore Curtiz’s direction in this either but if you go back and watch Crawford, especially in the ’40s, you’ll see how she elevates the performances of those around her.

The story is mostly told through flashback. It focuses on Mildred Pierce, a mother that has been through some rocky relationships but is willing to give all she can to make her materialistic and ungrateful daughter whatever she wants. The film taps into this heavily and definitely makes you question Mildred’s character and her motivations. The reason being, her ex-husband has been murdered and Mildred is the focal point of the police investigation. But this is a noir and there must be twists and surprises. All I’ll say is that I never saw the ending coming.

That being said, this was a well orchestrated plot and the screenwriters and director did a fantastic job of moving this story along, dropping in little hints and some suggestive nuances. I won’t say whether they are red herrings or not but it’s pretty entertaining watching this all unfold.

I thought that the Max Steiner score was really good. I also loved the cinematography by Ernest Haller, who was involved in Gone with the Wind and also worked a lot with Crawford, as well as Bette Davis and Ingrid Bergman.

This is just a really good story, plotted out wonderfully, well directed and superbly acted. Plus everything looks and sounds great. This is a motion picture comprised of nothing other than strong positives.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Other film-noir pictures with Joan Crawford: Humoresque, Possessed and Sudden Fear.

Film Review: Roadblock (1951)

Also known as: Walk a Crooked Mile (working title)
Release Date: September 17th, 1951
Directed by: Harold Daniels
Written by: George Bricker, Steve Fisher, Richard H. Landau, Daniel Mainwaring
Music by: Paul Sawtell
Cast: Charles McGraw, Joan Dixon

RKO Radio Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“You’re a nice guy, Honest Joe, but you’re not in the right league. I’m aiming for the World Series.” – Diane

Roadblock stars Charles McGraw and was put out by RKO but it doesn’t seem to be a well known film-noir picture. I discovered it by seeing it featured on TCM’s Noir Alley. Even though I’ve become a fan of McGraw’s work, it’s nice to see something I wasn’t familiar with.

The film also stars Joan Dixon and she is quite the femme fatale. I really liked her in this and I wish she would’ve been in more of these films and grown into a more prolific actress. I don’t know, she was pretty effective at luring me in, as well as McGraw, who is usually a heroic character but falls into the dark depths because of the sultry and seedy touch of Dixon.

The plot involves an insurance scam so it’s impossible to see this picture and not immediately think about Double Indemnity, which did insurance scams first and much better. However, that film really is a classic and it is hard to compete with it. At least this doesn’t try to copy it and tells its own fairly unique tale.

Here, McGraw’s Joe Peters is an insurance investigator that wants to win over Dixon’s Diane. They crossed paths while traveling and Peters discovered that she was into the finer things in life. Not being able to afford the type of lifestyle Diane is attracted to, Peters uses his knowledge about a $1.25 million dollar cash shipment to do some dirt in an effort to give Diane the life she desires.

What’s strange about this film-noir for its time, is that the femme fatale starts to come around when she realizes that she loves Peters more than money. By that point, it is too late. But when all is said and done, Diane walks away from the chaos unscathed. Sure, Peters gets his just desserts but Diane can go on living her life, albeit with a broken heart. Back in the days of classic film-noir, a character like Diane couldn’t go unpunished. But here, she does – defying the Hollywood censors and codes of the era.

Apart from that, there isn’t much here that is all that special or noteworthy. It’s a good movie but far from a great one and there are probably fifty classic noirs I’d put before this one but I enjoyed it, nonetheless.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Some other lesser known noir movies: The Man Who Cheated Himself, Jealousy, The Underworld Story, The Accused, I Wake Up Screaming and The Threat.

TV Review: Broadchurch (2013-2017)

Original Run: March 4th, 2013 – April 17th, 2017
Created by: Chris Chinball
Directed by: James Strong, Euros Lyn, various
Written by: Chris Chinball, Louise Fox
Music by: Ólafur Arnalds, Arnór Dan
Cast: David Tennant, Olivia Colman, Jodie Whittaker, Arthur Darvill, Andrew Buchan, Carolyn Pickles, Charlotte Beaumont, Charlotte Rampling, Eve Myles

Kudos Film and Television, Shine Group, Imaginary Friends, ITV, 24 Episodes, 45 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2015.

ITV’s Broadchurch is one of the top five shows I have watched in recent memory. A bold statement, sure, but in a world full of crime dramas, this show is a big step above what is currently on television.

The showrunners must be big Doctor Who fans, as it features David Tennant in the lead role as DI Alec Hardy, Arthur Darvill as Rev. Paul Coates and Olivia Colman (who appeared in one episode of Doctor Who) as the other lead, DS Ellie Miller. Eve Myles from the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood shows up as a regular in the second series. (Updated note: Jodie Whittaker would go on to be the first female version of the Doctor after this show.)

Jodie Whittaker (Attack The Block) plays the mother of a murdered boy. Solving the mystery of the boy’s murder is what drives the plot of series one, while the trial of the murderer drives some of the plot of series two. Series two also focuses on a case that Hardy was unable to solve before he moved to Broadchurch.

This show, unlike many other crime dramas, is not predictable. There are a lot of layers, twists and turns and while that is a typical formula of these shows, the execution of it on Broadchurch is not only stellar, it is refreshing.

The show is also beautiful to look at. Filmed in Dorset, many shots are full of the iconic coastal cliffs, grassy hills and beaches of that area. The geography of the show enhances the tone greatly and while it feels warm and inviting at first, it is also cold and in someways, desolate.

The acting is top notch and this may be David Tennant’s greatest work, even considering his run as the Tenth Doctor on Doctor Who and his role as the villainous Kilgrave on Jessica Jones. Olivia Colman has never been better and she is an actress that I have loved since first seeing her work with Mitchel and Webb in their sketch comedy shows, as well as Peep Show. The rest of the cast is equally fantastic.

There is a lot of shit on television today but Broadchurch is the antithesis of that norm.

Each series is also only eight episodes, which allow this masterpiece to be binge watched quite quickly.

Both of the series to date are now streaming on Netflix.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Doctor Who and Torchwood for all the shared actors, the American remake Gracepoint and the BBC crime show Luther.

Film Review: Dark Passage (1947)

Release Date: September 5th, 1947 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Delmer Daves
Written by: Delmer Daves, David Goodis
Music by: Franz Waxman
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Bruce Bennett, Agnes Moorehead

Warner Bros., 106 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve cried myself to sleep at night because of you. She’s got you now. She wants you very badly doesn’t she? She’s willing to run away with you and keep on running and ruin everything for herself. But she wouldn’t care because she’d be with you and that’s what she wants. Well she doesn’t have you now. She’ll never have you. Nobody will ever have you! And that’s the way I want it! You’re nothing but an escaped convict. Nobody knows what you wrote down. They’ll believe me! They’ll believe me!” – Madge Rapf

All of the films that star both Bogart and Bacall are damn good but this may be the best of the four. In my opinion, and I really love Key Largo, this is the cream of the crop.

Dark Passage is a spectacular film and one of the greatest film-noir pictures I have ever seen. I had seen it before but it’s been quite awhile and when I did, I didn’t have the broader understanding of the cinematic style that I have now. Looking at it within the context of the other top noir films, this movie is pretty close to the top of the heap and I should probably adjust my Top 100 Film-Noir list after revisiting this.

What’s surprising about this film is that the first act is played from a first person point-of-view, as we never get to see Bogart’s face. We get his voice and follow him as he escapes prison and tries to get to San Francisco and we see his first meeting with Bacall through his eyes. Then in the second act of the film, we lose the first person perspective and see Bogart with his head wrapped up, as his character has gotten a surgery to change his physical appearance. This almost has an Invisible Man vibe to it. It isn’t until we get to the second half of the film, leading into the third act, that we get to see Bogart’s actual face. It was incredibly rare for a major studio to allow a top star like Bogart to have their visage obscured for such a big chunk of a movie.

Bogart plays Vincent Parry, a man who was convicted of murdering his wife. He escapes prison in an effort to prove his innocence and meets Bacall’s Irene Jansen, who wants to help him set the record straight.

As I point out in almost every review of every classic noir I cover, this thing has a lot of twists and turns. It’s typical of the style but this is hardly anything derivative, even if the premise sounds recycled. You’re never really sure why Irene sought out Vincent and why she wants to help him. There are some revelations, as the film rolls on, but this is a real rollercoaster.

Not to spoil anything, but there is a really brutal scene where a woman gets tossed out a window. It isn’t very violent, as this is a film from 1947, but it had a surprising harshness to it that is shocking for a film from this era. It totally catches you off guard and the camera actually gives you a good bird’s-eye-view shot of her body plummeting towards the sidewalk below.

Bogart and Bacall were both at the top of their game in this movie. Their chemistry was definitely apparent and unparalleled when compared to their work with any other actors. Not to say that Bogey and Bacall weren’t always on their A game, they were. There is just something extra magical about them being together on the screen though.

I absolutely love this movie. Dark Passage should be one of those silver screen classics that gets a nice theatrical re-release. Get on it Flashback Cinema or Fathom Events!

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: The other films that pair Bogart and Bacall: To Have and to Have NotThe Big Sleep and Key Largo. Also, The Maltese Falcon.