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.

Film Review: The Window (1949)

Also known as: The Boy Cried Murder (working title)
Release Date: May 17th, 1949 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Ted Tetzlaff, Fred Fleck (assistant)
Written by: Mel Dinelli, Cornell Woolrich
Based on: The Boy Cried Murder by Cornell Woolrich
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Barbara Hale, Arthur Kennedy, Paul Stewart, Ruth Roman, Bobby Driscoll

RKO Radio Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Pop? If you see a thing with your own eyes, it can’t be a dream, can it?” – Tommy Woodry

I can’t believe that guy punched a kid in the face in the back of that taxi! But then again, he was planning to murder the boy anyway.

The Window is a film that I have never heard of until I saw it being featured on TCM’s Noir Alley. I decided to read up on it before seeing it. It didn’t immediately get me excited, as it was a film-noir primarily starring a young boy. Kids typically can’t carry the weight of a picture on their back but the young Bobby Driscoll was absolute magic in this. Truthfully, The Window exceeded my lack of expectations and proved to be a damn fine film.

This is essentially the noir version of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. In fact, the book it was based on was called The Boy Cried Murder.

In this tale, a young boy named Tommy likes to tell tall tales and always finds himself in trouble because of it. Early in the film, the landlord comes to the family’s apartment to show it to prospective tenants, as Tommy told a lie about the family moving and it got back to the landlord. So when Tommy actually witnesses a real murder, while camping out on the fire escape due to a heatwave, his parents don’t believe him. He tells the police, they also don’t believe him. Tommy’s mother then makes Tommy go to the murderers’ apartment to apologize. This tips off the killers to Tommy’s knowledge of their crime and thus, makes Tommy their next target.

This is a film that builds suspense so strong that it is hard to turn away. The film is well constructed and the narrative execution is close to perfection. The stellar performance by the young Bobby Driscoll is the glue that holds this together. Paul Stewart’s evil Joe Kellerson is absolutely chilling and the scene where he breaks into Tommy’s house, when the boy is all alone, is legitimately scary. Kids in the 1940s had to be terrified.

Man, this movie is fantastic. It has shot up my list of favorite film-noir pictures. It is just so different from the norm, took a real risk by putting a child in the forefront but that risk paid off tremendously.

Unfortunately, Bobby Driscoll only had one more hit after this, 1950’s Treasure Island, but his performance here lead to the Academy giving him a miniature Oscar to recognize his great acting skill.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Citizen Kane (1941)

Release Date: May 1st, 1941 (Palace Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Orson Welles
Written by: Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Everett Sloane, Ray Collins, George Coulouris, Agnes Moorehead, Paul Stewart, Ruth Warrick, Erskine Sanford, William Alland

RKO Radio Pictures, 119 Minutes

citizenkaneReview:

Citizen Kane is considered, by many, to be the greatest film ever made. I wouldn’t consider it the best but it is certainly an amazing motion picture, nonetheless.

I guess the most incredible thing is that Orson Welles directed, co-wrote and starred in the picture at the age of twenty-five. It is uncanny that someone so young would have such a grasp on what life would be like for a man who becomes fantastically rich and unbelievably powerful and how that would drain on his soul over a lifetime.

One can’t deny that Citizen Kane is a fantastic picture, especially for its day. The story is compelling and well orchestrated. The cinematography is breathtaking to the point that some shots are still mesmerizing, even in modern times where CGI can try and wow an audience in any way imaginable. Watching the film, it is easy to see what techniques, employed by Welles and his crew, became regular approaches to filmmaking.

It is impossible to even begin to list the countless pictures that were influenced by Citizen Kane. Stylistically, it is superb. Compared to other films of the era, it isn’t hard to understand why and how this captivated audiences and critics and how it still has a grasp on the minds of young filmmakers today.

While Kane is a fictional character, the movie plays like a really well done biopic of a true historical figure. There are several famous people in politics and media that you can associate with the character to the point that the film even feels a bit prophetic. Ultimately, it is a stern warning about the human soul and how it can become corrupted by money, power and fame.

Citizen Kane is a tragedy in the best sense. It feels Shakespearean, even in its late 1800s to early 1900s setting. It could possibly be the best tragedy not written by Shakespeare. While there have certainly been pictures and stories like it, since 1941, there is only one Citizen Kane.

Welles deserves the legendary status that this film brought to him. Again, he was twenty-five years old and made a beautiful and nearly flawless work of cinematic art that people still hold in the highest regard almost 80 years later.

Rating: 10/10