Film Review: Scandal Sheet (1952)

Also known as: The Dark Page (working title)
Release Date: January 16th, 1952 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Phil Karlson
Written by: Eugene Lind, James Poe, Ted Sherdeman
Based on: The Dark Page by Samuel Fuller
Music by: George Duning
Cast: Broderick Crawford, Donna Reed, John Derek, Rosemary DeCamp, Strother Martin (uncredited)

Edward Small Productions, Motion Picture Investors, Columbia Pictures, 82 Minutes

Review:

“Very rare items. Pictures of a dame with her mouth shut.” – Steve McCleary

Scandal Sheet is a lesser known film-noir from the classic era but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t quality.

The film does start out a bit slow and I didn’t know anything about the story. But once the plot really starts to unfold, it is hard to turn away.

The story is about a newspaper man that has converted a paper into a popular tabloid. But you soon find out that this man has a past when his ex-wife shows up to confront him. This confrontation leads to the woman’s murder. The reporter that the newspaper man is mentoring decides to crack the case. As the film progresses and clues turn into evidence, the vile newspaper man has to decide between his freedom and the life of the reporter he cares for.

While the film doesn’t have the most famous cast. it does have Donna Reed. She is the shining beacon of talent amongst the group. That’s not to say that the other players aren’t capable, they certainly are, but Reed’s charisma and charm really shine through. Her presence is almost distracting looking at this through a modern lens. In 1952, however, she was in good company with veteran Broderick Crawford and John Derek, even though his career wasn’t as prolific.

This is pretty well shot and executed. However, there’s not a whole lot of visual allure that makes this stand out like some of the more famous noir pictures. It’s still a fine movie that was shot and captured pretty competently, though.

I’d say that this is definitely a better than average film-noir but it’s nowhere near the upper echelon.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other lesser known but good film-noirs: Shockproof, D.O.A., Side Street and The Prowler.

Film Review: The Phenix City Story (1955)

Release Date: July 19th, 1955 (premieres in Phenix City, AL; Columbus, GA; Chicago, IL)
Directed by: Phil Karlson
Written by: Daniel Mainwaring, Crane Wilbur
Music by: Harry Sukman
Cast: John McIntire, Richard Kiley, Kathryn Grant

Allied Artists Pictures, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Rhett, I’m not stickin’ my neck out. Why should I? Phenix City has been what it is for 80, 90 years. Who am I to try to reform it?” – Albert L. Patterson

I have really come to like Phil Karlson’s work. When I was celebrating Noirvember here at Cinespiria, I checked out a few of his films, which were luckily streaming on FilmStruck. So, since there are more available to check out, I thought I’d give The Phenix City Story a shot, as I have read some good things about it.

Unfortunately, this is a film with multiple personality disorder. The first fifteen minutes or so is comprised of news interviews and I actually thought that this was going to be how the entire movie was presented. Talking heads, giving their accounts of the atrocities the mob in their small Alabama town committed. Luckily, this only took up fifteen minutes. But it was at least interesting, as it featured the real people who were a part of the true story this film is based on.

Once the real cinematic story started, it was pretty refreshing. However, even though I was interested in the subject matter the first half of the movie was really slow. But once the mob severely crossed the line with the murder of a young black girl, things picked up and got so intense that it was impossible to turn away. They even went on to murder another child and at that point, anything was possible because I never thought I’d see anything this graphic done to a child in a movie from this era.

The story is a retelling of the real events surrounding the 1954 assassination of Albert Patterson, a man who had just been elected Alabama Attorney General. He ran on the platform that he was going to cleanup Phenix City, which was controlled by the mob, who were running gambling establishments throughout the area. But with their presence came corruption, control and violence. The events in the film, including the assassination, led to the city having to go under martial law, where the state militia came in and ran the crooks out of town.

Seeing 1950s Alabama culture was pretty intriguing. I never knew this story’s details and it was captivating seeing it unfold onscreen. Ultimately, it is about a community having enough of the unlawful tyrants that ruled over them and finally pushing back.

The high points in this film are really good but it feels very disjointed and the early parts made it hard for the narrative energy to get going. Once it does get going though, you’re locked in.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Other Karlson film-noirs: Kansas City Confidential99 River Street, etc.

Film Review: 99 River Street (1953)

Also known as: Crosstown (original title)
Release Date: August 21st, 1953 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Phil Karlson
Written by: Robert Smith, George Zuckerman
Music by: Arthur Lange, Emil Newman
Cast: John Payne, Evelyn Keyes, Brad Dexter, Frank Faylen, Peggie Castle

Edward Small Productions, United Artists, 83 Minutes

Review:

“There are worse things than murder. You can kill someone an inch at a time.” – Ernie Driscoll

It’s Noirvember, so I’ve been watching a ton of these movies. The experience has been fun and hasn’t waned on me yet. Most noir films, at least the ones that have survived long enough to make it to a digital format, are all pretty decent. There’s only been a few real duds this past month, where I usually encounter a lot of bad films as I work my way through different genres and eras.

99 River Street, originally released as Crosstown, is another better than decent film in the noir style. It isn’t a classic but it was helmed by Phil Karlson, a guy that was a much better than average film-noir director.

The movie stars John Payne, who just feels like a legitimate badass, despite getting walloped a bit too much in the final slugfest of the film. I mean, Payne’s Ernie Driscoll was a famous boxer. I get the storyline about his bad eye costing him his career but an accomplished boxer can beat the crap out of some thug, even if he just has one eye.

Driscoll’s wife is played by Peggie Castle, who played her role well, especially when she became a standard blonde bombshell femme fatale that betrays him. She was absolutely gorgeous in this and I’m not quite sure why she wasn’t more prominent in noir films but this did come out towards the end of noir’s run in popularity. Castle did find a home as a regular guest star on several notable television shows while being heralded as “the other woman” in several B-movies of her day.

The female lead, however, is played by Evelyn Keyes. She comes into the story, as a friend of Driscoll’s and through all the drama and danger, becomes something more. She was energetic, charismatic and entertaining in this role, where she plays a blossoming actress within the film.

To summarize the plot, an ex-boxer has a mean wife. He discovers that she’s fooling around with some two-bit thug. She plans to runaway with the criminal but ultimately, the criminal kills her because he’s evil and the morality code of the day couldn’t let seedy women go unpunished. All the while, the boxer starts paling around with the actress, one thing leads to another and the boxer and the thug have to go head-to-head.

The story was okay but it felt disjointed at times with all the jumping around. The part where Driscoll goes to help his actress friend deal with a man she accidentally kills turns into a big gag and it sort of distracts from the overall narrative and sticks out like an ugly sore thumb in the middle of the movie.

Apart from the lack of narrative fluidity, the film was still fairly entertaining and I enjoyed the characters.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Kansas City Confidential (1952)

Also known as: The Secret Four (UK)
Release Date: November 11th, 1952
Directed by: Phil Karlson
Written by: George Bruce, Harry Essex, Rowland Brown, Harold Greene
Music by: Paul Sawtell
Cast: John Payne, Coleen Gray, Lee Van Cleef, Jack Elam

Associated Players and Producers, Edward Small Productions, United Artists, 99 Minutes

Review:

“What makes a two-bit heel like you think a heater would give him an edge over me? ” – Tim Foster

Kansas City Confidential is a pretty intense and fun film-noir. It also has two of my favorite western stars in it: Lee Van Cleef and Jack Elam. The film is directed by Phil Karlson and is considered by many to be his best.

While the big crime in the film takes place in Kansas City, a big portion of the film goes down to Mexico. You see, an ex-con trying to go straight, is framed for a million dollar armored car robbery. When the real criminals go to Mexico, the ex-con follows in order to expose them and clear his name.

The story is pretty good and it has a lot of interesting twists and turns that make it a good textbook noir, as far as the scheming plot goes. Most of the characters are despicable and you’re always waiting for one of them to turn on the others. Lee Van Cleef is especially good and always does a villainous role justice, as he slithers in and out of the scenes like a snake ready to strike at anything that moves. His facial expressions and body language in this are so predatory, it really shows that he is an actor better than the roles he was getting at this point in his career.

John Payne was good as the lead but he always seemed to be overshadowed by the villains on screen, as they all had a really dark and powerful charisma.

I loved that this film felt larger than most noirs, which seem very confined and small. This was vast and open and really stepped outside of the box.

The film did really well upon release for Edward Small Productions, who responded by turning this into a series with followups New York Confidential and Chicago Confidential. Those were not directed by Karlson, however. Even the more modern neo-noir L.A. Confidential was an homage to this film in title.

Karlson would go on to do The Phenix City Story, which was a sort of spiritual sequel to this. He also dabbled in more film-noir and would go on to do The Silencers, the first of Dean Martin’s spy parody films, and the original Walking Tall with Joe Don Baker.

Kansas City Confidential is a fine motion picture. If you are a fan of film-noir and haven’t seen this one, you should probably check it out.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: The Silencers (1966)

Release Date: February 18th, 1966
Directed by: Phil Karlson
Written by: Oscar Saul
Based on: The Silencers and Death of a Citizen by Donald Hamilton
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Dean Martin, Stella Stevens, Daliah Lavi, Victor Buono, Roger C. Carmel

Columbia Pictures, 102 Minutes

the_silencersReview:

I didn’t even know about this film until recently, when I discovered it on a list of recommended movies on a tikiphile message board. I also discovered, after watching it, that there are two sequels.

The Silencers is a damn fun movie! It stars Dean Martin as a playful James Bond wannabe. In fact, the film is a parody of James Bond movies and the popular spy genre of the time. Truthfully, it is better than some of the films it parodies and as hammy as Martin was, he still didn’t cross the line like Roger Moore. I really love Roger Moore, by the way.

I guess this movie can be best described as sort of the Austin Powers of the 1960s. It also is a part of a trilogy like those Powers films. The thing is, this is much better than any Austin Powers or Mike Myers movie could ever dream to be. It isn’t gratuitously stupid and it has stood the test of time better. It is a more authentic feeling parody. Although, coming out in the same era as those films, probably has a lot to do with it feeling more true to the vibe and style of the spy genre.

Dean Martin is great as super spy Matt Helm. He has a sense of humor and a wit that few can match. I guess this is why he was so successful at hosting those celebrity roasts in the old days. In fact, there is a great moment in this film where he casually roasts his best buddy Frank Sinatra.

Martin has two leading ladies, because which super spy doesn’t have at least two? Both did really well with the material. I thought the performance by Stella Stevens was a step above Daliah Lavi but they both put in solid performances.

Being a fan of the 1966 Batman television series, I was really excited to see Victor Buono (who played the villain King Tut on that show) as the sinister Tung-Tze. We also got Roger C. Carmel (who played the villain Colonel Gumm in Batman and Harry Mudd on the original Star Trek) as a top ranking henchman.

The Silencers literally had me laughing out loud several times. Dean Martin was suave and hilarious throughout the entire picture. Few men have ever matched his swagger and those that did were already in the Rat Pack.