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: Godzilla (1954)

Also known as: Gojira (original Japanes title), Godzilla: King of Monsters! (US version)
Release Date: November 3rd, 1954 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Shigeru Kayama, Takeo Murata, Ishirō Honda
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kōchi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura, Kenji Sahara, Raymond Burr (US version)

Toho, 96 Minutes (original), 80 Minutes (US version)

Review:

“I can’t believe that Godzilla was the only surviving member of its species… But if we continue conducting nuclear tests, it’s possible that another Godzilla might appear somewhere in the world again.” – Kyohei Yamane-hakase

There are two different versions of this film: the original Japanese version, which was released to theaters in 1954, as well as the English language American version from 1956 that featured new scenes starring Raymond Burr.

This is primarily a review of the original Japanese version of the film, as it is the superior version, in my opinion. Also, the American version loses some of the context and political themes within the picture.

Out of all the Godzilla movies ever made, there are now over thirty, this one is still the best of the lot. It’s just got such a dark and brooding nature that the tone is vastly different than the more kid friendly entries that would follow it. And I’m not saying that I don’t love kid friendly Godzilla, because that’s the Godzilla I fell in love with, but this is a film that had a deeper and more meaningful purpose than just counting kaiju sized piles of cash.

Godzilla makes a very bold statement, a statement that can still be felt today and it is still very relevant.

For those who might not know, Godzilla was created as a commentary on the horrors of nuclear bombs and their side effects. Coming out less than a decade after Japan was bombed by the United States to end World War II, the Japanese were certainly justified in making an artistic condemnation of nuclear technology. Plus, mass destruction was something that everyone in Japan had already lived through and it was still very fresh in their memories.

While the film gives us mass destruction in a different way, Godzilla, the monster, is unleashed on Japan due to the use of nuclear bombs and his rampage throughout the film is just as catastrophic. But at least with the monster in the movie, the Japanese people were able to find a way to defend themselves and bring the horror to an end on their own terms. That’s not to say that another Godzilla doesn’t show up later but within this movie, Japan perseveres, even if it comes at a great cost.

The special effects in this are dynamite, especially considering that this came out in 1954 and was made by a country that didn’t have the resources of a big budget American studio. Eiji Tsuburaya was the man behind the effects and his work here created a whole new genre, which would make his career, as he would go on to do many kaiju films for Toho, as well as creating his own studio, Tsuburaya Productions. Tsuburaya would later create the Ultraman franchise and other famous franchises beloved by the Japanese and fans of kaiju and tokusatsu films and television.

This was director Ishirō Honda’s big break and doing this film would pave the way for the rest of his career, as well. He ended up directing a ton of Godzilla movies, as well as other kaiju and tokusatsu pictures for Toho. In fact, he was pretty much the godfather of the two, overlapping genres.

Godzilla is a chilling film. The monster is truly a monster, which fans of the later films might be shocked by. It is this film that had the greatest impact on moviegoers upon its release, however, and it is why every single Godzilla reboot goes back to this well and presents the title character as a true harbinger of doom.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other Shōwa era Godzilla movies.

Film Review: His Kind of Woman (1951)

Also known as: Smiler with a Gun (working title)
Release Date: August 15th, 1951 (Philadelphia premiere)
Directed by: John Farrow, Richard Fleischer
Written by: Frank Fenton, Jack Leonard, Gerald Drayson Adams
Music by: Leigh Harline
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, Vincent Price, Tim Holt, Charles McGraw, Marjorie Reynolds, Raymond Burr, Jim Backus, Philip Van Zandt

A John Farrow Production, RKO Radio Pictures, 120 Minutes

Review:

“This place is dangerous. The time right deadly. The drinks are on me, my bucko!” – Mark Cardigan

This has been in my queue for awhile, as I’ve spent a significant amount of time watching and reviewing just about every film-noir picture under the sun. It didn’t have a great rating on most of the websites I checked but it looked to be better than average.

Now that I’ve seen it, I don’t know what the hell most people were thinking. This film is absolutely great! I loved it but I also have a strong bias towards Robert Mitchum, Vincent Price, Raymond Burr and Charles McGraw. I also love Jane Russell, even if she didn’t star in films within the genres I watch the most.

His Kind of Woman is a stupendous motion picture and it really took me by surprise.

This is just a whole lot of fun, the cast is incredible and bias aside, I thought that Vincent Price really stole every single scene that he was in. I’ve seen Price in nearly everything he’s ever done and this might be the one role, outside of horror, that I enjoy most. He starts out as a bit of a Hollywood dandy, shows how eccentric he is as the film rolls on and then shows us that in spite of all that, he’s a friggin’ badass, ready to go out in a blaze of glory just to save the day.

I also love that this is set at a resort in Mexico, as it has a good tropical and nautical feel, which should make Tikiphiles happy. But really, the picture has great style in every regard.

I love the sets, I love the cinematography, the superb lighting and how things were shot. There are some key scenes shot at interesting and obscure angles that give the film a different sort of life than just capturing these fantastic performances in a more straightforward manner. One scene in particular shows Mitchum talking to a heavy and it’s shot from a low angle with shadows projected onto a very low ceiling. It sort of makes you understand that something potentially dreadful is closing in on Mitchum.

Out of all the film-noir pictures I’ve watched over the last year or so, this is definitely one that I will revisit on a semi regular basis.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures starring Robert Mitchum, Vincent Price, Raymond Burr or Charles McGraw.

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: Red Light (1949)

Also known as: Mr. Gideon (working title)
Release Date: September 30th, 1949
Directed by: Roy Del Ruth
Written by: George Callahan, Charles Grayson
Based on: This Guy Gideon by Don ‘Red’ Barry
Music by: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: George Raft, Virginia Mayo, Raymond Burr, Harry Morgan

Roy Del Ruth Productions, United Artists, 83 Minutes

Review:

“You know, Johnny, when you play solitaire you can only beat yourself.” – Strecker

There is just something about seeing Raymond Burr play an evil man. Sure, he was exceptional as the heroic lawyer on Perry Mason but slightly earlier in his career, Burr was typically a heavy in film-noir. This is one of those films and really, Burr is once again great as a villainous rogue.

The film also stars George Raft and Virginia Mayo, right on the heels of her iconic performance opposite of James Cagney in White Heat. In fact, the film was marketed using her image in a way that channels her character from White Heat, even though her character here is nothing like the poster implies.

The story sees a bookkeeper named Nick Cherney (Burr) sent to prison for embezzling from Torno’s (Raft) trucking company. Four years later, Cherney hires another inmate to murder Torno’s brother Jess, giving Cherney an alibi in his quest for revenge, as he isn’t yet released from prison. Being that this is a film-noir, things obviously go sideways, backwards and every which way but forward.

Overall, Red Light is a pretty enjoyable movie. The plot is good and the cinematography is pretty well done. The dark scene in the apartment where a man is shot is well captured. The highlight however, is the sequence in the truck yard at night, where one of the characters ends up crushed to death by a trailer. It’s a pretty cold and gruesome moment, even though the censors wouldn’t allow for gore at the time.

I liked Red Light a lot. While it isn’t in the upper echelon of classic film-noir, it is certainly a better than average picture with solid execution from all parties involved.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: The Blue Gardenia (1953)

Release Date: March 27th, 1953 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Written by: Charles Hoffman
Based on: Gardenia a short story by Vera Caspary
Music by: Raoul Kraushaar
Cast: Anne Baxter, Richard Conte, Ann Sothern, Raymond Burr, Nat King Cole, George Reeves

Blue Gardenia Productions, Warner Bros., 88 Minutes

Review:

“How about you slip into something more comfortable, like a few drinks and some chinese food.” – Harry Prebble

Man, Raymond Burr is in so many noir pictures. I really enjoyed him in this one, even if he does meet a quick end, being the murdered victim that sets the story in motion. Regardless, it was nice seeing him not play the evil heavy for once.

The star here though, is Anne Baxter, an actress who I am really starting to appreciate more, as I discover a lot of her old films. When I was younger, I really only knew her as Egghead’s (Vincent Price) criminal girlfriend Olga, Queen of the Cossacks on the 1960s Batman television series.

She also shares a lot of time on screen with Richard Conte, a guy I like, who shows off his charisma in this. You also get a small part by Superman himself, George Reeves, and a musical cameo by Nat King Cole.

The film is directed by the magnificent Fritz Lang and even though it goes to serious and dark places, it isn’t a film devoid of lightheartedness and plays like a comedy, at times. The opening of the film is quirky, as we see the life of Anne Baxter’s Norah and her roommates.

In this film, Norah is dumped by her G.I. boyfriend through a letter. She then decides to go out with the flirtatious Harry Prebble. They have a good time, she ends up at his home and later wakes up hungover. However, during her blackout, Harry was murdered. Norah is the prime suspect as some of her personal effects were left behind in Harry’s apartment. She has no memory of what happened but we’re pretty sure she didn’t do it. The rest of the film follows her on the run, trying to get help from a media personality (Conte) and evading the police until everything is properly sorted out.

This isn’t a noir with a lot of twists but it has just enough to keep things interesting. Noir pictures could often times get over complicated and convoluted but this is almost like noir light.

The Blue Gardenia is a fun movie. Sure, it’s dark and it involves murder but it doesn’t become as dreary as the cinematic style typically suggests. And maybe, by 1953, Fritz Lang was tired of doom and gloom and wanted to craft something a little more upbeat and playful.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Crime of Passion (1957)

Release Date: January 9th, 1957
Directed by: Gerd Oswald
Written by: Jo Eisinger
Music by: Paul Dunlap
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Sterling Hayden, Raymond Burr, Fay Wray

Robert Goldstein Productions, United Artists, 84 Minutes

Review:

“I hope all your socks have holes in them and I can sit for hours and hours darning them.” – Kathy Doyle

While delving deep into film-noir the last few months, I have grown to really cherish and appreciate the talent of Barbara Stanwyck, who is truly the queen of the cinematic style from an acting perspective. However, this is not a film that is really up to the standard of the pictures she was in before it.

It has a good cast with Sterling Hayden, Raymond Burr and Fay Wray in it but it was just lacking in about every conceivable way. Not to say it is a bad picture, it is just kind of a dud.

The story sees a woman (Stanwyck) marry a detective (Hayden). However, she is bored with their normal life and their normal friends and also wants her hubby to have more drive and passion, in order to better himself and not just except the humdrum norm. She does some shady stuff, in an effort to position her husband where she wants him. Ultimately, she has an affair with his boss (Burr). One thing leads to another, Stanwyck proves she’s batshit crazy and she even murders Burr, after he cuts her off following their indiscretion.

The film doesn’t really boast anything great as far as cinematography or style. It’s a pretty straitforward looking picture, with a fairly derivative plot that isn’t as creative as other Stanwyck noir pictures. It just feels like a movie where everyone just sort of dialed it in for a quick buck, as it had some good star power and fit the popular movie trends of the time.

In fact, even Stanwyck is off. Here she is just really shrill and over the top to the point that I don’t like her in this. Burr was typical Burr and at least he wasn’t a bad guy, other than the affair, which he immediately regretted.

Crime of Passion isn’t bad but it also isn’t memorable or worthwhile.

Rating: 6/10