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

Film Review: Raw Deal (1948)

Release Date: May 26th, 1948
Directed by: Anthony Mann
Written by: Leopold Atlas, John C. Higgins, Arnold B. Armstrong, Audrey Ashley
Music by: Paul Sawtell
Cast: Dennis O’Keefe, Claire Trevor, Marsha Hunt, Raymond Burr

Edward Small Productions, Reliance Pictures, 79 Minutes

Review:

“What do you know about anything? You probably had your bread buttered on both sides since the day you were born. Safe. Safe on first, second, third, and home.” – Joseph Emmett Sullivan

I checked out Raw Deal on TCM’s Noir Alley. However, I’ve known about it for a little while. It was covered and discussed in several books I’ve read about film-noir and every writer that mentioned it gave it a lot of praise. I was glad to see it in the Noir Alley lineup, as I wanted to check it out myself.

The film stars Dennis O’Keefe, Claire Trevor and Marsha Hunt. The three find themselves in a love triangle, as the two women are on the lam with O’Keefe’s Joseph. Trevor plays Pat while Hunt plays Ann. Pat helps Sullivan escape prison. However, unbeknownst to her, at the time, he doesn’t have romantic feelings for her. Instead, his heart is with a social worker, Ann. Sullivan escapes in an effort to get revenge on the brutish mobster Rick Coyle (played by Raymond Burr). However, Coyle has his own plans for Sullivan.

Burr’s Coyle is exceptionally brutal, as the film’s heavy. In one scene, he throws a flaming bowl into the face of a woman. The scene was edited to show the flaming bowl flying into the face of the audience from a first-person point-of-view, which was quite savage for a 1940s picture. After seeing this movie, I have a newfound respect for Burr, as he can play an evil mob boss just as well as a nice, do-gooder lawyer.

O’Keefe and Trevor put in good performances but the sweet and innocent Hunt really pulls you in. When she has to commit an unspeakable act, your heart goes out to her, as she’s a good person pulled into a dark web and forced to participate in the proceedings that seem so much larger than her and more barbarous than anything she should have to experience.

The thing that really brings this motion picture to the next level is the cinematography by John Alton. The man did some superb work with this film and it is the best looking film-noir I have seen. I wouldn’t say that it surpasses Citizen Kane, which isn’t really a noir, but it gets close to that level. In fact, it surpasses The Third Man, which I never thought another film from this era could do, as that film is so visually satisfying.

The film has several spectacular looking scenes. The one, for me, that really stands out is when Joseph and Pat are on the ship, about to escape the country, when Pat finally confesses a dark secret. The scene shows a side profile of Pat’s face, close-up, as it is layered over the backdrop of a plain wall and a plain clock. It is how this moment is captured that truly shows the difference between a great cinematographer and an average one. The shadows, the stark contrast, the chiaroscuro effect pushed to the extreme – it creates a real sense of darkness, despair and a small glimmer of hope that Pat will overcome whatever wickedness is in her heart and do the right thing. It is one of the best looking scenes ever shot on celluloid. Not to take anything away from Claire Trevor but this is an example of great cinematography backing up an actor’s performance and making it grander than it would have otherwise been.

There are so many great scenes like the one I just described but that one stood out the most. The film makes great use of fog and environment to enhance the effect of the noir visual style. This is a near masterpiece, overall, but it is a true masterpiece in regards to the cinematography.

Raw Deal isn’t the best film-noir but it could very well be the best looking true noir. It is certainly the best looking out of all the films I have seen in the style. That doesn’t mean that I won’t delve deeper into the noir barrel and eventually pull out something better. But out of the few dozen of these pictures I’ve seen, this one takes the cinematography cake.

Rating: 9.25/10

Film Review: Pitfall (1948)

Release Date: August 24th, 1948
Directed by: Andre DeToth
Written by: Karl Kamb, Andre DeToth (uncredited), William Bowers (uncredited)
Based on: The Pitfall by Jay Dratler
Music by: Louis Forbes (uncredited)
Cast: Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott, Raymond Burr, Jane Wyatt, Ann Doran

Regal Films, United Artists, 86 Minutes

Review:

“She probably doesn’t appeal to you but for me, she’s just what I told the doctor to order.” – J.B. MacDonald

I have always liked Dick Powell in film-noir and Lizabeth Scott had my heart from the first moment I saw her. She is one of my favorite leading ladies of all-time, especially from her era. This picture also has Raymond Burr, a guy I’ve always been a fan of since discovering Godzilla at a young age and because of my mum’s love of Perry Mason reruns. Ann Doran also shows up in this movie.

Frankly, there are a lot of good pieces here but the film mostly falls flat. It is film-noir in style but it’s more about infidelity. Strangely, being that this was a 1940s film and that the Hollywood rules were strict on morals, Dick Powell’s character gets off really easy. The truth behind this, is that the film was actually in violation of the Hays Code but Andre DeToth, the director, went before two senior board members and pointed out that they both had mistresses. Needless to say, the film was released as DeToth envisioned it.

Dick Powell is solid in the movie but doesn’t have the presence he had when he was the first actor to play the famous Philip Marlowe character in 1944’s Murder, My Sweet or when he was his typical “tough guy” characters. Lizabeth Scott was as beautiful as ever and had charm and charisma but her character, overall, didn’t have the gravitas of some of her other roles. Raymond Burr, at this point, was just the standard heavy but that was really his role until he became Perry Mason on television.

The problem with this film, is that it starts out strong, moves at a brisk pace but then loses itself somewhere in the middle. While it tackles a provocative subject, for the time, it handles the situation with kid gloves and doesn’t really explore the underlying darkness of the characters’ indiscretions. And as much as I like the cast, I just don’t care enough about their characters.

Pitfall is not a bad film and most people seem to like it more than I did. It’s just one of those movies that pulls you in and then releases you well before the story is over.

Rating: 6.25/10