Film Review: Cape Fear (1962)

Also known as: The Executioners (working title)
Release Date: April 12th, 1962 (Miami premiere)
Directed by: J. Lee Thompson
Written by: James R. Webb
Based on: The Executioners by John D. MacDonald
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Martin Balsam, Polly Bergen, Lori Martin, Telly Savalas

Melville Productions, Talbot Productions, Universal Pictures, 106 Minutes

Review:

“I got somethin’ planned for your wife and kid that they ain’t nevah gonna forget. They ain’t nevah gonna forget it… and neither will you, Counselor! Nevah!” – Max Cady

I had to rectify a grave injustice that I have committed against myself for decades. That injustice was never seeing the original version of Cape Fear. Strangely, I love both Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck, plus this has Telly Savalas in it. That alone should have had me on board for this years ago but alas, I didn’t see this wonderful picture until 2018. In my defense, if I had already seen every classic, I wouldn’t be able to be wowed by them the first time.

This is, far and away, better than the remake done by Martin Scorsese and I am a big fan of that picture. That version got in my head when I was a young teen and it never really released its grip. I do need to go back and watch that one too, in the near future.

Anyway, Robert Mitchum is one of the most charismatic actors to ever grace the screen. When Mitchum decides to delve into darker roles though, the audience is in for a treat. Well, if they consider terror as a treat. He’s just so damn good playing such an evil bastard. Between this movie and The Night of the Hunter, he really exists on an evil level in a way that other actors don’t. If you want to see a master of their craft at work, this is a prime example of Robert Mitchum transcending his craft and having a presence that reaches through the screen and haunts your imagination.

Gregory Peck was perfection as the other side of this coin. He represents good and is a solid moral character that believes in law and justice. He is pushed to his limit and almost crosses over to the dark side a few times but ultimately, he keeps his soul clean and pure. If this was made in modern times, the ending would have looked like an obvious attempt at leaving things open for a sequel. But in 1962, goodness prevails without evil being mortally wiped out. Plus, in 2018, they would have had the hero blast a dozen holes into the bad guy while the audience cheered.

This is just a classic tale of good versus evil and that’s why it works so well. There are no bones about how terrible of a person Mitchum’s Max Cady is and the same can be said about the goodness of Peck’s Sam Bowden.

What was surprising about this, at least for me, is that a motion picture from 1962 could cross the lines that this one did. There were the threats of rape and pedophilia, which are disturbing now but imagine seeing this unfold through the eyes of someone in 1962 when film’s were censored by the morality police and the rating system wouldn’t exist for another 6 years.

Cape Fear is near perfect as a straight up thriller. It gives you an immediate sense of danger and dread and slowly simmers for 90 minutes before its nerve wracking climax.

Every actor in this was superb.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: PsychoThe Night of the Hunter and the 1991 Cape Fear remake.

Film Review: Where Danger Lives (1950)

Release Date: July 8th, 1950
Directed by: John Farrow
Written by: Charles Bennett, Leo Rosen
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Faith Domergue, Claude Rains, Maureen O’Sullivan

RKO Radio Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

“I wish you’d stop calling her my daughter. She happens to be my wife!” – Frederick Lannington

Where Danger Lives is a fairly underrated and forgotten film-noir. But it stars Robert Mitchum, so it automatically has a certain level of coolness and solid gravitas. Add in the intense and always engaging Claude Rains and you’ve got something really worthwhile. Plus, Faith Domergue was exceptional as this film’s femme fatale.

I actually didn’t know about this film until Eddie Muller featured it on TCM’s Noir Alley, which is a program you should check out on TCM every Sunday at 10 a.m. EST, if you are a true fan of film-noir. That was not a shameless plug, I just love watching Noir Alley.

This picture is interesting for a lot of reasons. It pairs up two old school badasses, Mitchum and Rains, has a good plot twist when Mitchum’s character suffers a concussion in the middle of the twisty topsy turvy noir-esque proceedings and then starts pitching more narrative curveballs at you.

From a stylisitic standpoint, the film is a pretty standard noir. It’s not visually breathtaking but it is still a beautiful looking picture that is well crafted. It is also directed by John Farrow, whose hand was also in the noir movies, His Kind of Woman, also with Mitchum, and The Big Clock. I’d say this is the best of the three and it is stripped of the flamboyancy that came with the other two. It’s an “on the run” film and the sets are mostly car interiors and road stop locations. It feels grounded in realism more than the others, which had a sort of fantastical grandiose Hollywood feel.

Due to the concussion element of the story, Mitchum’s Dr. Jeff Cameron is in a state of paranoia and confusion. It adds a really interesting dynamic to the film and kind of makes it seem like it could be a big scary hallucination. Mitchum sells it well and him being a doctor going through this condition allows for some good medical explanation of his situation and an understanding of what his fate could be. It makes the film play like a race against time, at least for his character.

The fact that Domergue’s Margo Lannington is nuts and becomes more and more unhinged, also brings another level of instability to the main characters’ dilemma. You know that she isn’t trust worthy and she’s a femme fatale with a bad case of psychosis. This doesn’t bode well for Jeff and his concussed brain. Really, this film is an examination of multiple mental conditions operating in a noir landscape.

The story doesn’t end well for the two main characters, although we get a rare moment where a femme fatale shows some humanity after all the problems she was instrumental in creating. Maybe she actually did care for Jeff and wasn’t just using him like so many other similar characters in the noir narrative style. That, along with the unique type of paranoia on display here, makes this an interesting and worthwhile experience that saved this from becoming a carbon copy of dozens of films before it.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Crossfire (1947)

Release Date: July 22nd, 1947 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Edward Dmytryk
Written by: John Paxton
Based on: The Brick Foxhole by Richard Brooks
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Gloria Grahame, Sam Levene, Jacqueline White

RKO Radio Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“My grandfather was killed just because he was an Irish Catholic. Hating is always the same, always senseless. One day it kills Irish Catholics, the next day Jews, the next day Protestants, the next day Quakers. It’s hard to stop. It can end up killing people who wear striped neckties.” – Police Captain Finlay

Crossfire is a pretty unique film-noir, as it is a very socially progressive movie for its time. The main crime in the film surrounds the murder of a Jewish man and it is discovered that the murder was inspired by bigotry and hatred. This was pretty heavy stuff for 1947 but kudos to RKO Pictures, Edward Dmytryk and John Paxton for putting this picture together. No, not the John Paxton that helped lead the Chicago Bulls to many NBA championships in the 1990s, he spelled his name “Paxson”. This John Paxton was a screenwriter that breathed life into film-noirs like Cornered and Murder, My Sweet.

This film also stars the three Roberts of film-noir: Young, Mitchum and Ryan. Okay, Young wasn’t in a lot of noir but Mitchum and Ryan lived in the genre. Plus, you also have Gloria Grahame, one of the queens of noir. Sam Levene also pops up in this but I feel like he is in almost every noir picture of the 1940s and 1950s. Then again, Elisha Cook Jr. probably has him beat.

Crossfire, despite its star power and its interesting premise, isn’t as good as I had hoped it would be. It’s not a bad movie but it just sort of exists and plays out without a lot of real suspense or tension.

The Academy thought it was pretty damn good though, as it was nominated for five Oscars. Plus, it won the award for Best Social Film at Cannes that year. But awards are typically political statements, even in the 1940s, and the people who hand out awards have always had a bias towards socially conscious cinema. From an accolades perspective, Crossfire greatly benefited from its subject matter.

I don’t mean to sound like I am in any way bashing the picture. It just wasn’t Oscar worthy, in my opinion. Especially in a year where we had Kiss of DeathThe Lady From ShanghaiNightmare AlleyBrute Force and Out of the Past. And those are just some of the film-noirs that I would rank higher not to mention all the other great films from other genres.

The three Roberts all put in solid performances though, as did Grahame. Edward Dmytryk is also a very good director. This is a very good film but when one has to compare it to what else was coming out at the time, it just isn’t on the same level as the films I mentioned in the previous paragraph.

If you love film-noir and any of the actors in this movie, it is still worth your time. I liked the picture and I would certainly watch it again but probably as part of a double feature or marathon.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Farewell, My Lovely (1975)

Release Date: August 8th, 1975
Directed by: Dick Richards
Written by: David Zelag Goodman
Based on: Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler
Music by: David Shire
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Charlotte Rampling, John Ireland, Sylvia Miles, Anthony Zerbe, Harry Dean Stanton, Jack O’Halloran, Joe Spinell, Sylvester Stallone

ITC Entertainment, Avco Embassy Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“[opening lines] This past spring was the first that I felt tired and realized I was growing old. Maybe it was the rotten weather we’d had in L.A. Maybe the rotten cases I’d had. Mostly chasing a few missing husbands and then chasing their wives once I found them, in order to get paid. Or maybe it was just the plain fact that I am tired and growing old.” – Philip Marlowe

Farewell, My Lovely is the first of two pictures where Robert Mitchum plays the famous literary private dick, Philip Marlowe. This is also a remake of 1944’s Murder, My Sweet, as both films were adaptations of the Farewell, My Lovely novel by Raymond Chandler.

Additionally, this came out during the 1970s, when neo-noir was starting to flourish, as a resurgence in the noir style began with the success of Roman Polanski’s 1974 masterpiece Chinatown. Plus, period gangster dramas were also gaining popularity for the first time since the 1930s and 1940s due to The Godfather films by Francis Ford Coppola.

Robert Mitchum, a man who was at the forefront of film-noir during its heyday, finally got his chance to play the genre’s most notable male character. He is also the only actor to get a chance to play Marlowe more than just once, as this film was followed up by 1978’s The Big Sleep, a remake of the iconic 1946 film with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

In regards to the narrative, there really isn’t all that much that is different from this picture and Murder, My Sweet. Sure, it is more violent and some details have changed but it is essentially the same story. It even has a weird drug trip sequence similar to what we got in the 1944 film.

There really isn’t much to sink your teeth into with this movie. It feels like a pointless and fairly soulless attempt at a reboot of the Marlowe character. The art direction and the cinematography are decent but the only real thing that holds this picture above water is Robert Mitchum, as well as some of the other actors.

Charlotte Rampling is decent but she doesn’t have much to do. Harry Dean Stanton appears but he doesn’t have enough meat to chew on. You also get to see a young Sylvester Stallone and Joe Spinell play some henchmen. The only real standout, other than Mitchum, is Jack O’Halloran as the Moose Malloy character.

I had high hopes for this movie but was pretty much let down once seeing it. I’ll still check out its sequel but this is not one of the better neo-noirs of the 1970s.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: Out of the Past (1947)

Also known as: Build My Gallows High (UK)
Release Date: November 25th, 1947
Directed by: Jacques Tourneur
Written by: Daniel Mainwaring
Based on: Build My Gallows High by Daniel Mainwaring
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming

RKO Radio Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“My feelings? About ten years ago, I hid them somewhere and haven’t been able to find them.” – Whit

Up until now, I had never seen Out of the Past. It was one of those film-noir thrillers I was really excited to check out though, as I always heard about how good it was and it starred Robert Mitchum. It also gives us Kirk Douglas in only his second film role, following his success in his debut, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. Add in noir beauty Jane Greer, in probably her most memorable role, and you’ve got a pretty solid recipe.

Also, this is directed by Jacques Tourneur, whose work was always pretty stellar in the horror genre. In fact, his horror-noir hybrid pictures under Val Lewton at RKO were superb. As was 1957’s Night of the Demon and the two films he did with Vincent Price in the 1960s.

Out of the Past is a solid picture and definitely at the high end of the spectrum that is Tourneur’s oeuvre. I prefer his horror-noir movies that came out a few years before this: Cat PeopleI Walked With a Zombie and The Leopard Man but this is still quite a good film. It is top notch as a straight up film-noir tale.

Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas command the screen when they are present but both are slightly overshadowed by Jane Greer, a true femme fatale and arguably one of the all-time best. I certainly don’t mean to take anything away from Mitchum or Douglas; both men bring an intense bravado and gravitas to this picture. Greer just has an enchanting quality that permeates and makes her transcend the celluloid that has captured her.

The cinematography is handled by Nicholas Musuraca, a veteran that worked on several noir-esque pictures before. He worked with Tourneur on Cat People and continued on at RKO with the fabulous The Seventh Victim, as well as The Curse of the Cat PeopleBedlamThe Spiral Staircase and the psychological horror film The Ghost Ship. Musuracsa was a favorite of Val Lewton and was a key contributor to the look of the highly respected Lewton produced films for RKO.

Out of the Past has a very layered story that is difficult to describe without getting too detailed. In a nutshell, it showcases a man who has a hidden past. He opens up and tells his story to his girlfriend, as he drives to meet with an old rival. His story involves a femme fatale, his time as a private eye and the events that lead to him seeking out a new life, far away from his old one.

I really liked Out of the Past. It is a real testament to how skilled Jacques Tourneur and Nicholas Musuraca were. I don’t quite consider it to be their magnum opus but it makes a strong case. The film also helped to propel Mitchum, Greer and Douglas to legendary Hollywood status.

Rating: 8.25/10