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 Damned Don’t Cry (1950)

Release Date: April 7th, 1950 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Vincent Sherman
Written by: Harold Medford, Jerome Weidman
Based on: a story by Gertrude Walker
Music by: Daniele Amfitheatrof
Cast: Joan Crawford, David Brian, Steve Cochran, Strother Martin (uncredited)

Warner Bros. Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t talk to me about self-respect. That’s something you tell yourself you got when you got nothing else.” – Ethel Whitehead

The first fifteen minutes of this film sucked me right in. It had a very effective start but then it didn’t let go as it rolled on.

Man, I just really loved Joan Crawford in this. She’s always a treat to see in anything but something about how she played this role felt a little bit more organic and closer to her real personality and charm, as opposed to being the centerpiece in a tightly controlled and meticulously crafted big Hollywood production. Not to say that this wasn’t a tightly controlled and meticulously crafted big Hollywood production but it seemed like she had more room to breathe with her performance. I’d almost say that there was more emphasis on freedom of performance and realism than just trying to make her look gorgeous mixed with a touch of viciousness.

As the story goes on, we see Crawford play out the typical femme fatale shtick. She uses her sex appeal and charm to work her way up the social chain from man to man, not caring much about how she burns them on the way. So it should go without saying that this doesn’t lead towards a happy ending for most of the main players. But there is a dark twist at the end, which surprised me, considering how the morality code in Hollywood worked at the time.

It’s fun watching this story escalate and seeing characters turn into monsters as it progresses, all because of the selfish actions of one broken woman. It’s a movie where likable characters evolve into unlikable ones, even if you initially just see them as victims of Ethel’s (Crawford) toxic antics.

The story moves at a pretty brisk pace and it doesn’t relent from start to finish. The plot has a lot of pieces and clever swerves but it’s crafted well and goes off without a hitch. This had some solid screenwriting work from Harold Medford, as well as Jerome Weidman.

This also had crisp cinematography and obviously the lighting was fine tuned to make Crawford glow but the picture also has a dark and brooding, organic grittiness to it. Sure, a lot of it looks like classic Hollywood and fantastical in its magic but the movie is well balanced between the shiny veneer and the darkness that the veneer is made to distract you from. You see beyond the beautiful and superficial topical layer, right into the abyss that’s waiting to pull all these people down.

This is a top notch film-noir, from a top studio and featuring one of the top stars of the era. I can’t say it enough, Crawford was an absolute gem in this and it’s strange to me that this isn’t one of her better known motion pictures.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Joan Crawford film-noir pictures like Mildred Pierce and Possessed.

Film Review: The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

Release Date: June 1st, 1950
Directed by: John Huston
Written by: Ben Maddow, John Huston
Based on: The Asphalt Jungle by W.R. Burnett
Music by: Miklós Rózsa
Cast: Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe, John McIntire, Marilyn Monroe, Anthony Caruso, Strother Martin (uncredited)

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 112 Minutes

Review:

“One way or another, we all work for our vice.” – Doc Riedenschneider

John Huston was a true maestro of film-noir. Sure, he made some other great films but there was just something special about his work on The Maltese FalconKey Largo and this, the grittiest and ballsiest of his noir pictures.

The Asphalt Jungle is a heist movie but it is so much more than that. However, the heist itself is a stellar sequence that probably went on to inspire just about every good cinematic heist after it. It takes its time, builds suspense and created a lot of the tropes associated with the heist genre.

The film also makes an immediate impact, thanks to the powerful opening theme by Miklós Rózsa, who really knew how to set the tone with all the film-noir movies he scored. The music is great throughout the entire picture and creates the type of mood needed to audibly enhance this gritty and tense film.

The cinematography was handled by Harold Rosson and was done in great contrast to his opulent and colorful fantasy world seen in The Wizard of Oz. And like Oz, this film got Rosson an Academy Award nomination. However, he was no stranger to nominations, as he also received the same honors for Boom TownThirty Seconds Over Tokyo and The Bad Seed. Before all those nominations, however, he was awarded an Honorary Oscar for his color cinematography in 1936’s The Garden of Allah, which was only the fifth film in history to be photographed in Three-strip Technicolor.

Needless to say, Rosson was an accomplished cinematographer, ahead of his time, and he captured things on this film, along with Huston’s direction, that showcased a real technical prowess and an ability to create more dynamic scenes with less shots and more natural and fluid motion between characters and their environments.

Sterling Hayden has a strong presence and we get to spend some time with Jean Hagen and a young Marilyn Monroe, who was on the verge of superstardom. Character actor Strother Martin even pops up in this.

This is an incredible film-noir to look at. It takes risks but it really is art in the highest sense in how it all comes together: a perfect storm and an amazingly woven tapestry. There are a lot of interesting characters, twist and turns and there aren’t any real faults to pick apart.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Slap Shot (1977)

Release Date: February 25th, 1977
Directed by: George Roy Hill
Written by: Nancy Dowd
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Paul Newman, Strother Martin, Michael Ontkean, Jennifer Warren, Jeff Carlson, Steve Carlson, David Hanson, Melinda Dillon

Pan Arts, Kings Road Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 123 Minutes 

slap_shotReview:

It’s almost the 40th anniversary of Slap Shot, so why not revisit it?

Slap Shot is what I consider to be the greatest hockey film of all-time. No, it is not a Disney family movie and it is crude, violent and often times profane. However it is also lovable, approachable and pretty much timeless. It also embodies the spirit of manliness and old school small town hockey unlike any other film. Albeit the more modern Goon has become a pretty close second.

This film has two great things going for it. First, it has Paul Newman in the lead role as an aging hockey player/coach that loves his team and his teammates as much as he loves the sport that pays his bills. Second, it has the violent iconic trio known as the Hanson Brothers, who are willing to take out any obstacle and pummel any opponent that gets in their way. The other characters are also equally awesome in their own ways and to be honest, this is the most entertaining sports team ever assembled on film.

The movie follows the Charlestown Chiefs, as they watch their town crumble after the closing of the local factory and the news that they are being sold and disbanded following the season. It is also a fight against the system and a fight for the sake of fighting in a world becoming neutered by political correctness. Additionally, it brings a bit of 70s era commentary on the aftermath of the free love movement and societal fears of homosexuality. It is a much more politically and socially conscious film than what it appears to be on the surface.

Slap Shot is also unique in the fact that this testosterone-fueled cinematic romp was written by a woman, Nancy Dowd. While that may seem odd, especially for the time, she did a more than spectacular job of capturing the essence of hockey and the thought process of manly men in a world changing around them. Dowd went on the be a writer for Saturday Night Live during its heyday. She also wrote several screenplays throughout the 70s and 80s – most notably Coming Home. She was also an uncredited contributor to the scripts of North Dallas Forty, Ordinary People and Cloak & Dagger.

The director of the film was George Roy Hill who won multiple Oscars throughout his career. His best-known pictures were Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Great Waldo Pepper, A Little Romance and Thoroughly Modern Millie. He also did the critically-panned Chevy Chase film Funny Farm. Not really being nominated for anything for his work on Slap Shot, I feel like Hill got snubbed. While it wasn’t necessarily a “picture of the year” sort of movie, it has gone on to become much larger than a run of the mill cult classic.

Slap Shot is a glorious film representing a bygone era for the sport it is based on, as well as the culture of that time. Its message still rings true today and if anything, the underlying political and social current of the film still feels authentic and honest. Often times, comedy can make a point and hit a mark much more effectively than a dramatization. And despite all of that, it is still a thoroughly entertaining movie and a classic sports comedy unlike any other. Slap Shot is a unique gem of a film.