Film Review: Nora Prentiss (1947)

Also known as: The Sentence (working title)
Release Date: February 7th, 1947 (Philadelphia premiere)
Directed by: Vincent Sherman
Written by: N. Richard Nash, Paul Webster, Jack Sobell
Music by: Franz Waxman
Cast: Ann Sheridan, Kent Smith, Bruce Bennett, Robert Alda

Warner Bros., 111 Minutes

Review:

“I’m writing a paper on ailments of the heart.” – Doctor Richard Talbot, “A paper? I could write a book!” – Nora Prentiss

This is a classic film-noir that has been on my list for a long time. I had never seen it because it has never streamed anywhere that I’m aware of and I subscribe to a ton of these services. But it was finally featured on TCM’s Noir Alley, which seems long overdue, based off of all the great things I’ve heard about this movie from noir experts.

I’d have to say that it pretty much lived up to the hype. It’s not one of my all-time favorites but it was a well-crafted story with one of those really dark endings that sort of makes your heart sink.

Sure, the main guy, Kent Smith’s Talbot, is a bit of a shithead, as he fakes his own death to escape his wife and children so that he can run off with Nora, but by the end of the journey, you feel his remorse and his shame and when he makes the decision to be executed, to save his family from even more pain, it’s some pretty heavy stuff.

Additionally, all the emotion throughout this film is built up so well because of how convincing Ann Sheridan and Kent Smith were. They had solid chemistry, felt like genuine characters and this movie feels a bit ahead of its time, as these characters don’t come across as typical archetypes. Nora Prentiss may be a mistress but she’s not a femme fatale causing wreckage for her own personal gain. She’s a woman, caught up in emotion that ends up experiencing a great loss as the result of her and Talbot’s careless and selfish actions.

The film was directed by Vincent Sherman, who also directed other classic film-noirs: The Unfaithful, Backfire, The Damned Don’t Cry, Harriet Craig, Affair In Trinidad and The Garment Jungle. But he’s also the director of one of my favorite Errol Flynn swashbuckling pictures: Adventures of Don Juan.

If anything, this film has made me want to go down the rabbit hole of Sherman’s oeuvre. It was carefully crafted, well executed and had more dramatic flair and heart than a typical noir movie.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures like The Unfaithful, The Breaking Point and Backfire.

Film Review: Crime School (1938)

Release Date: May 10th, 1938 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Lewis Seiler
Written by: Crane Wilbur, Vincent Sherman
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: The Dead End Kids, Humphrey Bogart, Gale Page, George Offerman Jr., Weldon Heyburn, Cy Kendall

Warner Bros., 86 Minutes

Review:

“Those guards you fired were valuable men. Whatta you want to replace them with? A crew of schoolteachers?” – Morgan, “Maybe you got things just a little twisted, Morgan. This is a school you’re running and not a prison. You’re dealing with kids, not hardened criminals!” – Mark Braden

I never really watched any of the Dead End Kids movies but my mum always liked them. I was aware of who they were but they just seemed like an older, unfunny Little Rascals to me.

However, while trying to clear out my queue on FilmStruck before it closed down, I was hitting all the Humphrey Bogart movies I could, so that brought me to this.

I actually liked this picture and not just because it features Bogart in a prominent role.

The Dead End Kids aren’t as kiddish and comedic as the Little Rascals or other similar groups. It’s certainly a familiar shtick but the tone of this film is mostly serious and has a much harder edge than I expected. In fact, the kids are straight up juvenile criminals and you even believe them to have killed a man, until it’s revealed by dialogue later that the guy they bludgeoned nearly to death, survived the attack.

Anyway, this sends them all to juvenile detention for two years but luckily for them, it is at the beginning of Bogart’s tenure, where he is a stand up guy that is actually trying to reform these boys and not set them up for failure and a life of crime.

The film examines the criminal justice system pretty good for its day. And really, the story is relevant today, as criminal rehabilitation is still a joke.

I liked the message of the movie and what it was trying to convey and I thought that it played out nice on screen. Bogart’s Mark Braden did everything he could to help the kids, even if his actions at the end of the film were a bit criminal too.

The kids weren’t too annoying, Bogart was superb and I thought that his leading lady, Gale Page, was also quite good and pretty lovable.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Dead End Kids movies, as well as other Bogart crime pictures.

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: Adventures of Don Juan (1948)

Also known as: The New Adventures of Don Juan (UK)
Release Date: December 1st, 1948
Directed by: Vincent Sherman
Written by: Herbert Dalmas, George Oppenheimer, Harry Kurnitz
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Errol Flynn, Viveca Lindfors, Robert Douglas

Warner Bros., 110 Minutes

the-adventures-of-don-juanReview:

Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved Adventures of Don Juan. It is a swashbuckling political romance film starring one of my all-time favorites, Errol Flynn. Also, it has an amazing score and is capped off by a fantastic sword fight.

Vincent Sherman’s direction, in this film, was stellar. While he may not gel in the same way that Michael Curtiz did with Flynn, he still gets the most out of the legendary actor, as well as the other players.

Originally, Max Steiner was not set to be the man behind the film’s score but Erich Wolfgang Korngold retired while production was delayed. Adventures of Don Juan greatly benefits from Steiner’s score. The main theme is one of the best in cinema history. It is also pretty recognizable to fans of The Goonies, as it appears in that film multiple times.

Errol Flynn looks like he is having a lot of fun in this picture. His chemistry with female lead Viveca Lindfors is really good but then again, he always has great chemistry with his leading ladies. This is probably why he was the perfect choice to play Don Juan.

The villainous Duke de Lorca, played by Robert Douglas, was a perfect foil for Flynn’s Don Juan. Their final duel was close to perfection. It also added in an extra element when both men fought with swords and daggers.

The film also had good special effects and impressive stunts. In fact, the scene where Don Juan rips a gigantic flaming curtain down, in an effort to thwart off the castle guards, looked dangerous as hell.

Adventures of Don Juan is a well-weaved tapestry. Everything just works and it is an exciting movie that moves at a great pace and delivers on action and humor. It also looks beautiful in the process.

Rating: 9/10