Tag Archives: Film Noir

Film Noir Friday: Quicksand

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Film Noir Friday

QUICKSAND (1950)

Mickey Rooney and Film Noir would seem to be another one of his bad marriages, and if it did happen it would be a Hollywood gimmick. It happened several times. After World War II, Rooney was looking to restart his career and present himself as some other than an aging child star. Film Noir might be Rooney’s proper vehicle. In anti-hero style, he made a fortune then, through multiple divorces, drinking, gambling and carousing with women he wasn’t married to, he lost a fortune. So, how did it go?

The credits are classic Noir; loud moody music, a night setting with waves crashing on the beach. Then comes the first scene and we wonder what’s going on. At Gus’ Place, a neighborhood diner, Dan Brady (Mickey Rooney) a mechanic, is having lunch with his friends, co-worker Chuck (Wally Cassell) and charter boat worker Buzz (Jimmie Dodd). They are talking about girls. Talking about girls with Chuck and Buzz. (Yikes.)

After four years in the navy, Dan doesn’t want an anchor, a respectable girl, he wants excitement. In walks a blonde with an I’m-not-in-your-league attitude. Vera (Jeanne Cagney) is the new cashier. She resists Dan’s charm until he invites her out to the Music Box to see Red Nichols and His Five Pennies (a real group).

Dan and Chuck return to work and Dan realizes that he’s broke. He calls Buzz to ask for the $20 he loaned him. (Multiply all dollars amounts by 10; $20 is about half a week’s wages.) Buzz can’t pay him until the next day. Unable to get any money, Dan puts his first foot into the quicksand. With an audit of his register two days off, Dan decides to take the money and replace it the next day.

Dressed and ready for a night out, Dan, in his jalopy, pulls up just as Vera is leaving work and with sexually charged banter, the Noir kicks in. Vera wants to go shopping. He drives her to shop window to see the $2000 mink coat she wants. Dan must be thinking, Screwy dame. The Music Box is closed on Mondays. Vera takes him to an arcade where she used to work.

There is obviously unpleasant history between the arcade owner Nick (Peter Lorre) and Vera. Nick catches her and Dan making out in the photo booth and runs them off. During a walk on the beach, Vera tells Dan that at sixteen she ran away from West Virginia. It seems that she might be a sympathetic character.

The next day, back at work, Dan finds that the bookkeeper has shown up two days early. Desperate, he runs down the street looking for a way to get money. At Jay Jewelry Store he buys a $100 watch for a dollar down and $10 a month. He immediately hocks it for $30 then manages to slip the $20 into the money bag satisfy the bookkeeper. Almost immediately a cop (John Gallaudet) shows up and, knowing what Dan did, explains that selling property with a lien holder is fraud. He gives Dan until noon tomorrow to pay of the watch.

Dan tries to hock his car to Jack For Your Old Hack but he isn’t offered enough so he does the logical thing and goes to a bar. Next to him, and very drunk, is a man called Shorty (Sidney Marion) who runs a bingo parlor and is carrying a lot of money. Dan follows the man into the parking lot, covers his face with a white handkerchief and robs him. Seen by a witness, he jumps a fence, removes the money and throws the wallet and the handkerchief in the garbage.

Hurrying out of the alley, he runs into Helen and her friend Millie (Patsy O’Connor). The girls separate so Helen can be with Dan. After buying Helen an ice cream, he runs off on her to join Vera.

In the Arcade, Dan finds Nick struggling with Vera, wanting the $50 he says she owes him. She claims it was a gift. Dan doesn’t want her owing him anything so he throws a fifty dollar bill at Nick. Dan takes Vera to the Music Bar, he claims to have won it playing craps. It’s common knowledge in the neighborhood that Shorty carries fifties and she has heard about the robbery. (Nick has also connected Dan to the robbery.)

The next day Dan pays off the watch. Nick found Dan’s mask and uses it for blackmail. He wants a new car from the garage where Dan works. Once again desperate, he leaves the bathroom window open, breaks in that night and gets the car to Nick.

When he goes to work the next morning the garage owner, Markey (Art Smith), tells Dan that he knows he stole the car and he wants it back tomorrow or $3000 for a car that lists at $1950. Dan finds Vera at Gus’ Place, where she still works, and asks her to go to Texas with him. As he drives her home he tells her everything. She knows where they can get that kind of money; rob Nick. He keeps enough to cash paychecks.

While Vera waits by the car, she sends Dan in to get the money. Dan is not a practiced burglar. He makes enough noise to alert the night watchman. Dan gets shot at but makes an escape. Back at Vera’s room they count out $3610. The Landlady (Minerva Urecal) catches them together and runs Dan off.

The next day Dan makes arrangements to meet that night with Mackey in his office. When Dan is finally able find Vera, he meet her in her room. She is wearing the mink coat. She tells him that she bought it with her share of the money. Dan’s life is slipping from his control. Vera tells him to take what’s left and offer it to Mackey; she got a $2000 mink coat for $1800.

Dan takes what money is left and tells Mackey to take it or leave it. Mackey takes it then picks up the phone to call the police while holding a gun on Dan. Dan jumps across the desk and, in the fight, strangles Mackey.

Outside Vera’s, he runs into Chuck and Helen arm in arm. Chuck tells him that he quit Mackey because he accused him of stealing the car and he either wanted the car back or $3000.

In Vera’s room, Dan tells her what has happened and again she refuses to go to Texas. He sees her for what she is; selfish and corrupt. As he leaves, the cops are coming up the stairs; Dan runs the other way. While he is hiding on the ledge with Mackey’s gun, the police serve a search warrant on Vera. She assumes they’re looking for Dan. She rambles on about dead body; she doesn’t notice they’re looking through drawers. Thinking that Dan may be hiding in the closet, they find the mink coat. Vera tells them that she bought it with her own money and shows them the receipt. Nick figured she was involved in the robbery and the police work out that the $1800 was her half of the money.

Dan makes his way to his car where Helen is waiting. She too had figured out that he had robbed Shorty. He tries to get her to leave but she refuses. They are making plans to go to Mexico when the car breaks down. At a stoplight they jump in the back of a man’s car and Dan tells him to drive. The man turns out to be Harvey (Taylor Holmes), a sympathetic lawyer. Dan confesses to try and save Helen. Harvey raises the possibility that Mackey might not be dead.

Dan’s next plan is to catch Buzz’s boat at the Santa Monica Pier and get to Mexico by sea. Helen wants to go with him but he assures her that he will send for her after he’s established himself there. He leaves Helen with Harvey, who promises to wait a while before calling the police.

The police are at the boat questioning Buzz. Harvey and Helen turn on the radio. After a scare, hearing that all exits from the city are blocked, they here that they’re looking for a cop killer. The next report announces that Mackey survived and named Dan as his assailant.

Missing the boat, the police on the Pier come on Dan. After a frantic chase, where Dan drops his gun, Dan is shot in the shoulder. Harvey’s car to take Dan to the hospital. Once they catch Dan up on the events, Harvey figures that he’ll get from one to ten years, but as a first time offender, it will probably be closer to a year. Helen promises to wait. A year or two in prison is presented as a Hollywood happy ending.

Lacking in intensity and claustrophobic atmosphere, this movie is not a classic but watching it is not a waste of time. It does need to be pointed out that a body count of zero is nearly unheard of in the Land of Noir.

Film Noir Friday: Ascenseur pour l’échafaud

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Film Noir Friday, written by William Peace

Ascenseur pour l’echafaud (1958)- a French Film Noir directed by Louis Malle. In the US: Elevator to the Gallows- Frantic; in the UK Lift to the Scaffold. It stars Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet.

In older movies it is often difficult to understand the context. To many of us, this isn’t the Jeanne Moreau we dream of; here she is the suburban type wife of a wealthy man and she is made up to fit the part. By this time she had been in 20 movies but she had not yet appeared in Jules et Jim.

Some movies of this era appeal only to cinephiles; this isn’t one of those. Most of the decisions made by the creative team behind the camera are exactly right. The pacing, the lighting, the editing fit the material. That said, the use of Ms Moreau: this is not the woman most men would want to surrender themselves to, but you could see her wanting to have an exciting lover and wanting to have her older husband’s wealth. But there she was, in the café, wondering what was happening, wondering if her lover, her husband’s friend, had went through with their plan. And you could see her hoping that he hadn’t; that her husband was still alive; that they could go away and live their lives- without money.

I won’t spend a lot of time discussing Jeanne Moreau, but this is not who she was to a lot of us who became aware of her when we were all so young.

This film is often discussed in the terms of the score by Miles Davis. This was an intensely creative time for him but his music does not overpower the movie, though some consider the movie groundbreaking for that reason only.

Florence Carala (Jeanne Moreau) and Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet) have decided that they have to murder Simon Carala (Jean Wall). Simon is a wealthy man and Julien’s boss. Julien uses his skills as an ex-Foreign Legion officer, a veteran of the Indochina and Algerian wars. Working late, Julien uses a rope to get into Carala’s office and arranges his murder to look like a suicide.

As Julien gets into his sporty convertible he sees the rope hanging from the building. He leaves the engine running and he hurries into the building and into the elevator. Going up in the elevator, the caretaker turns off the power and he is trapped between floors for the weekend.

Julien’s car is then stolen by a young couple; Louis, a small time crook, and flower shop assistant Veronique.

Waiting for Julien in a café, Florence sees the car past by; seeing only Veronique. To her, it appears that Julien has run off with a younger woman. Completely unnerved, Florence spends the night asking about Julien in the bars where he is known.

In Julien’s car, Louis puts on his gloves and begins to assume his identity; checking into a hotel as Mr. and Mrs. Julien Tavernier. At the hotel they meet a German couple on holiday; Horst and Frieda Bencker. Frieda uses Julien’s camera to take pictures of the party.

That night, Louis decides he is going to steal The Bencker’s Mercedes-Benz 300 SL gullwing. Horst catches them and when Louis sees Horst’s cigar tube, he assumes it is a gun, he kills the couple with Julien’s handgun. Louis and Veronique return to her apartment in Paris. Veronique convinces her boyfriend to join her in a suicide pact; which fails.

The dead bodies of the Bencker’s are discovered. With the evidence of Julien’s car, handgun and raincoat, he is the prime suspect; his picture in the morning newspapers.
Julien had spent the night in the elevator, calming trying to get himself out. When the power came on in the morning, he had managed to get himself out. Florence had spent the night trying to find him; even to the point where she had wandered into her husband’s friends and gotten herself arrested as a prostitute.

Then comes the point where Florence wants to find Veronique and clear Julien of the Bencker murders. After finding them woozy, Florence accuses them of killing the Benckers and calls the police. Believing that there is no evidence to connect them with the crime, Louis (the police detective) has the photographs developed and Florence and Julien are arrested.

The question is: Why didn’t Florence and Julien say that Simon didn’t kill himself because of the relationship between is best friend and wife? And why did Florence and Julien give themselves up so easily? The answer may be that it is easier to kill someone than to live with having killed someone. Maybe, after all the lies, Florence and Julien just wanted it to be over with.

Film Noir Friday: Laura

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Laura

Detective Mark McPherson investigates the apparent murder of advertising executive Laura Hunt. Told in flashback by Newspaper columnist Waldo Lydecker, Laura follows the detective as he falls in love with her through diaries and a portrait that hangs on her wall.
Gene Tierney stars as Laura, the titular character whose image floats through the film as if she were a mythical creature. Dana Andrews stars opposite her as the detective, Clifton Webb is Waldo Lydecker, Vincent Price is Shelby Carpenter, a role that would surprise today’s audiences, and Dorothy Adams is Bessie Clary.
Laura was adapted to screen from the 1943 novel of the same name by Vera Caspary. Directed and Produced by Otto Preminger, Laura is a classic Film Noir making lists of the top Noir’s for years.
While today’s audience may not find themselves as satisfied with the reveal, Laura still stands the test of time. A successful and talented woman is at the helm. Put on a pedestal by all the men, today’s feminist audience may see these male characters in a less than romantic light.
Film Noir has allowed women to take on roles usually reserved for men. After the Hayes Code was instated women typically portrayed the love interest, the wife, or the daughter. Occasionally they got to play roles far more interesting than that and Laura was a role worth having. Gene Tierney is perfect, as it is believable that any man could fall for her on her portrait alone. She has an essence that pours off the screen; her image excites us as she glides through the memories and imaginations of the other characters. While this role puts Tierney in a place of objectification she is also a strong and smart woman who fights against the ideas that men have of her.

 

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Gene Tierney and Vincent Price

Laura could have been created for the young starlet who by this time was best known for her film Heaven Can Wait alongside Don Ameche. While other good roles came before Laura better ones came after. Tierney would go on to star in Leave Her to Heaven alongside Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain and once again, Vincent Price. Vincent Price would appear in a few more roles outside of the genre he is most associated with but would eventually find his home in horror.

 

 

 

Film Noir Friday: Shadow of a Doubt

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Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright

To some Film Noir is a genre not unlike Westerns and Gangster movies. They all seem to fit into a certain mold. Unlike the two genres mentioned, Film Noir is a little different. It doesn’t fit into a well defined mold. Yes, the majority of Film Noir’s have a detective. Sometimes that detective is the star and sometimes he is after the main male and female characters. Sometimes he is also the bad guy. While Film Noir has a specific set of rules those rules are meant to be broken and it has a style of film making that goes beyond the restraints of a genre.

Film Noir, meaning Black Film in French, is a very American style of film making that many directors of the forties into the fifties have tried. Some live in the genre while some have tried and moved into a different style. Hitchcock tried the genre more than once but Shadow of a Doubt was easily his most successful foray.

Starring Joseph Cotten as Uncle Charlie and Terese Wright as his niece Charlie, Shadow of a Doubt is Hitchcock’s favorite of all the films he made. It is also my own personal favorite Hitchcock film. Uncle Charlie is a black widower who murdered several older women. Adored by his namesake niece and his older sister, Uncle Charlie comes to his family’s home in Northern California after the cops begin to hone in on him.

Joseph Cotton’s performance as Uncle Charlie is among one of my favorite performances of all time. One reason being the incredible dinner scene. Without giving to much away, young Charlie is beginning to have her doubts about her beloved Uncle after she meets one of the detectives on his trail. Uncle Charlie is beginning to lose his grip as he lets his family get a little too close to the personality behind the facade.

Note: Hume Cronyn’s film debut playing older than his years. Joseph Cotton delivers a performance unlike any performance he gave before. Most well known as the good guy to Orson Welles less likable characters, Cotton went against type in the gamble of his career.

Film Noir Friday: Too Late for Tears

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Lizabeth Scott as Jane Palmer

Too Late for Tears was originally released in 1949 starring Lizabeth Scott, Don DeFore, Dan Duryea, Arthur Kennedy and Kristine Miller. The film was Directed by Byron Haskin, written by Roy Huggins and adapted from a serial by Roy Huggins. In the public domain, Too Late for Tears is available to watch on YouTube in pristine condition. An original print was found in France and restored at UCLA. This edition premiered on TCM on July 17, 2015.

After a bag of cash is thrown into their backseat by mistake a husband and wife disagree on what to do with it. Alan Palmer, played by Arthur Kennedy wants to turn it in. His wife Jane, played by Lizabeth Scott, wants to keep the money. Things soon go south for her when she meets Danny Fuller (Dan Duryea) who claims the money is his. Jane tries desperately to keep the money, going so far as to kill her own husband and bring Fuller into it. As she grows more ruthless, Jane’s sister in law Kathy (Kristine Miller) becomes suspicious of her so she calls in a man from his past.

Too Late for Tears showcases the perfect example of a Femme Fatale. A beautiful women who pulls the strings even as the anti-hero attempts to gain control. Much like the better known Femme Fatale’s like Barbara Stanwyck’s turn as Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity, Jane Palmer seduces a man into helping her get away with the murder of her husband. While Stanwyck’s role as Phyllis was straight up seduction, things for Jane are a little different. There was no original plan for her to do this but she was sick of the mundane life she was leading. Being a house wife was not for her so when given the opportunity to change her life she went for it. She was willing to risk her life and things resulted in murder just so she could hold onto it. Beneath the wide eyed innocence that she seems to pull off so perfectly is a killer who’s main goal is to grab a huge chunk out of life damn the consequences.

When a film is found or restored I will always recommend it. Especially if that film is good or at least interesting. Too Late for Tears is one of my new favorite films of the genre. The main focus is on the female protagonist and while there are big male roles in the film it is the woman that does most of the dirty work. Film Noir has always been one of my favorites due to the complexity of the female characters and this film is no exception. It gives us a character that appears innocent and thirsty for adventure on the surface but beneath it all she is thirsty for a lot more. She shows weakness, strength and a vigorous need to fight back. That vigor however will be her end.

 

Film Noir Friday: Fourteen Hours

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Richard Basehart and Paul Douglas in Fourteen Hours

Fourteen Hours, is a lesser known Film Noir from 1951, directed by Henry Hathaway and Written by John Paxton. Based on an article by Joel Sayre in The New Yorker describing the 1938 suicide of John William Warden. The film was shot in New York and is the film debut of Grace Kelly in a small role.

The film follows a cop as he attempts to coerce a suicidal man off the ledge of a building. Onlookers and family discord make the situation worse as the Officer attempts to gain the unstable man’s trust. Over the course of fourteen hours he succeeds in winning him over only to have his efforts continually messed up due to those around him.

My happiest surprise while watching this film was the treatment of mental illness and the reality the stigma towards it. People on the streets are seen as being both sympathetic and horrible towards the situation. Below the man on the ledge, taxi drivers are placing bets and kids are mocking him. While this is a harsh view it is a true one and a view we still live with today. Far too often people forget that those suffering from a mental illness and those on the brink of suicide are ill and they need help. However we don’t view it in the same vein as physical illnesses like cancer so we have a distorted view of the harsh reality.

On the streets and in the buildings of New York, life continued. People went to work, found their ways back to each other and managed to find love. It is a Hollywood movie after all. You could’t expect them to make a movie with at least a little romance did you? Fourteen Hours breaks up the drama that exist on the ledge by showing us his affect on those below him and how they react to the situation. While this film may not be as well known as Noir classics  Laura and Double Indemnity, it still works with a great script and superb acting by the films star, Robert Cosick.

Two endings to the film exist. The original and preferred ending by the Director has Robert falling to his death but due to the suicide of Fox President, Spyros Skouras daughter on the day of the films preview the ending was changed to have Robert survive.

Netflix Pick of the Week: Sunset Boulevard

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Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond

Los Angeles resident and famed director Billy Wilder wondered about the lives of retired actresses famous in the days of silent pictures. They still lived in the grand Beverly Hills houses they bought during their career. How is their existence molded by their past lives as film stars? Wilder concocted his own story and imagined the world of an aging, reclusive former film star he named Norma Desmond.

Starring former Vamp of the silver screen, Gloria Swanson, Sunset Boulevard was destined to be a hit. Along side the legendary actress, William Holden starred as down on his luck screenwriter Joe Gillis.  Told in flashback and narrated by Gillis as he recalls the events leading up to his death.

Sunset Boulevard stands out in a genre that had become saturated by the time of its release. A large part of that is most likely due to co-writer Charles Brackett and Writer/Director Wilder who is famous for his work in Noir; having directed two of the best in the genre. Before Sunset Boulevard, Wilder made Double Indemnity, a 1944 Film Noir starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. Double Indemnity is often sited as the film that fits into most categories in the genre and six years later Wilder would direct Desmond, I mean Gloria Swanson in her close up.

Even if you haven’t seen this film chances are you can picture it. A garish middle aged women, a reclusive film star who lives in the past; her dreams of a comeback subverted by her break from reality. Sunset Boulevard’s image of Desmond descending the stairs is engrained in the minds of film lovers everywhere.

Sunset Boulevard is one of my favorites from the genre. It almost acts as a satire of both Film Noir and the industry itself. Not a lot has changed in the years since so many women everywhere can relate to the harsh reality of aging. Apparently we just aren’t as appealing to an audience of men that want us stuck in our twenties. For actresses their careers are harder to lengthen due to the lack of roles offered to women as they age. For men however their careers seem to get better. Norma Desmond is a product of the fantasy world that created her and spat her out when she got a little too old to stand next to the men her age. Stuck in the fantasy world of her own making and with the help of her butler Norma Desmond tries to find a way back into the world she once loved so much but it is her break with reality that will be her final undoing.

Sunset Boulevard is available to watch on Netflix. Below is a clip from the film and an introduction into the crazy world of Desmond herself.

“I am big, it’s the pictures that got small”.