Tag Archives: films

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: 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.

And so this is Christmas…..

It’s a time for decorating trees, red and green, music, family and hope. Wait I did forget something didn’t I. Oh yeah that’s right, Movies. Movies are an essential part of the Christmas tradition these days. I have one very important film my family and I watch every year when preparing for Christmas. Can you guess what it is? It’s a Holiday Classic and it has a young, adorable Natalie Wood. That’s right you guessed it Miracle on 34th Street. Also on the list is the Nineties remake, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Santa Clause etc…etc. Some of these films are Holiday favorites and others are an essential part of my childhood. Christmas brings out the nostalgia in a lot of us. Even those of us who prefer other holidays over this one. What’s on your Holiday watch list?

A film is always new to the person who’s never seen it before.

When I was in school my film teacher told me “When you see a picture for the first time it is new.” This is one of those pieces of wisdom I have took with me. If I could, I would go back in time and watch my favorite films again for the first time. I love the memories of the first time I watched a movie. I fell in love with Breakfast at Tiffany’s the first time I saw it. I laughed my ass off the first time I saw Some like it Hot. I was mesmerized the first time I watched Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr. I wish I could remember the first time I saw The Maltese Falcon and The Court Jester but I was to young at the time. So every time I watch an older movie I have never seen before it is new. It is new to me. The first time I saw Born Yesterday or Sunset Boulevard they where new. I guess that means that there are no truly old films because there is someone who has never seen them and there is always someone who is seeing them for the first time. When you introduce a film to someone and you sit there watching it with them. Allow yourself to watch it with them. Really enjoy it as if you are watching it for the first time.