A Trapped criminal always fights to the death.
Above you see a crop and full frame version of one of the greatest film noir promo photos ever made, in our opinion, from the 1949 thriller Trapped. Lloyd Bridges stars as a counterfeiter stalked by treasury agents, and Barbara Payton co-stars as his loyal lady love. We may talk about this film at some point. Payton would later earn her place in Hollywood lore by spiraling down the drain of drugs and vice. We discussed that in detail several years ago, and it's a very noir tale that you can check out at this link.
Ida done it her way.
Above, an interesting German language promo poster for the Ida Lupino film noir Private Hell 36, which we talked about last month. Lupino is considered a film pioneer for her migration into directing, but she's always good in front of the camera too. This piece is signed, though illegibly, so another artist loses their chance for internet immortality. Private Hell 36 premiered in West Germany today in 1956
Mortal man finds himself at the whims of a goddess in 1954's Pushover.
We love this bold yellow poster for Du plomb pour l'inspecteur, which was originally made in the U.S. and known as Pushover. Most important item to note here is that this is Kim Novak's first credited role, when she was aged twenty-one and looked freshly delivered to Earth on a sunbeam. Fred MacMurray plays a cop assigned to get close to her in order to snare her gangster boyfriend. MacMurray is only mortal, unlike Novak, so he immediately falls in love with her and begins seeing her outside his official duties. Not long after that he's plotting to steal her man's cache of $210,000 in bank loot. That would be about two million dollars in today's money, which is no insignificant amount. Any man would compromise his principles for that, but he'd do so even more readily for a chance to nuzzle Novak. There are a lot of old movies out there that hinge on lust as a motivating factor, but in this one it really makes sense. Performance-wise Novak can't act well yet, but like MacMurray, you'll overlook her flaws. After opening in the U.S. in 1954 Pushover premiered in France today in 1955.
It should have launched a memorable career but didn't quite work out that way.
Do people who like film noir also like NFL football? We ask because the Noir City Film Festival wraps up tonight in head-to-head competition with the Super Bowl. For football haters, the fest is a chance to get out of Super Bowl households for the duration of the game, but for others it's a tough choice. Film noir and football are similar. Both feature hardheaded men pitted in mortal struggle against forces arrayed against them. Both feature unexpected plot twists. Both put physical safety at risk. In both cheating is rampant (at least when the Patriots are involved). In neither is victory assured. We wonder what the festival organizers would have done if the 49ers had made it to the title game. Hah hah‚ that's a joke. They knew—everybody knew—the 49ers would suck this year.
Anyway, tonight the festival features two films, one of which is 1961's Blast of Silence. Written, directed by, and starring Allen Baron, the film is a fascinating counterpoint to Stanley Kubrick's Killer's Kiss, which showed at Noir City a few days ago. Both are low budget crime thrillers shot in New York City about men desperate for better lives whose needs center on women. Where Kubrick's protagonist is a pug boxer whose interest in a beautiful neighbor makes him want out of the ring, Baron plays a killer-for-hire whose random encounter with a woman from his youth triggers second thoughts about his chosen career.
Many reviews of Blast of Silence are of the glowing variety, but while it's seamlessly put together and the noir flourishes are well executed, it suffers from Baron's acting, as well as that of other performers. But everyone loves an auteur in the rough. It's easy to look past the acting and see Baron's behind-the-camera talent. Given a chance he might have had a very different career. Watching Blast of Silence you can imagine it. Like gruff voiced narrator Lionel Stander says at one point, “You get a feeling this is how it was meant to be.”
Instead Baron put together one more low budget movie before migrating into television, where he intermittently directed shows like The Brady Bunch and Charlie's Angels. Hmm... Brady like Tom Brady and Angels like Los Angeles? Um... where were we? Oh yes. It's amazing how Baron's career diverged from Kubrick's despite both making low budget NYC thrillers of similar quality. Was Baron as talented as Kubrick? We aren't saying that. Just that it would have been interesting to see what his cinematic career might have looked like. But if film noir teaches anything it's that in life, as in football, things don't always work out the way they should. Go Rams.
They'll have to choose what they hate more—their circumstances or each other.
The Noir City Film Festival rolls on with Robert Wise's 1959 thriller Odds Against Tomorrow. Harry Belafonte and Robert Ryan star in a heist story that brings a touch of underground jazz and an edge of racial tension to the narrative mix. It would play nicely on a double bill with In the Heat of the Night, but fits at Noir City too. In fact it might be the darkest film noir on the bill. Belafonte is in debt to mobsters and Ryan is broke and feels emasculated being supported by his girlfriend. When ex-cop Ed Begley brings the two together for a lucrative robbery both see it as the only answer. The robbery has the same problems associated with any heist, with the added complication of Ryan's racism.
Some reviews of this film try to suggest equivalence between these two characters. Uh, no. Belafonte's separatist leanings and distrust of whites in a society that is unfair toward him is a precaution; Ryan's separatist leanings and distrust of blacks in a society that favors him is oppression. This is a basic sociological truth as it relates to power in any society, and it's irksome that some reviewers miss this. Belafonte respondsto aggressive hate with reactive hate. The expectation that he possess superhuman forbearance while his oppressor can be merely human removes context and wrongly demands that everybody behave identically despite their different circumstances and different locations within the spectrum of power.
Much of the movie examines Belafonte's and Ryan's respective attitudes along these lines, with the heist coming in a flurry of action at the end. The robbery is basically foolproof, but only if the powder keg of racial resentment doesn't blow it sky high. The points Wise is making here, which originate with William P. McGivern's novel, are simply these: cooperate and succeed, or fight and fail. All Ryan needs to do extend the hand of respect, but because of his prejudice he fails again and again, which hardens Belafonte's already suspicious attitudes. Who do these two hate more—their circumstances or each other? That's what Odds Against Tomorrow asks, about its characters, and the U.S. Festivalgoers will leave the cinema talking about this one.
These thieves will probably steal the entire film festival.
This poster for the 1957 film noir The Burglar looks pretty low rent, doesn't it? The movie is modestly budgeted too, but money isn't everything when it comes to making art. The film, which plays at Noir City tonight, opens with a nocturnal suburban heist that leaves a trio of break-in artists headed by Dan Duryea with a gaudy piece of $150,000 jewelry they can't hope to fence until the heat goes down. That means they have to wait, and with this mismatched group that means the pressure goes up. There's a fourth person in the mix. Jayne Mansfield, star of the promo poster, is the crew's eyes and ears, casing places they want to rob.
The Burglar is an early role for Mansfield, coming three years into her career, but it also arrived in cinemas a year after the big Twentieth Century Fox musical comedy The Girl Can't Help It, which featured her in full sex kitten mode, with the corset-crunched hourglass figure and helium voice. The irony is The Burglar was actually filmed before The Girl Can't Help It, but Mansfield's milieu had been set in stone by Fox's expensive hit. The Burglar challengingly asks her to be by turns innocent, tough, frustrated, terrified, and vulnerable. Basically, it asks too much this early in her career. But she gets by far the best line, when asked by Duryea at one point why she's being so fickle and difficult:
“You don't know? You really don't know? Well look at me! I'm a woman! I'm flesh and blood and I've got feelings!”
That one might bring the house down. A better actress might have nailed this dialogue, which was written by David Goodis working from his own novel, but as delivered by Mansfield the bit is funny, and actually goes on to hit other comedic notes. Though The Burglar demanded too much of the inexperienced Mansfield, she hurts the final product little, because the movie comes across like a sneaky parody anyway. With one partner in Mickey Shaughnessy who's creepy and rapey, and another in Peter Capell who's as highly strung as a banjo, head crook Duryea has assembled by far the worst gang in film noir history. There's no thought—not even for a second—that these three are going to achieve their goals.
But the movie is 190 proof noir—a knock-you-on-your-ass cocktail of nearly everything cool about the form. You get voiceover, flashback, nightmares, a loyal good girl led astray plus a femme fatale played by Martha Vickers, outrageous shadows, angular framing, hard-boiled dialogue, one crooked-as-fuck cop, a brassy, jazzy score, and beautiful night-for-night location work from director Paul Wendkos and cinematographer Don Malkames. And as bonuses you get a funhouse scene that's pure genius, and a high diving horse. The Burglar is sure to please all fans of old movies, but for noir lovers and lucky Noir City attendees in particular, it's nothing less than a landmark. You can learn a bit more about the film in the post below.
There's no amount of loot that can fill an empty soul.
Yes, we read the novel The Burglar right after watching the movie. We could have done it the other way around, but this seemed to make more sense. We went into the book wondering if the movie's merits were due to director Paul Wendkos or author David Goodis. Turns out it was both. Goodis wrote the screenplay, and his adaptation reshapes several crucial elements. Primarily, the movie has police procedural elements the book doesn't, and a take on the problem of sexual harassment that feels very 2019. On the other hand, an aspect of the novel we're surprised survived is the relationship between Gladden (Jayne Mansfield in the film) and Harbin (Dan Duryea). In both book and film Harbin takes over parenting Gladden when her father is killed, making them father figure and quasi daughter. In the film Mansfield even calls Duryea her foster father. That's pretty provocative, considering she wants to make the eight-limbed mattress monster™ with him.
Overall, it's no surprise the novel became a movie—it's great. The emotional desperation of Harbin, Gladden, and the other woman Della (played by Martha Vickers in the film) verges on painful to endure as a reader. They latch onto each other with a ferocity that's only matched by a fourth character's deadly lust for the stolen jewels. All this intensity comes in addition to a brilliant plot set-up for the entire exercise. We don't know if we'll ever again pair movie watching with immediately reading the source material, but it was interesting this time. Did it take the fun out of the book, knowing what would happen? Not at all. Goodis's novel is different enough that we weren't sure what would happen, actually. We owe this enjoyable read entirely to the Noirfest. We might have stumbled across the book randomly at some point, but without the movie to take us there, probably not.
Edit: Okay, we'll quit with the eight-limbed mattress monster™ bit. It was funny at first. You had to be there.
The blood may stop but the stain is permanent.
These old movies. The Scarlet Hour is fun in a way modern flicks simply aren't. Basically, a rich man thinks his young wife is two-timing him. She and her lover, seeking privacy one night, drive to a secluded lookout. Three men arrive and discuss plans to rob a nearby hilltop mansion. The take? $300,000 in insured jewels. The lovers, from their hiding place, hear the plot and decide that if they rob the robbers they can get enough money to run away together. Their consciences are clear about it, because the goods will have been stolen already. But the husband, now deciding to do something about his wife's nocturnal forays, begins following her around. On robbery night that puts him in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time.
It's a twisty set-up, handled deftly thanks to Rip Van Ronkel's, aka Alford Van Ronkel's clever screenplay. The complications keep coming, which means The Scarlet Hour has surprises in store all the way to the end. And as a bonus it was directed by Michael Curtiz, the man behind Casablanca, and as sure-handed a director as ever worked in Tinseltown. It also has a nice nightclub number by crooner Nat King Cole. As far as we know, there are no good digital transfers of the film available, which means a rental or download may yield a less than pristine television rip (like the one we watched). Noir City will be showing an archival print, which would make this worth the extra effort to see even if the movie weren't great, which it is. But even if you aren't anywhere near San Fran tonight, this is one to keep in mind for future viewing.
You'd Hammer in the stomach, you'd Hammer in the jaw, you'd Hammer all over the body.
Does anyone not know what's in the suitcase in Kiss Me Deadly? We imagine almost everyone does, but we won't tell. We'll give you two hints, though: it isn't the same thing that's in the case in the novel; and the change the filmmakers made places the film on a progression along the line of such what's-in-the-case thrillers as Pulp Fiction (where you never see) and Ronin (where you never find out). Ralph Meeker stars as Mickey Spillane's harder than hard-boiled detective Mike Hammer, and Maxine Cooper plays his his assistant/friend-with-benefits (she was only his assistant in the novel) Velda Wickman.
Plotwise the first couple of reels follow the novel pretty closely, with Hammer almost running over a woman on the Pacific Coast Highway, letting her into his car, and quickly finding she's being pursued by villains of the worst kind. She and Hammer are captured, the woman is tortured, then the two are placed unconscious back in Hammer's prized Jaguar and pushed over a cliff. But the murder attempt only snuffs one of them—Hammer is left alive to seek answers and vengeance. With the help of his slinky sidekick he sets about turning the town upside down.
We wanted to watch Kiss Me Deadly again after reading the novel for the first time several years ago, but didn't get back to it until spurred to do so by Noir City, which is showing the film tonight on a double bill with Killer's Kiss. It's a pretty streamlined adaptation in parts, courtesy of A. I. Bezzerides. Spillane hated the movie, and we imagine he was particularly critical of some of the choices Bezzerides made. But the production is helmed by Robert Aldrich, who shows general flair along with impressive creativity in getting shots that were fresh for the time.
Best exchange of dialogue in this one:
“According to our information he calls himself a private investigator.”
“His specialty is divorce cases.”
“He's a bedroom dick.”
Yeah, we're juvenile. Kiss Me Deadly is aimless in the beginning, and is marred by a silly Greek stereotype used for discordant comic relief, but picks up greatly in the second half and hurtles toward an explosive conclusion. The final product would have been merely decent had the movie stayed on the same course as the book, but Bezzerides wrenched the second half into a hard left turn, and his final commentary—an inspired change—saves the movie, in our opinion. It's preposterous, what Bezzerides does, but it works. So in the end Kiss Me Deadly earns its place on the list of twenty or so best entries in the film noir genre.
Kubrick makes filmgoers and critics eager for more.
Even legends have to start somewhere. Killer's Kiss isn't Stanley Kubrick's first movie, but it's an early effort made with novice actors, not much gear, and a simple script. The story follows a declining boxer played by Jamie Smith whose existence is given new purpose when he becomes the protector of his neighbor, Irene Kane, a taxi dancer who's being tormented by her sleazy boss. The two live on the same floor of a tenement on opposite sides of a lightwell, and can see into each other's apartments. But they don't interact until Smith tries to save Kane from an attack. The emergency breaks the wall of studious anonymity they had maintained, and they quickly decide they want to leave town together and start new lives on a farm. But in film noir planning and execution are always light years apart.
Because Killer's Kiss was made on a shoestring budget it has an indie feel to it, which extends into the areas of acting and sound. Reviews were mixed, and we agree, but nearly all cheapie indies get mixed reviews. Kubrick probably did better than he had any right to, and he ingeniously manages to juxtapose two sides of New York City—the dark, deserted, cobblestone warehouse districts, and the blindingly dazzling Times Square. Killer's Kiss is worth it for those scenes alone. It's also worthwhile to be reminded that the best way to make a movie, in the end, is to gather up some cash from wherever you can get it and simply shoot. If there's talent involved, it will shine through, and people may notice. With this feature, flaws and all, Kubrick made people want more.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1945—Flag Raised on Iwo Jima
Four days after landing on the Japanese-held island of Iwo Jima, American soldiers of the 28th Regiment, 5th Marine Division take Mount Suribachi and raise an American flag. A photograph of the moment shot by Joe Rosenthal becomes one of the most famous images of WWII, and wins him the Pulitzer Prize later that year.
1987—Andy Warhol Dies
American pop artist Andy Warhol, whose creations have sold for as much as 100 million dollars, dies of cardiac arrhythmia following gallbladder surgery in New York City. Warhol, who already suffered lingering physical problems from a 1968 shooting, requested in his will for all but a tiny fraction of his considerable estate to go toward the creation of a foundation dedicated to the advancement of the visual arts.
1947—Edwin Land Unveils His New Camera
In New York City, scientist and inventor Edwin Land demonstrates the first instant camera, the Polaroid Land Camera, at a meeting of the Optical Society of America. The camera, which contains a special film that self-develops prints in a minute, goes on sale the next year to the public and is an immediate sensation.
1965—Malcolm X Is Assassinated
American minister and human rights activist Malcolm X is assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City by members of the Nation of Islam, who shotgun him in the chest and then shoot him sixteen additional times with handguns. Though three men are eventually convicted of the killing, two have always maintained their innocence, and all have since been paroled.
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