Rear Window – A Second Look

 

still-of-james-stewart-in-rear-window-(1954)-large-picture The previous time James Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock worked together was on Rope; an experimental piece for Hitch that was considered a failure by most critics of the time. Stewart himself was not happy with the picture, or with the role, which he felt was not right for him. Additionally, there was the fact Rope was not a financial box office success. Some cities even requested cuts before it was to be shown. In Chicago it was banned outright. This was most likely because the storyline was a bit too close to the real life Loeb-Leopold case of the 1920’s.  Subsequently, when Hitchcock called about Rear Window, Stewart was hesitant to accept, especially after hearing that, like Rope, the film would take place mostly on one set. Furthermore, he would be confined to a wheelchair for the entire film.

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Bellissima (1952) Luchino Visconti

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Maddelina Cecconi (Anna Magnani) is trapped with an abusive husband from a working class background. A nurse who provides injections for diabetics, she and her husband are saving their money in hopes of someday getting a home of their own. She wants better for her young plain looking daughter, Maria (Tina Apicella). She loves the movies (we see her watching Howard Hawks “Red River” on the local outdoor screen).  When she hears about a movie director’s, Alessandro Blassetti portraying himself, open call for 6-8 year girls for his next film, Maddelina, like hundreds of other hopeful mothers, heads to Italy’s famed Cinicitta film studio with Maria for the auditions. During the process she spends the family’s small savings on ballet lessons, clothes for the young girl and paying off a hanger on who ensures her Tina will get the role. Maddelina becomes blinded by the possibilities of fame and fortune, a way out toward a better life for her daughter. By the end of the film, after hearing the film crews cruel assessment of Maria’s screen test, Maddelina realizes the superficiality of the film industry and that the cruelty of rejection is all too often the end results. Maddaline comes to finally realize family is more important that fame and fortune. Continue reading

The Story of Barbara Graham in Robert Wise’s I Want to Live! (1958)

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Who is Barbara Graham, you ask? Well, read on.

Barbara Graham’s life reads like it dripped off the pages of a hard boiled crime fiction writer’s pen.  A sexy, voluptuous, lethal femme fatale born bad to the bone.  The newspaper media of the day even tagged Graham with the nickname “Bloody Babs.” Born Barbara Ford, she  had a tough life right from the beginning. Born in Oakland, CA. out of wedlock to a teenage mother, who would herself be sent to reform school when Barbara was two years old, the child bounced around from one  foster home to another. In her early teens Barbara would ironically be incarcerated in the same reform school her mother was in just a few years earlier.  At 16, back in her hometown of Oakland, alone, pretty, with little education, Barbara made money by “dating” sailors. The dates did not always results in sex, sometimes they were just dates. She tried leading a straight life, went to school, married, had two kids, but the marriage soon failed as did two other marriages. She apparently turned to prostitution, petty crimes and drugs, her friends all crooks and low-life’s. Barbara would soon end up in jail after being found guilty of perjury when she foolishly attempted to protect two of her thug pals from the law. Continue reading

Scandal Sheet (1952) Phil Karlson

scandal sheet 1Directed as if he were holding a sharp knife to the gut, “Scandal Sheet” was the first in a series of noirish crime films made by Phil Karlson in the 1950’s. Based on a novel (The Dark Page) by filmmaker Sam Fuller with a screenplay by Ted Shedeman, Eugene Ling and James Poe, “Scandal Sheet” moves along at a speedy pace throughout its 88 minute running time. Karlson’s dark world is aided nicely by cinematographer Burnett Guffey who manages to make the studio bound sets feel like the dirty grit of the big city.

Once a respectable New York City newspaper, but with a falling circulation, relentless editor Mark Chapman (Broderick Crawford) was brought in to turn the paper into a tabloid seeking sensationalistic rag exploiting the helpless victims of crimes. In return, he has more than doubled the papers’ circulation satisfying the majority of the newspaper’s board members. Crawford is intensely uncompromising as Chapman, a cynical man who has escaped from a previously secret life some twenty years earlier. Like many noir anti-heroes though, his past comes back to haunt him. In this case, it’s his wife. Continue reading

Storm Fear (1955) Cornel Wilde

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Family conflict is at the heart of this independently made crime film. Directed by Cornel Wilde with a screenplay by Horton Foote (Trip to Bountiful), based on a novel by Clinton Seeley, Storm Fear pits brother against brother. At the core of the trouble is a woman, no surprise there either. Wilde directed eight feature films. Prior to this work he directed one episode of G.E. True Theater. Storm Fear was his first feature and it’s an impressive first time out.

Along with Wilde, the film stars Jean Wallace, his real life wife, Dan Duryea, Dennis Weaver, Lee Grant and Steven Hill. Hill, in what was only his second big screen role, is best known for his roles in Mission Impossible and later on in Law and Order. The only other member of the cast is young David Stollery, whose most notable role began the same year (1955) this film was released, in the Disney TV series The Adventures of Spin and Marty (he played Marty). Continue reading

Al Capone (1959) Richard Wilson

title_al_capone_ I first saw “Al Capone” during the summer of 1959 at the Staten Island Paramount Theater on Bay Street. I was pretty young at the time, probably around ten or eleven years old, but I was already in love with gangster movies! Only a year or so earlier I can remember seeing Don Siegel’s “Baby Face Nelson” with Mickey Rooney at the Loew’s Commodore (the theater some seven years or so later would become the Fillmore East). Despite my tender young age, I remember going to the movies that day to see “Baby Face Nelson” unaccompanied by an adult. I can’t imagine that happening today; then again, I can’t imagine my parents allowing me to go it alone even back then. That said, I do have this memory of going to the movies alone that day and it wasn’t the only time. There was at least one other time around that same period. The Three Stooges were touring movie theaters accompanying the release of their latest film (Have Rocket, Will Travel) and I know for sure my parents did not go with me to see them. They hated The Three Stooges! Continue reading

Pushover (1954) Richard Quine

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My first exposure to Fred MacMurray was with his early 1960’s family oriented sit-com, My Three Sons. Fred was a sort of befuddled widower who brought up three boys with the help of a crusty father-in-law (William Frawley) and later on a great uncle (William Demerest). During these same years, MacMurray made a series of family oriented films for Walt Disney; Son of Blubber, The Absented Minded Professor and Bon Voyage among them.  The show, and these films, cemented an early image for me of MacMurray as a rather dull, and bland actor, a nice guy but uninteresting. In my defense, I have to add that at the time I knew very little about MacMurray’s earlier film career.

That would change the first time I watched Billy Wilder’s noir masterpiece, Double Indemnity. His Walter Neff was a classic noir sucker for a dame, willing to do dirty deeds for money and even more so for a seductive evil woman. Wilder once again brought out MacMurray’s dark side some years late in The Apartment where he played a sleazy corporate executive who used both women and men, in different ways, for his own salacious, adulterous  desires. These two films exposed me to a new side of Fred MacMurray; He still looked like the nice quiet guy who lives next door but now underneath that good guy exterior laid a dark character with immoral desires. Continue reading

Stromboli (1950) Roberto Rossellini

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Like her character, Karin in “Stromboli,” Ingrid Bergman found herself ostracized in real life from Hollywood and America after making this film with her director/lover Roberto Rossellini. Their affair and out of wed-lock child caused a scandal that found Bergman unable to find work in the United States for six years. In the film, Bergman is a Lithuanian refugee, released from an internment camp when she marries Antonio (Mario Vitali), an Italian and former prisoner of war. They go to live in his home in Stromboli, an almost deserted village located on a small volcanic island off the coast of southern Italy. Marriage and life in the poor village is far from what Karin envisioned for herself. Most locals who were born there have left. The ones who remain are a stoic group unwelcoming to strangers. Her attempts to brighten up their home by decorating are met with indifference from Antonio. Continue reading

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) Jack Arnold

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By 1957, “B” film director Jack Arnold had already made some of the finest sci-fi films of the decade; “It Came from Outer Space,” “The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” and “Tarantula,” but the best was yet to come, 1957′s “The Incredible Shrinking Man.”  Ignore the silly title this is one of the greatest existential science fiction films ever made. The 1950′s would turn out to be Arnold’s best decade. With the dawn of the 1960′s most of his career sadly, would be in television with only an occasional foray back into film.

We meet Scott Carey (Grant Williams) and his wife Louise (Randy Stuart), sunbathing on their small boat. It’s a beautiful day and the couple are playfully content soaking in the tranquility of the time spent together. When Louise goes down below to get a bottle of beer, Scott suddenly finds himself coming face to face with a bizarre, threatening cloudy haze that quickly falls upon him and then disappears just as quickly into the distance. After Louise returns she notices shiny specks have landed on his chest. They think nothing of it and soon it is forgotten. A short time later he is also accidently sprayed by some insecticide. Continue reading