Tight Spot (1955) Phil Karlson

What I do not understand is why this film is so little known today. Director Phil Karlson put together a terrific little crime thriller. Based on a Broadway play called “Dead Pigeon” by Lenard Kantor, with a screenplay by William Bowers, “Tight Spot” stars Ginger Rogers, Edward G. Robinson and Brian Keith. Playwright Kantor used as inspiration for his play the true life incident of Senator Estes Kefauver’s strategy in intimidating Virginia Hill to testify against Bugsy Siegel. 

    The film shows its theatrical roots by being about 90% confined to a hotel room where Sherry Conley (Rogers) a convict is being held in protective custody as a witness in the exportation trial of a mob leader named Costain (Lorne Greene). Detective Vince Striker (Keith) has been assigned to guard Conley along with women’s prison matron, Willoughby (Katherine Anderson). Lloyd Hallet (Robinson), the D.A. is trying to convince the hard case Conley to testify against Mafia chief Costain. She is their last chance to get him after their star witness was gunned down on the courthouse steps in the first scenes in the film. Conley is an uncooperative hard case who keeps refusing to testify until Willoughby is killed by one of Costain’s henchmen. Striker who it turns out, is a crooked cop informing for Costain sets up Conley to be killed by leaving a bathroom window open for one of Costain’s gunmen to enter and kill Conley. Nervous and also realizing that during their time together he has feelings now for Conley, Striker burst into the bedroom as the assassin is entering killing the gunman but getting shot himself.  Though too old for the role, Ginger Rogers comes off terrific as the tough wrongly convicted convict Sherry Conley. Edward G. Robinson is his usual steady self, giving a fine performance, as do Brian Keith and Lorne Greene, old Pa Cartwright himself, playing the mob leader on the verge of exportation. Phil Karlson, one of  the “B” movie kings,  keeps the film moving nicely though it does bog done a bit with too much dialogue at some points, but overall, this is a sharply written well acted  and directed movie that should be seen by more folks. The film was released on VHS years ago but has not been released on DVD release. Try to catch it the next time it is on TCM.

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You Belong to Me (1941) Wesley Ruggles

    From a quality point of view, it is hard to believe that “You Belong to Me” was made the same year as “The Lady Eve.” However, it was the success of “The Lady Eve” that encouraged Columbia to reteam the two stars again so quickly in this film They should have left good enough alone. This was the third and final time Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck starred together. It was also their weakest effort. Their first film was “The Mad Miss Manton” made back in 1938.

    In “You Belong to Me,” Fonda plays ambitionless millionaire playboy Peter Kirk who is smitten, at a ski resort, by the likes of Dr. Helen Hunt (Stanwyck). Kirk is what used to be called the idle rich, those who never worked a day in their life and have no need or purpose to do so. Kirk is also insanely jealous of any contact his doctor wife has with men, going to absurd lengths to “catch” her with male patients in compromising positions. Each time this happens, it is more embarrassing for Kirk as he is constantly proven wrong. That is pretty much the whole film until the somewhat “surprise” ending.

    Fonda’s character is weak, childish, and insecure while Stanwyck’s is strong and intelligent. You can never understand what it is she sees in him, other than money, which it is never hinted at that she has ever given it a second thought. Overall, the film is pretty much a total wreck, at best more cute than funny. The most redeeming value of this romantic comedy is the combination and the chance again to see Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda together one more time.  

Manny Farber 1917-2008

    Manny Farber, a model for many, and one of the most unique and important film critics died on August 18. Farber who famed article White Elephant are vs. Termite Art was among the first to value the work of such purely American filmmakers as Anthony Mann, Don Siegel, Sam Fuller, Raoul Walsh and Howard Hawks whose films he saw as termite art versus the over blown white elephant art of directors like Michealangelo Antonnini.

For any serious film lover Farber’s writing, much of which is collected in his  book Negative Space is essential. Attached below are a few related  links:

 

http://www.villagevoice.com/2008-08-12/film/manny-farber-1917-2008

http://www.frameworkonline.com/40nk.htm

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/19/arts/design/19farber.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

Cry of the City (1848) Robert Siodmak

    The story of two men from the same neighborhood who go off in different directions in life, one on the right side of the law, and the other on the wrong side of the law.  We have seen this so many times in films such as “Angels with Dirty Faces” with Cagney’s Rocky Sullivan and Pat O’Brien’s Father Jerry Connelly, two Irish kids who grew up together in the slums of New York and took opposite paths in life.  In the 1948 film noir “Cry of the City”, we get the Italian-American version. Marty Roman (Richard Conte) and Candella (Victor Mature) grew up together in New York’s Little Italy. Candella became a cop and Roman a cop killer, a charismatic loser who defies death’s odds.

    Rome escapes from a prison hospital and is pursued by Lt. Candella (Victor Mature) and his partner Lt. Collins played wonderfully by Fred Clark. Rome wants to clear his young girlfriend Teena (a young Debra Paget) of any involvement in a jewel robbery of a Mrs. DeGrazia, an elderly woman who was tortured and murdered. Niles (Berry Kroger), a crooked lawyer threatens to implicate Teena in the crime if Rome does not admit to the jewel robbery and murder to clear the lawyer’s innocent client. What difference does it matter anyway, the lawyer Niles says since he is getting the chair for the cop killing and has nothing to lose.

    Teena is in hiding, however, Rome still fears that Niles will still find and implicate her.  After his escape, Rome heads to Niles office where he finds the stolen jewels in secret compartment in the lawyer’s safe. Niles gives Marty the name of his accomplice, Rose Givens, before he pulls a gun and tries to kill Rome. Marty sticks a switchblade knife through the lawyer’s leather chair stabbing him to death.

    Rome meets up with Rose Givens (Hope Emerson) a sadistic masseuse who is willing to trade for the jewelry by giving Rome money and a way out of the city in exchange. The trade will be made at a subway station where Rome has the jewels secured in a locker. Rome notifies Candella where Givens will be for the pickup, his plan was not to be there but Givens wants Rome at the station fearing a setup. As Givens opens the locker, the police close in on her. There’s a struggle. Givens pulls a gun and a wild bullet hits Candella as he was jumping over a turnstile t assist with the arrest. As the police arrest Givens, Rome manages to escapes and meets Teena in a church where he tries to persuade her to run away with him. Candella, still wounded shows up at the church and tells Teena how everyone who has ever helped Marty has been hurt. That he’s left a trail of physically or emotionally wounded souls. Teena decides not to go with him. As Candella and Rome leave the church, Rome tries to escape but Candella shoots him dead.

    The film is loaded with sleazy low life’s from the sadistic masseuse to the creepy abortionist, to Niles, the crooked lawyer. Directed by Robert Siodmak, the film is well paced maintaining a tense dark moody atmosphere. While not quite on par with some of Siodmak’s other noirish works such as “Crossfire” or “The Killers”. “Cry of the City” provides a realistic look at the squalor of the inner city.

   Richard Conte was riding high in his career when this film was made. He had just completed “Call Northside 777” and also had under his belt “Somewhere in the Night”, “A Bell for Adano” and “A Walk in the Sun.” Conte was a staple in some of the best noir films of the 1940’s and 1950’s including “Thieves Highway”, “Whirlpool” and “The Big Combo.” Billed second to Victor Mature in this film Conte not only has the larger part but also steals the show as Marty Roman, a magnetic, woman chasing cop killer.

Victor Mature, an actor of limited talent actually gives a good performance as Candella, the tough yet sensitive cop. The rest of the cast is loaded with many familiar faces including Shelley Winters, as an ex-girlfriend, the previously mentioned Fred Clark, Debra Paget and Hope Emerson who is especially memorable as the sadistic masseuse who almost strangles Rome with ecstatic pleasure.    

The Face Behind the Mask (1941) Robert Florey

    The Face Behind the Mask, a rare film noir, starring Peter Lorre as Jonas “Johnny” Sazbo an immigrant watchmaker who comes to America full of hope searching for the American dream. Through the help of a friendly police officer, Lt. O’Hara (Don Beddoe) Jonas finds an apartment. Unfortunately, his first night their, a fire breaks out and he is hideously burned though he survives. His face totally scarred this talented watchmaker is refused employment repeatedly due to his deformity.  He meets up with a small time thief, Dinky (George E Stone) and turns to a life of crime to survive and make enough money to get a face mask to cover his scars. Jonas becomes the boss of a criminal gang due his uncannily ability to plan robberies and outsmarting the law. Jonah runs into a young beautiful blind woman named Helen Williams (Evelyn Keyes) who despite her handicap sells trinket jewelry and has a full life. Jonas falls in love with Helen who sees the good person in Jonas that was there before he turned to his life of crime. They make plans to marry and live out in the country. Jonas tells the gang he’s quitting and wants out but the gang does not like what they are hearing and plan to kill him by blowing up his car, only they kill Helen instead. With this Jonas’ last chance at love and redemption are lost, all that is left is revenge. Jonas gets the gang members on to a plane that they think is taking them out of the country however, Jonas who is the pilot, lands the plane in the middle of the desert where they all slowly die, an unusual ending, which is surprising and unique. All in all “The Face Behind the Mask” is a poignant, yet somewhat twisted noirish look at the American dream. 

    Robert Florey deemphasizes the horror aspects of the film keeping Jonas’ deformed face in the shadows or hidden from the camera. For a good portion of the film, Lorre’s face is not seen until he gets his mask. You should also note the socially conscience details of the film, the immigrant coming to America to start a new life and how people reacted to Jonas’ disability by shunning him, rejecting him in horror which ultimately leads him to his life of crime.    As a director, Florey was influenced by the German Expressionist movement, which is evident in many scenes in this film and in his 1929 short “Skyscraper Symphony”, a study of the geometric patterns of New York skyscrapers.      

    Peter Lorre is perfect as the immigrant Jonas. Lorre has been one of the most interesting and original actors to ever grace the screen. Here he provides a sensitive and engaging performance. It is hard to imagine another actor in this role. The under appreciated Evelyn Keyes is also good in her role as Helen, Jonas’ blind love. Also notable is George E Stone who plays Dinky.

    The movie runs only slightly over one hour and has never been released on home video or DVD. I believe it has been on Turner Classic Movies on occasion so keep your eyes open for it.     

A Tribute to George Furth

    Just a note that George Furth one of our best character actors recently passed away at 75 years of age. If you believe, you do not know who George Furth is then take another look at “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” George played the overly loyal railroad employee, Woodcock, who was blown up by Butch (Paul Newman) not once but twice.

 

”Woodcock, you can’t want to get blown up again,” Butch yells out.

“Butch,” Woodcock says, “You know that if were my money, there is no one I would rather have steal it than you. But, you see, I am still in the employment of E.H. Harriman of the Union Pacific Railroad.”

 

    A classic moment in a classic film, the kind of moments that Furth’s  was notable for in every project he was involved in. Furth also appeared in other films including “Games,” “Myra Breckenridge,” “Oh God,” “Cannonball Run,” Young Doctors in Love,” “Shampoo” and “Blazing Saddles” where he played Van Johnson. However, it is TV where he did much of his work starting in the early 1960’s through the late 1990’s.  Shows like “The Odd Couple”, “Murder, She Wrote,” “Happy Days,” “Little House on the Prairie,” “Wings” and many others. George was very distinctive and was generally cast as milquetoast, nervous, jumpy type.

    George was also a playwright collaborating with Stephen Sondheim on “Company” for which he won a Tony. He also collaborated with Sondheim on “Merrily, We Roll Along” and “Getting Away with Murder” Other plays he wrote include  “Twigs,” “The Supporting Cast” and “Precious Sons.”         

Kim Novak

    With Turner Classic Movies recent Kim Novak day as part of their Summer under the Stars Month, there have recently been a lot of articles reevaluating or just discussing her career. So having been a fan of Novak’s for years I’m throwing my two-cent in.

    Underrated, surprisingly good.  You hear these terms a lot when critics discuss Kim Novak. She has always been underrated. Kim was surprisingly good in “Middle of the Night.” The question becomes if she is always considered underrated and is always surprisingly good how many films does it take before the surprise wears off.  The woman just never received the respect she deserves. What I want to know is when is the AFI going to do a tribute to her? With this year’s tribute to Warren Beatty and last year’s to Al Pacino, they seemed to have already moved on the next generation passing her by. She was a major star in her day working with many great directors and has appeared in quite a few films that most would consider classic.

 

It is no secret that she was originally signed by Columbia Pictures as a Marilyn Monroe substitute. All the studios were looking for their own Marilyn. There was Jayne Mansfield, Sheree North and Mamie Van Doren, none achieved the level of success, nor did they have the magnetism of Marilyn. Kim was successful and had the star quality, without the cheapness of the Marilyn wannabes, and unlike Marilyn, Kim came across as a real woman. She was sensual, all you had to do was just look at her eyes and listen to her voice. She was certainly more attractive than the others were. Monroe never came across as authentic, someone that you could actually meet in the street whereas Kim was genuine. She was no fantasy figure. Kim was sexual without being obvious about it. Just watch her in “Pushover”, or “Strangers When We Meet.”

    For someone who was suppose to be of limited talent she certainly attracted  some of the great directors of her time and she handled herself well under the guidance of Hitchcock in “Vertigo”, Preminger in “The Man with the Golden Arm” and Delbert Mann in “Middle of the Night.” With Richard Quine, she seemed to be exceptionally responsive. Just look at her performances in “Bell, Book and Candle” or “Strangers When We Meet.”  I have also enjoyed her performances in films like “Kiss Me Stupid”, “Boy’s Night Out” and “The Notorious Landlady.”

TCM’s recent all day Novak festival was a joy. While I have most of the films they showed, I finally got to record and will soon watch for the first time “Five Against the House.” I was also pleased to record “The Notorious Landlady” a particular favorite of mine being both a Novak and Jack Lemmon fan and not available on DVD, this was a must.

   Novak retired from the movies in the early 1990’s and she hardly ever looked back. Making only rare appearances like the Larry King Show in 2004, where she still looked very good, otherwise Kim lives on her ranch with her husband and their many animals