Over the years I have read many books written by Ed McBain. His 87th Prescient series, generally considered the originator of the gritty police procedural, began in 1956 with “Cop-Hater”, his first novel in the long running series. His last, “Fiddlers” was the 55th in the series. McBain was also well known as Evan Hunter (his legal name, though his was born Salvatore Lombino), author of among other novels, “The Blackboard Jungle”, “Strangers When We Meet” and “Buddwing” all made into movies. As Evan Hunter, he also worked as a screenwriter most notably with Alfred Hitchcock on “The Birds.”
Akira Kurosawa’s 1963 film, “High and Low” is based on McBain’s 1959 87th Prescient novel, “King’s Ransom” and like the film it revolves around a child’s kidnapping, ransom and murder. For the most part Kurosawa has remained faithful to the novel though the main character Kingo Gondo (Toshiro Mifune) is certainly a more sympathetic and three dimensional figure than the novel’s Douglas King.
Gondo is a top executive at a shoe company where he is involved in a power struggle with other executives who want to reduce the quality of the shoes they produce in order to increase profits. Secretively, Gondo is in the process of buying up enough stock in the company to avoid the other executives takeover. Instead, he is attempting to take over the company himself. However, to raise the money he has had to leverage everything he has including mortgaging his house, and putting his career on the line. Just as he is about to close the deal his son is kidnapped and much of the money he would use to buyout the company he is now prepared to use to save his son. He then finds out the kidnapper’s took the wrong kid. Instead of his son, they kidnapped his chauffeur’s young boy, and his son’s playmate. Gondo is now faced with a moral dilemma. Does he still pay off the kidnapper’s, saving the life of young boy, his chauffeur’s son, or use the money to close his big deal saving himself and family from financial ruin. Continue reading →
An effective little psychological thriller from England’s Hammer Studios that keeps you on edge for its entire 80 minutes in length. Peter Cushing is a Scrooge like manager at a local bank. Two days before Christmas a man posing as an insurance investigator (Andre Morell) enters with plans to rob the bank while his partners are holding Cushing’s wife and son hostage. Whether intentional or not the screenwriters have given us a unique twist on Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” including an ending that pleads for the line “God bless us everyone.” Peter Cushing would have made a superb Scrooge as he proves here, bullying his staff unmercifully over one petty matter after another. Andre Morell is perfectly hateful as the arrogant bank robber.
The film reunites Peter Cushing and Andre Morell who were superb together, as Sherlock Holmes and Watson, just a few years earlier in Hammer’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” “Cash on Demand” is the kind of small film that just would not get made today. There are no special effects or flashy moments. It is simply an unadulterated caper film with good writing and solid story telling that demands your attention. Hammer Studio’s was mostly known for its horror films, however they did make a few psychological thrillers in the early 1960’s (Scream of Fear, Stop Me, Before I Kill) that are worthy of being better known today that they are.
This past summer was the 35th anniversary since the release of “Jaws,” or as some look at it as the birth of summer blockbuster, saturation booking and the death call for Hollywood’s last great era. “Jaws” has been credited or blamed for it all. If you hate the way the news media focus’ on how much a film made this past weekend giving you the top three as if that were THE requirement for a successful film then you can blame ”Jaws.” Today the media seems to be preoccupied with box office results, the almighty dollars, as an indication of a film’s greatness, more so than the movie itself. But back in the summer of ’75 that was all in the future, or so it seemed.
One of my earliest favorite directors, along with Hitchcock, Wilder, and John Frankenheimer, Blake Edwards has died. As a young teenager, after having seen “Days of Wine and Roses,” “The Pink Panther,” “A Shot in the Dark” and Experiment in Terror,” all in a short period of time, I noticed Blake Edwards name appeared in the credits of all these films. Hmm! Maybe I should start paying attention to who wrote and directed these films. It was the beginning of my lifelong obsession with films. While other directors have replaced Edwards in my pantheon he still holds a singular spot and fond remembrances.
Apparently back in 1947 Hollywood thought it was a good idea to release Christmas films in the middle of the year instead of the holiday season. In June of that year, two films were released within a week of each other. Both placed ads in the New York Times weeks before they opened as if it were a preliminary for the main bout. Who will grab the public’s imagination and more importantly their dollars? The two contenders were the now almost forgotten “It Happened on 5th Avenue” and a film that would become a perennial holiday classic, “Miracle on 34th Street.”
While the stories are different, the two films do have some similarities. Both take place in New York during the holiday season, both feature kindly cherubic older men and both spread philosophies, though very different, on the goodness of man. Continue reading →
Poor Robert Mitchum, how those sleepy bedroom eyes always seemed to get him in so much trouble with the ladies. In John Brahm’s “The Locket” he tossed himself out a window because of Lorraine Day, in “Out of the Past”, he had to go face to face with the wicked Jane Greer, while in “Where Danger Lives” he is a chump for Faith Domergue, and in “Angel Face” the porcelain gentile beauty of Jean Simmons sends both of them to a plunging death in Otto Preminger’s final film noir.
“Angel Face” was late in the cycle of classic noir and at first glance seems to be a redundant rehash of everything that came before it, the male pawn, the deviant femme fatale, sexual obsession and snippets of incest; all common themes. Even the courtroom scene here it has been pointed out by various writers is a facsimile of the courtroom scene in “The Postman Always Rings Twice” to the extent that the prosecuting attorney in both films is portrayed by Leon Ames. Yet in watching this film, it yields many fine and unique elements beginning with a simmering dark perverse performance by Jean Simmons, one of her finest. Throughout the film, Simmon’s character Diane Tremayne remains a bleak, depressed, manipulative and seriously dangerous femme fatale deriving little pleasure from any of her actions. She’s a blank slate. In luring Mitchum’s chump ambulance driver, Frank Jessup into unknowingly conspiring in murder; she derives neither personal joy nor any odd sexual satisfaction. The film’s surprising and shocking ending reflects and confirms Diane’s determination for control even if the price of that power is death. It was one of the most daringly cynical endings ever be put on film up to that time. Continue reading →