The Threat (1949) Felix E. Feist

One of Charles McGraw’s best known roles was as one of two hit men, the other being William Conrad, who comes to a small New Jersey town to kill former boxer, now a gas station attendant, known as “The Swede.” It’s a small, though significant role that stands out long after he is no longer on the screen. Whether McGraw plays an evil assassin on the wrong side of the law, as he does in “The Killers” or he’s a gruff cop like in “The Narrow Margin” or “Armored Car Robbery,” his graveled voice and solid rugged looks created one of the most distinctive and memorable performers on screen. Though McGraw has appeared in a variety of films over his career, westerns like “Blood on the Moon,” “ Saddle the Wind” and “Tell Them Willie Boy is Here,” he is best known for his roles in film noir works including “T-Men,”  “Brute Force,” “Side Street,” “Road Block,”  “Border Incident”  and a minor gem called “The Threat.”

Released late in 1949, “The Threat” is a low budget film from RKO Pictures directed by Felix E. Feist who is probably best known for films like “The Devil Thumb’s a Ride,” “The Man Who Cheated Himself” and “Donovan’s Brain.”  The script is by Dick Irving Hyland based on a story by Hugh King who also produced the film. Continue reading

The Organizer (1964) Mario Monicelli

“The Organizer” is a tough film to describe. Is it a tale of exploited textile workers fighting for better working conditions? A dark comedy? A human drama of class warfare? Well, the answer is yes to all. Set in very early years of the twentieth century in Turin the story focuses on the laborers in the town’s textile factory where the working conditions are harsh and the hours long. They arrive at 6 AM and leave at eight that night with only a half hour for lunch. The machines are dangerous, and there are certainly no health benefits in case of an injury. The workers slave for fourteen hours a day for a minimum wage. When one of the workers is injured in an accident the co-workers collect money to help out the family though they hardly have enough for themselves. Frustrated, the men and women stage a walkout but fail miserably when they neglect to support Pautasso (Folco Lulli), one of the leaders, who is suspended for two weeks. The others are penalized for the time taken off during the strike; they will now have to work on the job with no pay. Continue reading

Short Takes: Wall Street, Mitchum, Lincoln and Mansfield!

This edition of Short Takes includes one underrated fairly new film, from 2011, a made for television movie along with communists, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Joan Blondell and Jayne Mansfield.

Trial (1953) Mark Robson

A courtroom drama, filled with hot topics like racism, vigilantism, the Klu Klux Klan, communism, police brutality, paranoia and the influence of the media. On trial, a Mexican youth accused of murdering a local white girl. One of his lawyers (Arthur Kennedy) is more interested in using the boy as a martyr to raise money for the communist party while the other (Glenn Ford) is an idealistic young law professor who never tried a case before. Made during the McCarthy witch hunt era the story line has a strong anti-communist feel to it, but still manages to reflect some of dark sides of the American dream. Continue reading

The Big Combo (1955) Joseph H. Lewis

Sexually and sadistically charged “The Big Combo,” is a paradigm for what can be accomplished with spare change filmmaking. This film, and the earlier work, “Gun Crazy” (1950) are director Joseph H. Lewis’ masterpieces.  While on the surface, a straight forward cops and gangster film, Lewis created a world of brutally bold, off beat characters filled with dark shadows and high contrast lighting, courtesy of the brilliance of the master noir cinematographer John Alton (T-Men, He Walked By Night, Raw Deal and The Crooked Way).

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Broadway Danny Rose (1984) Woody Allen

“Broadway Danny Rose” opens at the famed Carnegie Deli located in midtown Manhattan, known for its huge Pastrami and Corned Beef sandwiches and as a well known show business hangout for many of the old time Borscht Belt comedians of yesterday. At one table dishing out old show biz stories are comedians Corbett Monica, Sandy Baron, Jackie Gayle and Will Jordan among others all playing themselves. Also in the group is Jack Rollins, Allen’s long time producer. The tales go around, back and forth, names come and go until Sandy Baron announces he has the best Danny Rose story ever. We flash back to a time not too long in the past.

Danny Rose (Woody Allen) is a fourth rate theatrical agent whose client list is filled with some of oddest acts in show business including a one legged dancer, a woman who plays musical glasses, a blind Xylophonist and a stuttering ventriloquist. Danny is a good hearted loser who believes in his clients worth no matter how bad they are. He is willing to go to the extreme to keep his acts happy and get them jobs. It’s this dedication that gets him in trouble when he becomes involved with his top client’s mistress and some unfriendly gangsters who mistake Danny as her lover. Continue reading

First Movie Memories

I was honored to be asked a while back by Brandie Ashe to be included in the month long series “First Movie Memories” over at True Classics with a host of others sharing their first experiences with the movies. Included are a wide variety of folks from various walks of life including  a law professor, a former professional ballroom dancer, a lawyer and some familar bloggers. Reading the stories of each individual has been at times funny, tender, moving and always interesting. Writing my story gave me a chance to explore my own journey. My piece appeared this past Friday so I thought I would link it here to share. Below also are some photos of a few of the films and filmmakers mentioned and who influenced me along the way.

Click below for my story.

                B Movie Western Western Star Johnny Mack Brown

Anthony Quinn’s Quasimodo scared the the new know what out of me when I was seven or eight years old.

Jack Lemmon and Kim Novak two early favorites.

Many hours of a mispent youth were in the dark at Loew’s Oriental located five blocks from where I lived in Brooklyn.

             One of my earliest and still most admired film directors.

Arthur Knight’s classic work on the history of movies.

                                                     The Pawnbroker

Budding Cinephile

99 River Street (1953) Phil Karlson

In the 1950’s film director Phil Karlson put out a series of solid crime dramas including, “Scandal Sheet,” “Five Against the House,” “Tight Spot,” “The Phenix City Story” and two works with John Payne, “Kansas City Confidential” and “99 River Street.” Karlson made his way up from Poverty Row working with the Dead End Kids (Live Wires and Bowery Bombshell) and Charlie Chan (Dark Alibi) to working on “B” features for the big Hollywood studios.  In the 1960’s Karlson worked with Elvis (Kid Galahad), Glenn Ford (A Time for Killing), also a couple of Dean Martin’s Matt Helm films before hitting box office big time with the south’s version of Harry Callahan, “Walking Tall,” the story of Buford Pusser, a Southern lawman willing to break the law in order to fight injustice.

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