The Grapes of Wrath on TCM – Feb. 10th

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John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath is one of classic Hollywood’s most impressive and important films. Based on John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel, a morally emotional work filled with both rage and empathy; it won both the National Book Award and a Pulitzer. One year after the book’s publication came Ford’s masterpiece.

TCM is broadcasting the film on Friday (February 10th) at 8PM (Eastern).

Down below is an excerpt from my e-book, Lessons in the Dark, where you can read more about  The Grapes of Wrath classic films. Available at Amazon. Continue reading

The Dark Corner (1946) Henry Hathaway

darkcornerposterLong before video became the standard home format for movies taken by family of loved ones, friends, and maybe even of some gory accidents you happen to come across that may make it on the local news, there were 8mm home movies. One of my uncles was the first in the family to have an 8mm camera which he purchased around the time of the birth of their first child and my cousin. We lived near each other and subsequently I made it on to the grainy screen in quite a few of the 50 foot reels. While most of the movies were dedicated to family there were a couple of minutes of celluloid my uncle shot that had nothing to do with family. This was way back in the 1950’s and they were dismantling the 3rd Avenue El, the last of the above ground subways to run in Manhattan. My uncle shot some footage and its amazing footage to watch of a New York City now long gone. Continue reading

Key Largo (1948) John Huston

Key Largo

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Here’s the story of the hurricane….

   On September 2nd 1935, a category five, the highest level, storm slammed into the Florida Keys. The storm hit on Labor Day. Original predictions had it heading between the Lower Keys and Cuba. At first, it was thought to be a lessor storm. Then it blew up heading toward Upper Matcumbe Key, Plantation Key and Tavernier Key with wind speeds between 200 and 250 mph. It turned out to be the strongest hurricane to ever make landfall in the United States. Storm surges ranged from 18 to 25 feet. Towns like Tavernier and Marathon were left with no buildings standing. Over 400 hundred deaths were reported, many were World War I veterans who were working on the completion of the Overseas Highway the road that would connect the mainland to the keys. The veterans were part of the government’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Continue reading

It Happened in Brooklyn (1947)

Happened5   Before Elvis, before The Beatles, before Michael Jackson and before whomever the latest pop star of the day is…there was Frank Sinatra. The teenage girls of the day swooned, screamed and peed in the panties uncontrollably  when Sinatra sang on stage at theaters like the Paramount theater in New York City. By the late 1940’s though Frank’s career was in a downward spiral. His film career up to this point was mediocre. There was the occasional big hit like Anchors Aweigh, On the Town and Take Me Out to the Ballgame, but more often there were second-rate films like The Kissing Bandit, Double Dynamite and It Happened it Brooklyn. More importantly for his career, his popularity on the record charts was also spiraling downward. Frank, of course, would rebound in the early 1950’s in both film and his music, but things were shaky for the future Chairman of the Board during the post war years. So why write about one of Sinatra’s less important films? There was a personal connection, well sort of, that attracted me to watch.  Continue reading

Brute Force (1947) Jules Dassin

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Jules Dassin’s Brute Force is a brutally, cruel, claustrophobic prison film that will turn your knuckles bloody to the skin. This was the director’s first venture into the world of film noir. It has a tough hard core texture, thanks to not only Dassin’s sharp direction, but the cinematography of William H. Daniels (The Naked City, Lured) and the music score of Miklós Rózsa (Ministry of Fear, Woman in Hiding). Continue reading

The Spiral Staircase (1945) Robert Siodmak

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The opening scenes of The Spiral Staircase, where we first meet Helen (Dorothy McGuire), take place in a hotel ballroom that has been set up as a make shift movie theater. There’s a hand written sign that states there are two showings, 4:30 and 7:30. Then we see a silent film flickering on the screen; a woman is on the piano accompanying the storyline. In the back, we see a “projectionist” hand cranking the film through the projector. Finally, there is the audience sitting on hard wooden benches enthralled by the flickering images of this infant art. It is a great scene that gives film lovers a glimpse at what it was like when the movies were young. Continue reading

Kiss of Death (1947) Henry Hathaway

    Richard Widmark in his screen debut dominates “Kiss of Death”, a fairly suspenseful film noir crime drama. As the crazed psychotic Tommy Udo, Widmark’s portrayal is just plain creepy and his performance alone makes this film a must see. The classic scene where Udo tosses wheelchair bound Mildred Dunnock down a flight of stairs still packs one a hell of a punch. The film stars Victor Mature as Nick Bianco, a small time crook who is caught after a Christmas Eve jewel robbery and sent to jail. Assistant D.A. D’Angelo (Brian Donlevy) tries to persuade Bianco to name his two partners in the robbery but Nick is no stoolie. This typical hoodlum stance however results in a twenty year sentence. Three years later after a visit from Nettie Cavello, a former babysitter for Nick’s family, Nick finds out his wife committed suicide after she was attacked by Pete Rizzo, one of Nick’s accomplices in the jewel robbery. Distraught Nick decides to tell the D’Angelo everything in exchange for a visit to see his two daughters. D’Angelo arranges for Nick to tell his crooked lawyer Howser that Rizzo squealed on him. Howser hires the now free crazed killer Udo to murder Rizzo. When Tommy gets to Rizzo’s apartment, he has already fled and the only person there is his wheelchair bound mother. Upset that Rizzo escaped, Udo ties mother Rizzo to the wheelchair with telephone cord and tosses her down a flight of stairs. Now released from jail, with the help of D’Angelo, Nick marries Nettie and with the two kids, they are living an honest and clean life. However, Nick still has some debt to be paid. D’Angelo wants him to get the goods on Udo. Nick meets with Udo who takes Tommy around the town introducing him to underworld characters, revealing enough information for Nick to tell D’Angelo who can now prosecute Udo. D’Angelo wants Nick who is living under an assumed name with his family, to testify against Udo, swearing that a conviction is a sure thing. Reluctantly Nick testifies however, Udo is found not guilty and released. Now knowing that Nick was a turn coat and squealed Udo is out to kill Nick. The confrontation that follows has Nick setting up a meeting with Udo who despises squealers so much he wants to shoot Nick personally, ignoring his cohorts advise about him being a three time loser if he is caught with a fire arm.  The films ending is fairly standard stuff. Nick survives the shootout and Udo goes to jail. 

In addition, a large problem is its conflicting moral view. First, we are to root for Bianco living the criminal code and not squealing, a position most crime movies take. Then after finding out about his wife’s tragic death Nick turns stoolie and sings his way out of jail. At this point, the film now wants us to accept Nick the canary as the hero of the story.  Maybe this is the reason Udo was made such an evil despicable character so that is Nick’s canary singing does not look that bad when compared to the psychotic Tommy Udo tossing a sick old lady down a flight of stairs.

    Victor Mature is a pretty stiff actor and gives one of his typical performances as Nick Bianco. For Coleen Gray, this was the first time she received screen credit and is decent as the adoring baby sitter with a crush on Nick. Coleen had previously appeared in a couple of other films unbilled. However, as mentioned earlier this is all Richard Widmark’s film. He is just amazing as the crazed wide eyed disturbed Tommy Udo, for which he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor award. Listen and look at Widmark as Udo, the high pitched giggling voice. The hat he wears. It looks like the young Widmark here was auditioning for the role of The Joker for the next upcoming Batman movie.