Author Jim Thompson created some of the darkest of pulp crime fiction to ever land between the covers of a greasy paperback left in a two bit diner on a dark rain soaked night. He was a writer whose tales were filled with sleazy grifters and psychopaths. An alcoholic in real life, Thompson’s works featured characters that drank too much booze, like it was a life saving device or a device to run away from life.
Many of Thompson’s protagonists first appear to be dim blubs; working with one cylinder missing however, beneath the facade, there’s a psycho who is calculating, devious and most likely a killer. In 1955, Thompson published “After Dark, My Sweet.” Some thirty five years later, James Foley directed, and co-wrote with Robert Redlin, a screenplay, producing a near faithful adaption of Thompson’s hard-boiled novel. Having read the novel, I can verify the screenwriters used much of the original dialogue; it’s all pure, down and dirty. The movie is an uncompromising tale as any film noir from the golden age. Sadly, this film, when released in 1990, died at the box-office and is virtually forgotten even today. Continue reading →
“Whiplash” is the kind of routine film that Warner Brothers pumped out weekly back in the 1930’s and 1940’s, the days before a television was standard in everyone’s home. Not saying this is as a bad thing or that “Whiplash” is a bad movie. It’s like the old saying goes, “They just don’t make’em like this anymore.” Now, no one is going to make the argument this is a great film but with that said, it does keep you interested despite its flaws, specifically a script that at times stretches the imagination in the believability department.
Dane Clark is a poor California artist named Mike Gordon who gets hooked on a tantalizing, mysterious woman named Laurie (Alexis Smith) who he met after finding out she bought one of his paintings. He convinces her to go out on a date and quicker than you can cook a three minute egg Gordon has fallen in love with the dame. Soon after, Laurie hastily, without a word, heads back to New York City only telling Mike they should not get involved. But Mike is already neck deep in love with her and follows his heart to the east coast. Continue reading →
Directed 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 →
Crashout is like going to a film noir reunion. A late entry in the dark world of noir, the film gathers the likes of William Bendix (Out of the Past, The Blue Dahlia), Arthur Kennedy, (Too Late for Tears, Boomerang!), William Talman (Armored Car Robbery, The Hitch-hiker), Luther Adler (D.O.A., Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye), and Marshall Thompson (Dial 1119, Mystery Street). Toss in Sam Fuller regular Gene Evans (The SteelHelmet, Park Row) and Beverly Michaels (Pickup, Wicked Woman) and you have a smorgasbord of dark city regulars. Continue reading →
Mary Astor’s career was a long one going back to the early 1920′s. Over the years her career continued to grow until an infamous marital scandal broke in 1936 while she was making William Wyler’s “Dodsworth.” During the court battle her husband Dr. Franklyn Thorpe threatened to submit Astor’s spicy, fully detailed, diary as evidence of her infidelities with George S. Kaufmann and other celebrities. Ultimately, the diary was never offered to the court. Astor’s career could have been in jeopardy, since as with most actors at the time, a morality clause was included as part of the contract. Fortunately, Sam Goldwyn refused to fire her and she continued in her role as Edith Cortwright, Huston’s lover in the film. “Dodsworth” was a hit and Astor amazingly entered what could be considered her peak period with films like “The Prisoner of Zenda,” “The Hurricane,” “Midnight,” “Brigham Young” leading her into arguably her best year, 1941, with “The Maltese Falcon” and an Academy Award winning role as Best Supporting Actress for her role in “The Great Lie.”
After the successful year of 1941, along with its follow up with films like “Across the Pacific” and Preston Sturges, “The Palm Beach Story,” both in 1942, Mary Astor’s career hit another serious bump in the road. She made the mistake of signing a contract with MGM where they pretty much regulated her to playing “mother” roles in films like “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “Little Women.” In the 1944 musical, Astor, only 38 at the time, played the mother of Judy Garland who was 22. Suffice it to say, Astor was not happy. One of the few meatier roles MGM tossed Mary’s way came in 1948. Continue reading →
Based on Lucille Fletcher’s highly popular radio play, “Sorry, Wrong Number” was brought to the screen in 1948 by producer Hal B. Wallis and Paramount. The film was directed by Anatole Litvak and stars Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster. The original radio show featured Agnes Moorehead and was primarily a tense one woman dialogue for the complete twenty-two minute show. The program was so popular, Moorehead reprised her role several times over the years, but when Wallis and Paramount purchased the property, they decided Moorehead was not a big enough star for the lead role in the film. So here came Stanwyck who had just signed a contract with Wallis making this her first film under the new agreement.
To expand the original short radio script into a feature film, Lucille Fletcher “opened” up her original story which she accomplished by adding a series of flashbacks and even some flashbacks within flashbacks, expanding the role of the husband, played by Lancaster. Fletcher would also turn the screenplay into a novel the same year the movie was released.
Stanwyck is Leona Stevenson, the bed ridden wealthy invalid, neurotic to the core, with more pills on her end table than Pfizer Inc. produces in a month of Sundays. She is confined to her lavish bedroom apartment, overlooking the New York City skyline. One evening Leona, attempting to call her boy toy husband Henry, accidently due to crossed telephone lines, overhears two men discussing a murder plot. She calls the police, then her father and finally her doctor, but no one believes her. Continue reading →
Steely eyed and sexy, that’s Barbara Stanwyck at her best. No one conveyed the tough dame, determined yet alluring look that can arouse a man’s loins any better. With a screenplay by Robert Rossen (Force of Evil) based on a story by John Patrick, “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” is a hybrid twisting mix of film noir and 1940′s women’s melodrama with Stanwyck’s dangerous female right in the middle.
It’s the late 1920′s when Martha Ivers, a young orphaned teen, living with her rich aunt (Judith Anderson) strikes the older woman with a cane causing her to fall down a flight and stairs and die. Witnessed by her friend, Walter O’Neil, the boy backs up her story to his father, a hungry and ambitious lawyer, that the older woman did in fact “fall” with no help from Martha. The father suspects that’s not what really happened but realizes Martha, as her aunt’s only living relative stands to inherit a fortune and will make for a perfect wife for his awkward son. Continue reading →
If 1952 made Marilyn Monroe a name, a rising new film star, in 1953 she exploded on the screen with three standout Technicolor productions. “Niagara,” “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and “How to Marry a Millionaire” all of which would help define the Monroe celluloid doctrine. Her screen persona was now full blown and propelled her into the Top 10 list of Hollywood stars.
Henry Hathaway’s “Niagara” opens with two great shots of natural beauty, first is the mighty Niagara Falls with millions upon millions of gallons of water falling with God given power. The second shot is our first view of Marilyn Monroe lying naked under a thin sheet in her motel bedroom. Light shines through the sheet giving us a silhouetted shape of her right thigh. In her hand, a cigarette dangles over the side of the bed. The look on her face is one of satisfaction making one wonder what she was doing while her husband Joseph Cotten was off admiring the falls. We quickly come to learn this marriage is in trouble. When she hears her husband’s keys unlock the door, she puts out the cigarettes, rolls over, her back to the door, faking she’s asleep. This all happens within the first three minutes of the film. Continue reading →
Nothing seems to make sense in “Kiss Me Deadly,” even the opening credits roll backwards. Author Mickey Spillane hated the movie, screenwriter AI Bezzerides hated the book and film goers back in 1955 must have been confused with what it was they were exactly looking at. Sure there was a P.I. and plenty of hot looking dames with legs that went from one end of the screen to the other but, this is the 1950′s, the time of The BOMB, we’re not just dealing with dope here, this time it’s serious.
Ralph Meeker’s Mike Hammer may just be the dumbest P.I. to ever grace the screen, still director Robert Aldrich gives us one of the great film noirs of all time with a touch of science fiction tossed in just for good measure. It’s violent, sexy, nasty, and one of a kind. The film’s ending is one of those, to use an antiquated 1960’s term, mind blowing, one of the great film endings that will stay with you long after the film is over. Meeker is perfect as the thuggish Mike Hammer, a bedroom dick, who is not beyond letting his secretary/ lover, Velda (Maxine Cooper) have sex with someone just to gain information on the case. Continue reading →
Bad cops, family values and the middle class American dream are the themes driving Joseph Losey’s dark riveting film noir, “The Prowler.” Whenever one thinks of voyeurism in the cinema, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” tops the list. For 110 minutes we watch James Stewart observe what goes on in the magnificent studio constructed Greenwich Village court yard. But “Rear Window” was not alone in approaching this topic, in fact, released at almost the same time, within a week of each other was another film, this one from Columbia called “Pushover.” It was directed by Richard Quine and starred Fred MacMurray and a young Kim Novak. Plenty of other films have dabbled in voyeurism including “Psycho,” “The Conversation,” “Peeping Tom,” “Body Double” and more recently “Suburbia.” If one thinks about it, and if you take it to the extreme every film is voyeuristic, subsequently making every moviegoer a voyeur. Now, doesn’t that make you feel good?
So now that you feel nice and dirty we can delve into Joseph Losey’s ”The Prowler”, a nasty tale of bad cops, misplaced trust, repressed sexuality, desires and chasing the middle class American dream. That last piece is part of what would get Losey in trouble with the HUAC. It may seems insignificant today but back in the early 1950′s right wing communist witch hunters looked at “The Prowler” as downright subversively un-American, but more on this later. Continue reading →