Framed is James M. Cain light. It’s Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, shaken and stirred. All the ingredients are there, the protagonist, the sap of a guy falling hard for a duplicitous femme fatale who crosses and double crosses anyone who gets in her way. There’s also the dame’s lover, a debonair, adulterous, underhanded white-collar thief masquerading as a model citizen. Continue reading
Let Us Live is based on a March 1936 Harper’s magazine article by Boston Globe crime reporter, Joseph F. Dinneen, called Murder in Massachusetts. Dinneen’s true story focuses on two taxi cab drivers identified by almost a dozen witnesses for killing a man during a Lynn, Massachusetts movie theater robbery. The real killers, arrested about three weeks later were small time Jewish hoods Abraham Faber and brothers Irving and Murton Millen. The real killers’ story is rather fascinating in itself. Abraham Faber seemed like an unlikely individual to become a hoodlum. Faber attended MIT, graduating with a degree in aeronautical engineering. The Millen brothers were thugs. Small time hoods who hauled illegal booze during the prohibition days. The threesome apparently knew each other from days gone by growing up in Roxbury, Mass. Unemployed during the Depression, Abraham Faber reconnected with his childhood friends and the trio began a small time crime spree. In January, 1934 they graduated to murder when they shot a man during the Paramount theater robbery in Lynn, Mass. One month later, they robbed the Needham Trust Co., killing two police officers and wounding a fire fighter in the process. About three weeks later in New York City two of the men were arrested and confessed to the crimes. The third man was arrested in Boston. The taxi cab drivers arrested for the first murder were released. The Farber-Millen gang were convicted and executed in June of 1935. Continue reading
One of the spiciest of pre-code movies ever made was The Story of Temple Drake. It was based on William Faulkner’s decadent novel, “Sanctuary,” which was considered a scorcher for its time. Published in 1931, the novel dealt with rape, bondage and murder, and can probably be compared to today’s Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy in its notoriety. By the standard of the studios and the production code it was considered to be one of those books, like The Postman Always Rings Twice some 15 years later, a work that was too hot for the screen and could not be made into a movie. Yet, just two years after its publication, Paramount purchased the rights and it arrived on the screen, though not without some fine major tuning and modifications. The Hays Office refused to allow the studio to name the novel in any way on screen. Subsequently, during the opening credits it reads from a “novel by William Faulkner.” Still, the film remained and remains one of the most controversial and wicked of pre-code films. Faulkner, it is said, based his novel on a true story and wrote it expressly as a commercial venture to sell books with no consideration of artistic intent. Continue reading
Pickup on South Street is one of Sam Fuller’s few big studio films, and more importantly, one of his finest. Pickpocket pro Richard Widmark inadvertently becomes involved in stolen government secrets when he pickpockets the wrong woman, a tough talking Jean Peters. This is hard core noir mixed in with cold war paranoia. The film is filled with tough smart aleck talking guys and dames, no matter what side of the law they are on. Widmark is very good, but Thelma Ritter as Mo, the snitch, steals every scene she is in. Not a perfect film but damn near close. Continue reading
Raw Deal was Anthony Mann’s second film with John Alton as cinematographer. It was a cinematic marriage that produced some of the finest low budget film noirs in cinema. Both Mann and Alton did excellent work with others, but together their sensibilities were simpatico. It was like they each knew what the other wanted. A short film, only 79 minutes, it’s packed with action, characterization, stylish dramatic dark lighting and expressive camera angles that tell as much about the story as the dialogue and plot reveal. Continue reading
Lawrence Tierney as John Dillinger is pure evil in this Poverty Row “epic” film from Monogram Pictures. From the opening moments right down to the expected final shoot out at Chicago’s Biograph theater there is not one second where you feel any sympathy for the infamous outlaw. It was a breakout role for the actor who would go on to play a series of criminal type roles in films like Badman’s Territory, Hoodlum and Born to Kill. With the latter film, you knew you were on solid ground after reading New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther’s, infamous for hating many crime films now considered classic in the genre, scalding review. He called it “not only morally disgusting but an offense to normal intellect.” Continue reading
The private detective film made a comeback in the mid to late 60’s thanks to the Paul Newman starring 1966 film Harper. (There were shades of Bogart and a good story line thanks to the source novel The Moving Target by Ross MacDonald). Other films soon followed (P.J., Marlowe) in its successful path including Tony Rome released the following year.
By 1967, Frank Sinatra’s film career was once again on a slide downward, unlike Newman’s who pretty much ruled the screen in the 1960’s. The original Jersey Boy made three mediocre films in a row (Marriage on the Rocks, Assault on a Queen and The Naked Runner). They were films he walked through and he looked as bored as the films were themselves. With Tony Rome, Sinatra, the actor, found his way back with the kind of smart ass, wise guy loner the public always kind of felt the singer/actor was in real life. Sinatra does look a bit too old for the role, he was 51 and looked even older. Just compare a photo of 51 year old Brad Pitt next to Frank, the difference is obvious. However, that hard, tired face and look surely adds to the aura. Continue reading