TCM’s recent one night festival of five Louis Malle films gave me the opportunity to revisit two favorites and catch up with a few that I somehow missed in the past. Malle was a director who never liked to repeat himself. Once he explored a subject, he moved on. His work covered drama, suspense, comedy, documentaries and just about every other potential category. One of the original French New Wave, you never knew what he would do next. Malle never shied away from controversial subjects: French collaboration with the Nazi’s during World War II (Lacombe Lucien), child prostitution (Pretty Baby) and Incest (Murmur of the Heart) were all subject matter. What they all had in common was Malle’s artistry for handling these delicate subjects with taste and sensitivity. Continue reading
There was a second cousin of mine, my mother’s first cousin, who always fascinated me. She was different from the rest of the family and was sometimes referred to by other members as ‘the Beatnik.’ Now, you have to realize my parents and family were primarily first generation Italian-Americans born here. They did not do Beatniks. I was in my very early teens, or maybe even slightly younger, when I got to meet her. She had just moved from Greenwich Village and back to Brooklyn where she went to live with her father ( I believe he was very sick and I know she was a severe diabetic). I remember the first time we visited, many of her paintings were scattered all over the apartment. I was in awe.
Everyone would say she was a bit odd, if no other reason than she always wore black and had lived in the Village, living a different lifestyle from the little world I knew. I never really got to know her, but the fact she had the talent to paint was somewhat mysterious and fascinating to me even at that young age. I only mention this because it was my first introduction to art. Other than these few times I saw her, art in my life was not something that came into the family equation. Continue reading
Each Dawn I Die (***1/2) It is Cagney versus Raft in this classic 1939 Warner Brothers prison drama. Directed by William Keighley, Cagney is Frank Ross an investigative reporter who exposes a political candidate’s corrupt association with a construction company. After the article is published, Ross is snatched by some goons right in front of the newspaper building. He’s knocked out, soused with alcohol and tossed into a speeding car resulting in a car accident which kills three innocent people. Framed for the murders, Ross is sent to prison where he meets big shot Stacey (George Raft). At first, they get off on the wrong foot with Ross continuing to claim he was framed and innocent, all falling on deaf ears. The two become pals when Ross saves Stacey’s life from an attempt by another prisoner to kill him. Continue reading
Short Takes returns with three reviews, totally unrelated. A young Natalie Wood stars in A CRY IN THE NIGHT while 1950’s Brit blonde bombshell Diana Dors is in THE UNHOLY WIFE. Finally, Ginger Rogers shines in the lightweight 5th AVENUE GIRL.
I wonder when they named this picture, “A Cry in the Night,” whose tears they were referring too, Natalie Wood’s character perhaps, who is kidnapped in the middle of the night or maybe the audience who had to sit through this cliché ridden tale about a child-like adult (Raymond Burr), think Lenny in “Of Mice and Men,” who watches young couples making out at a local lover’s lane.
After knocking out her boyfriend old Raymond kidnaps Ms. Wood taking her to his secret hideout where he confesses he just wants to be ‘friends.’ Yes, Nat makes a couple of feeble attempts to escape but in the end only manages to ripe her skirt so she can reveal some leg in order to keep the males in the audience awake. Wood’s father, played by Edmond O’Brien, is an overbearing, over protective, sexist who finds it hard to believe his eighteen year old daughter would willingly go to a lover’s lane of her own free will after he forbid her too. In fact, ole’ Edmond seems more concerned with wanting to beat the crap out of the boyfriend for this dirty deed than finding his daughter. Oh yeah, by the way, he’s a cop who naturally wants to be involved in the case though he should not be. The cast also includes Brian Donlevy as the sensible cop who attempts to control the out of control O’Brien. As directed by Frank Tuttle, there is nothing original here, to say the least. Tuttle is best known for making “This Gun For Hire” some fourteen years earlier which made Alan Ladd a star. Ladd, by the way, is the narrator who opens the film and his company co-produced the film. Continue reading
Crime in the streets is this week’s theme. Two low budget flicks that came and went from the screen in the final blink of a dead man’s eye.
The Gangster (1947) Gordon Wiles
Unconventional gangster flick with Barry Sullivan as a hardened, self made, top dog gangster who becomes obsessed with a beautiful dame (Belita). Meanwhile he soon finds himself being squeezed out of his territory by another outfit headed up by the snarly Sheldon Leonard. Each of his weaknesses are slowly exposed, the politicians once in his pocket are no longer there, and other hoods are no longer willing to back him up. His downfall is inevitable.
Sullivan’s character is obsessive and paranoid when it come to his girl and bitter, cold-hearted and cynical toward everyone else. Despite being a low-budget production director Gordon Wiles paints the sets with a shadowed noirish light. And the sets, though obviously backlot, are very stylized, the shadowy ironwork on the elevated train, the rain soaked streets, the details in the soda fountain shop add an engaging arty flavor. The look and detail most likely stems from director Gordon Wiles background as an art director. There is also a winning melodramatic score by Louis Gruenberg. Yet for all these nice touches there is something about the film that does not crystallize. All these nice pieces yet the whole does not ring true and leaves you unfilled.
The film represented a reteaming of Barry Sullivan and Belita one year after they appeared in the 1946 oddity, “Suspense.” Supporting cast include Charles McGraw, John Ireland, Virginia Christine, Harry Morgan, Akim Tariroff, Elisha Cook Jr. and Leif Erickson. Also look for Shelley Winters in a small role. The script was co-written by the soon to be blacklisted Dalton Trumbo. Continue reading
Alan Ladd’s first major screen appearance, a tepid thriller with Barbara Stanwyck and Errol Flynn and a wicked satire from Italian film director Pietro Germi hightlight this week’s short takes.
This Gun For Hire (1942) Frank Tuttle
Alan Ladd is a nasty hired killer out for revenge after he is paid off in marked bills and he soon finds the police are quickly on his tail. Based on a novel by Grahame Greene, the movie comes across as one part foreign intrigue and two parts a noir crime film. Ladd is good as the pretty boy killer, with a soft spot for cats, who inadvertently becomes involved with a group selling chemical secrets to the Japanese. Veronica Lake is recruited by a senate committee to help expose the men selling the secrets becomes mixed up in the police hunt for Ladd. Ladd’s killer eventually finds redemption through Lake’s character who befriends him. This was the first teaming of the handsome Ladd and the gentle soft beauty of sexy Veronica Lake. It’s also the film that made Ladd a star. The memorable Laird Cregar, so good in “Hangover Square” and “The Lodger,” makes for an interesting weasel like neurotic criminal. I admittedly have always found Robert Preston, here he play the police Lieutenant in charge of the case, rather dull and he does nothing here to change my mind. Continue reading
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