Sam Fuller’s background as a newspaper reporter is always evident in his films visual style. They always jump off the screen like the morning headlines. Fuller’s 1957 western begins exactly in that same fashion sucking you in right from its opening shot. A buckboard with three men, Griff Bonnell (Barry Sullivan) and his two brothers, suddenly hear the sound of a thundering herd of horses. Before they know it they are surrounded by the film title’s forty guns, led by Barbara Stanwyck’s Jessica Drummond, all dressed in blackm riding a white stallion. One of Fuller’s visually unique shots puts the camera’s POV under the buckboard as the horses thundering hooves pound on by. Continue reading
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
TCM is showing this film at noon today so I thought I would feature my review from a while back. Below is the link.
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
Okay, I am no admirer of Doris Day; I find her music sleep inducing and suggest medically it could probably be used as a definitive cure for insomnia. Her albums are posters for 1950’s bland. As for her film career, it is spotty at best. “Pillow Talk” is a likable romantic comedy, and in “Love Me or Leave Me,” as real life singer Ruth Etting, she gets one of her best roles in her career, and opposite James Cagney no less! “Midnight Lace” is a nice attempt, if not totally successful, at recreating a Hitchcock thriller atmosphere. Then of course, there is the real Hitchcock film, “The Man Who Knew Too Much” which ranks as the high point in Ms. Day’s film career. She is wonderful in the famous Albert Hall sequence where without any dialogue whatsoever she conveys the anxiety, the tension to save her child while at the same time knowing that a political figure is about to be assassinated. Continue reading
“Jeopardy” is a terrific little thriller from MGM, cheaply made, did okay at the box office and disappeared without much fanfare. MGM known for its lavish and expensive musicals also had a small unit that produced low budget films, programmers, product to keep pumping out to theaters. With a small budget and stars who were no longer at the top of their career the studio was able to put out some decent films that turned a profit. “Jeopardy” falls nicely into this category.
A typical American family is driving down to Mexico for a vacation. Let’s remember this is 1953, post-war America, the Eisenhower years, folks were glad the war years were over and enjoying the open roads, the country’s super highways. Barbara Stanwyck’s narration in the film alludes to this as well as to the unknown trouble that lies ahead. The destination is an isolated beach area her husband, Doug Stilwin (Barry Sullivan) went fishing there years ago with former Army buddies. The rest of the family consists of wife Helen (Barbara Stanwyck) and their young son Bobby (Lee Aaker).
The first stop is Tijuana but from there it is a long ride to the isolated beach some 400 miles south on the Baja peninsula. When they first arrive young Bobby goes exploring on a pier that has been condemned (only the condemned sign is in Spanish and we do not find out the meaning of the word until it is too late). Bobby gets his foot stuck in between two boards and Dad has to go out on the pier and pry his son’s foot loose. On the way back one of the weaker boards gives way and Dad falls, a piling pinning his foot underneath. Unable to get him loose and with the tide beginning to come in, Helen, panic stricken, is forced to take the car and go for help hopefully getting back before the tide comes in drowning Doug.
Not knowing any Spanish, unfamiliar with the terrain and half hysterical Helen drives wildly searching for help. She meets some locals walking down the road but the language barrier prohibits any communication and she drives off frantically still in search of help. She comes upon a roadside gas station but the place seems deserted. She breaks in looking for a heavy rope or some other material that would help free her husband. Suddenly, a man appears standing by her car, he’s an American and she tells him her tale. He instantly agrees to help her; they jump into her car and take off. As they drive away, the camera,remaining behind at the gas station, slowly moves over revealing a dead body lying on the ground. The supposed good Samaritan is Lawson (Ralph Meeker) a half psychotic escaped prisoner. He isn’t interested in helping Helen and her husband as much as using the car to get away from the Mexican police. To make Helen’s situation even more desperate he finds a pistol in the glove compartment, one Helen’s husband packed for shooting practice.
The remainder of this short (69 minutes) film becomes a duel between Helen, a woman determined and willing to do anything to save her husband and the crazed Lawson (the film hints that she agrees to a sexual encounter), who mocking her fears that her husband may die at one point tells her to “stop it, you’re making me cry, I’m a very sensitive guy.”
Stanwyck is always at her best when she combines vulnerability and toughness which she does so well here, but the real revelation is Ralph Meeker (who incidentally replaced Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire” on Broadway). Best known as Mike Hammer in the classic Robert Aldrich film “Kiss Me, Deadly,” here he just about steals the entire film in what has to be one of his best and juiciest roles. It was a good year for Meeker, he also had a role in Anthony Mann’s “The Naked Spur.”
As exciting as Meeker is in his role, Barry Sullivan is just as dull. He has the less fortunate part of the husband who for most of the film is stuck under the pile with the tide coming in, the waves crashing up against him harder and harder. Actually it is not so much Sullivan’s talent that is at fault as it is the role itself. Lee Aaker who plays the young son Bobby is best remembered by baby boomers as Rusty in the TV series “The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin” that began filming the following year and ran for five years.
Though the film was set in Mexico, the Yucca Valley and an area near Laguna Beach were substituted for the Baja Peninsula. The screenplay was written by Mel Dinelli who wrote such fine thrillers as “The Spiral Staircase,” “Cause for Alarm,” “The Window” and “Beware, My Lovely.” Directed by John Sturges on a very small budget, He would within two years go on to make his first great classic, “Bad Day at Black Rock.”
Notice in both the poster and the insert how in the advertising of this film they allude to Stanwyck’s character having sex with the killer Lawson with phrases like “she did it…because her fear was greater than her shame!” and “she did it…and no woman in the world would blame her”
“Jeopardy” is a fine thriller without ever reaching the level of greatness, but you will not be bored.
You know you are really having a bad day when your invalid husband announces to you he just mailed a letter to the D.A. implicating you and his best friend in a plot to kill him. In “Cause for Alarm,” a 1951 low budget suburban noir, George Jones (Barry Sullivan) is confined to his bed and his mind is deteriorating as well. A weak heart and paranoia make for a lethal combination as George convinces himself that his loving wife Ellen (Loretta Young), who has been taking care of him and his best friend, and physician, are out to kill him by slowly poisoning him.
In flashback we find out Ellen was first dating Lt. Ranney Grahame (Bruce Cowling), a young doctor and best friend to George. Grahame’s busy days left little time for romance and soon Ellen began dating George, falling in love and getting married. Now a few years later, George is confined to his bed with Ellen taking care of him and Grahame his physician.
With his condition deteriorating, George comes to believe his wife and best friend are having an affair. George, who the good doctor recommends should see a psychologist, instead makes plans to retaliate by writing and secretly mailing an incriminating letter to the District Attorney outlining a supposed plot to murder him. After the letter is mailed, which Ellen herself unknowingly gave to the mailman, he tells her all about his plan. Confronting her, George ever more paranoid, now sets a plan in motion to kill Ellen except, well, poor George got himself so worked up that before he could pull the trigger on Ellen, he has a massive heart attack and drops dead with the pistol still clutched in his hands.
Ellen is obviously relieved though not for long when she realizes the letter her husband mailed will incriminate her as his murderer. From what George told her just before he died, everything he put in the letter could be misinterpreted to prove there was a plot to kill him. Attempts to get the letter back from the Post Office, the D.A. are in vain. With each passing moment, Ellen is becoming a bigger and bigger web of nerves, on the verge of a breakdown, all while her husband’s dead body remains upstairs in the bedroom. When George’s Aunt comes to visit and wants to see George, you fear the poor woman is going to go totally berserk. Later, Ranney shows up to check on George, and Ellen tells him what happened. He calmly goes upstairs, finds his friend’s body, and methodically begins to “clean up” the scene, rearranging the body, pulling the shades down. Surprisingly he shows no sign of distress over his friend’s recent demise.
A twist of an ending, which I will not give away, seems to clear Ellen. I say seems to because while the assumption is Ellen is an innocent victim here, she and Ranney act more as if they are in a conspiracy to cover up a crime. It does leave a bit of doubt as to what really went on. Was George right about the love affair, or was he “rude and selfish” since he was a child, as his Aunt Clara mumbles during her visit. Ellen seems more concerned with clearing her name than her husband’s death. Of course, he did try to frame her for his approaching death. It is all kind of Hitchcockian, though without the irony, or a scent of black humor that Sir Alfred would have introduced.
Loretta Young manages to pull off a performance that miraculously comes close to the edge of “way too much” but somehow she holds it all in check with a great breakdown scene at the end. Despite a frazzled state for most of the film, she is certainly beautiful to look at and the film really belongs to her. This film came toward the end of a long movie career, and she was only a couple of years away from the beginning of a new start on TV with “The Loretta Young Show”, an anthology series where she started each show in an exquisite evening gown and was introduced as Miss Loretta Young. It was all very formal. Additionally, she starred in many of the episodes. Another highlight of the film is Margalo Gillmore who gives a testy performance as Aunt Clara, hitting all the right and annoying buttons. Also adding to the suspense is Andre Previn’s score and Tay Garnett’s direction. Garnett is no stranger to noirish style films though here he take the atmosphere out of the city and into suburbia. The film was produced by Young’s husband Tom Lewis, who also co-wrote the script along with Mel Dinelli. The film was amazingly shot in 14 days!