In the opening scenes of Seven Days in May we find picketers from both sides demonstrating outside the White House. Tempers are high. A riot breaks out, and the police come in attempting to break up what has turned into a free for all. Those divisive times were more than fifty years ago. It’s amazing how times have not changed. Today it is no different, tolerance and respect are in short supply. For many of us, emotions are driven by fear. We live in a period where Americans fear foreigners, terrorists, North Korea, Iran, Nuclear war and more. Fear drives irrational behavior. Continue reading
One of the earliest films depicting Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday and the gunfight at the OK Corral was a 1932 work called Law and Order. While the character’s names were changed, the film told the tale, fictitious as it was, of the infamous Tombstone shootout. Since the making of that film there have been numerous others detailing, correctly or incorrectly, generally more the latter, the story of the battle between the Earp Brothers and the Clanton’s’ at the OK Corral. In 1939, there was Frontier Marshal with Randolph Scott as Earp and Cesar Romero as Doc Holiday. According to Jon Tuska in his 1976 tomb on the Western film (The Filming of the West), it was this script that was given to John Ford and was used as the basis for his My Darling Clementine. Continue reading
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
Here are five short reviews of some recent viewings that are all over the genre map.
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is a beautifully shot big Hollywood version of the famed Tombstone shootout as the Earp Brothers face down the Clantons. Burt Lancaster makes for a stoic Wyatt Earp, a hard ass who totes the line. Kirk Douglas does his best impersonation of himself as the alcoholic, tuberculosis ridden, Doc Holliday. The story itself is pretty fictionalized. Johnny Ringo, for example, died before the shootout, and the real life shootout only lasted only about 30 seconds. Then there is Jo Van Fleet, who only two years earlier played James Dean’s mother in East of Eden, as Kate Fisher, Doc Holliday’s female companion. In real Earp lore, Kate was known as “Big Nose” Kate. But then who cares about all that. Watching the two stars interact makes this a fun watch. 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
The film opens with a magnificent opening aerial shot, the camera roaming over the Los Angeles night soon descending on our two doomed protagonists, Steve Thompson (Burt Lancaster) and his former wife, Anna (Yvonne DeCarlo) embracing passionately in a nightclub parking lot. The sultry Anna promising Steve they will be together, the way it was meant to be. The eyebrows of knowing film noir lovers will be raised, because as you know, in this dark world, a woman’s promise of eternal love to a man is a death trap with no way out. Steve is the prototype film noir sap, head over heels stuck on a dame who is no good, pure evil, only he is too blind to see. Blinded by love and sex, he is a pawn in a game he does not even know he is playing, while all the dame sees is dollars signs. Men are only there to be used by this kind of woman. Love? Love is a loser’s game. Her motto, as she tells the dumb sap late in the film, “you have to look out for yourself.” Continue reading
This review is part of the FOR THE LOVE OF FILM: THE FILM PRESERVATION BLOGATHON to benefit the film noir foundation who work for the restoration of decaying noir films. The blogathon runs from Feb. 14th through Feb. 21st. For more information on how you can help by donating please check out our blogathon hosts, The Self Styled Siren and Ferdy on Films.
Here is a link to the organization’s facebook page.
“The Killers” is a hard-boiled film noir that starred an unknown 32-year actor making his film debut and a contract player from MGM, of limited talent, with little in her filmography at that point in time, to prove she would amount to anything. “The Killers” is intricate and visually stunning with its black blacks and pure white whites. Just take a look at the opening scene when the two killers arrive in town, the film is a dark fatalistic work of photographic beauty, a visual feast of light, darkness and shadows. Credit goes to director Robert Siodmak and cinematographer Elwood “Woody” Bredell. The opening is also enhanced by Miklos Rozsa’s music, which may sound familiar to some who remember the theme from the old TV police show “Dragnet.”
Ernest Hemingway’s short story “The Killers”, written in a hotel room in Madrid sometime in 1926, first appeared in Scribner’s Magazine in March 1927. The story is characteristic of themes that would continue to emerge in Hemingway’s work, the inescapability of death and the emptiness of life. Producer, newspaper columnist and theater critic, Mark Hellinger purchased the film rights for $36,750. Hemingway’s story is about two killers who come to the small town of Summit, Ill. (changed to Brentwood, New Jersey in the movie), looking for a man known as The Swede. Why is never said. Most of the short story takes place in Henry’s Diner where The Swede is known to come for dinner most nights. Hemingway’s story ends after Nick Adams, Hemingway perennial character, and a customer in the diner at the same time the two killers show up and announce they are going to kill The Swede, sneaks out to warn him of the two men out to kill him. The Swedes’ fatalistic resolve that there is nowhere left to run, to just remain where he is, accepting the consequences is where the short story ends. It leaves open a multitude of questions. What did The Swede do that these two guys want to kill him. Who hired them? Why has The Swede given up running readily accepting his doomed fate? Continue reading