On September 2nd 1935, a category five, the highest level, storm slammed into the Florida Keys. The storm hit on Labor Day. Original predictions had it heading between the Lower Keys and Cuba. At first, it was thought to be of lesser severity. Then it blew up heading toward Upper Matcumbe Key, Plantation Key and Tavernier Key with wind speeds between 200 and 250 mph. It turned out to be the strongest hurricane to ever make landfall in the United States. Storm surges ranged from 18 to 25 feet. Towns like Tavernier and Marathon were left with no buildings standing. Other towns nearby suffered catastrophic destruction. Over 400 hundred deaths were reported, many were World War I veterans who were working on the completion of the Overseas Highway the road that would connect the mainland to the keys. The veterans were part of the government’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Continue reading →
Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat takes place in a small, dreadfully hot, humid Southern Florida coastal town. The heat of the title reflects three important elements of the film. First up, the obvious; the stifling hot Florida weather. Every character’s skin glistens with beads of sweat. Shirts are constantly seen with sweat stains. Continue reading →
Early in his feature film directing career Richard Fleischer made a series of exciting low budget film noirs, among them, The Clay Pigeon, Follow Me, Quietly, Armored Car Robbery and his masterpiece, TheNarrow Margin. Photographed in deep rich black shadowy light, most of the film taking place on a cross country train. The confined space results in a claustrophobic tense ride filled with twists and turns that do not let up for a second. Continue reading →
Based on a short story (The Boy Cried Murder) by the reclusive, alcoholic and prolific writer, Cornell Woolrich, The Window is a claustrophobic tight little thriller filled with fire escapes and old tenement buildings that dramatically frame this tale of a young boy, a compulsive teller of tales, who witnesses a murder on a hot urban city night…and no one believes him. Continue reading →
What is Film Noir? Well just take look at Double Indemnity or Criss Cross and you will get the idea. Filled with treacherous woman and dumb men, along with odd camera angles and stark contrast like black and white photography, film noir’s peak period arguably ranges from 1941 to 1958. The term was coined by the French. After the war, an influx of American films began to flood the European cinemas. The French critics noticed a much darker, pessimistic, fatalistic tone in many the films and coined the phase film noir or dark cinema. 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 →
Author Jim Thompson created some of the darkest pulp crime fiction ever to land between the covers of greasy paperbacks left in two bit diners on dark rain soaked nights. He was a writer whose tales were filled with sleazy grifters and psychopaths. An alcoholic himself, Thompson’s works featured characters that drank too much booze, like it was a life-saving device.
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 →
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 →