Once a Thief (1965) Ralph Nelson

Thief7   The first time I saw Once a Thief was back in 1965. It was at a third tier theater called the Harbor located in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Why do I remember this? Most likely, because watching the film back then, with a non-critical eye, I just liked it. I always liked crime films and having already discovered Cagney, Bogart and Garfield on TV it seemed like a pretty good fit. It may have also had something to do with Ann-Margret who for a few years in the sixties I possibly had a crush on. Well, alright I did have a crush on her! Can you blame me? If I remember correctly, every time I saw an Ann-Margret film back in those days I had to spend extra time in the confessional revealing a few additional impure thoughts. If case you were wondering I never mentioned her name to the priest. I don’t kiss and tell, not even in my dreams.  Anyway, enough confessional time. Back to the show. Continue reading

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Rawhide (1951) Henry Hathaway

Rawhide3 Though written by Dudley Nichols, Rawhide is no Stagecoach. Still, the film is interesting despite the fact it never manages to rise above the norm. The setting is a stagecoach relay station in the middle of nowhere. Tyrone Power is Tom Owens, the son of the station’s owner, who has come west to take over the family business with old timer Sam Todd (Edgar Buchanan) teaching him the ropes. When the stage pulls in one day, among the passengers on board are Vinnie Holt (Susan Hayward) and her very young niece. Soon after, a Calvary patrol stops by warning everyone that four men have recently broken out of the state prison and are in the area. Due to the potential danger, and company regulations, the stage driver refuses to take Vinnie and the child any further. They are forced to remain at the relay station which turns out to be more of a danger than had she been allowed to continue on her journey with the stage. Continue reading

The Cincinnati Kid (1965) Norman Jewison

By 1965, Steve McQueen was a star with hit films like “The Magnificent Seven” and “The Great Escape” already behind him. Yet, McQueen still had not proven he could carry a film, films where he alone was the big name. “The Honeymoon Machine,” “The War Lover” and “Hell is For Heroes” did little at the box office no matter what their quality. McQueen was still chasing the one actor who he saw as his rival, Paul Newman. With the release of “The Cincinnati Kid,” Steve would be on a cinematic roll pushing him through the stratosphere for the next few years equal to that of his screen rival.

I first saw “The Cincinnati Kid” in 1965 at a little theater in Downtown Brooklyn called the Duffield. Back in those days, this area of Brooklyn was a sort of mini Times Square with the boroughs largest and fanciest movie palaces all within walking distance. The Loew’s Metropolitan, RKO Albee, Brooklyn Fox and Brooklyn Paramount were all large grand scale theaters, each seating more than 3,000 people. The Duffield, on the other hand, was a small theater, approximately 900 seats, located on a side street (Duffield Street) just off Fulton Street, the main thoroughfare. McQueen was cool, as Eric Stoner, aka The Cincinnati Kid, his screen persona in full bloom. He had the walk and the look. He doesn’t talk too much but McQueen was always at his best when playing the silent type, it was all in his face and his body language. In truth, I was always more of a Paul Newman fan, but in this film McQueen was it, total sixties cool. Continue reading

The Killers (1946) Robert Siodmak

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

Follow Me Quietly (1949) Richard Fleischer

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    Director Richard Fleischer made a series of good tight low-budget film noirs in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s including, “Violent Saturday”, “The Clay Pigeon”, “Armored Car Robbery”, “The Narrow Margin” and “Follow Me Quietly”, a decent if pedestrian thriller. At a condensed length of barely 60 minutes, the film is worth watching as long as you are not expecting too much. This is unfortunate because the film opens up with some nice dark rainy filled streets, setting us up for what is hoped to be an atmospheric trip through some dark mean streets. Instead what we get is William Lundigan as Detective Sgt. Grant, a blander actor would be harder to find, who at first comes across in some early scenes with some potential only to slip into a state of insomnia. The female lead, played by Dorothy Patrick, is no femme fatale but a somewhat dorky journalist named Ann Gorman who works for a magazine rag and is continually trying to get Grant to give her a story on the serial killer known as “The Judge.”  The strangest scene in the film takes place in Grant’s apartment when he unexpectedly finds Gorman waiting there for him, still trying to get information for a story. Grant, pretty much ignoring her goes into the bathroom takes the quickest shower on record, comes out in his pajamas and gets into bed finally agreeing to provide a story. He rolls over turning his back to her and says to her to shut the lights out as she leaves. The scene probably could have been played a lot more erotically, and maybe that was the intent, but it just seems to all fall flat. The supposed romance that develops between Grant and Gorman leads nowhere. Actually, considering the way he treated her in the beginning she should have had no interest in him anyway except for professional reasons.                   

 followmequietlyposter   The aforementioned serial killer, “The Judge” whom Grant becomes obsessed with capturing, is of the letter writing school of serial murderers, those who cut out letters from newspapers and paste them on a sheet of paper sending them to the police. Of course, he is called “The Judge” as he sets himself up as judge and jury to his victims’ for their alleged sins. From the various clues that have been left behind Grant and his crack team put together a life like though faceless dummy of “The Judge” to give fellow officers an idea of what the killer looks like. This later will lead to the most effective scene in the film that takes place in Grant’s office. As an aside, the faceless dummy is reminiscent of the old Dick Tracy comics’ character, which had a criminal with a blank face known as Frankie Redrum, aka The Blank. Yes, redrum is murder spelled backward just like in “The Shining.”   

   The ending itself , somewhat reminiscent of “White Heat” and “He Walked by Night” , is decent enough, through nowhere near as exciting and like most of the film it seems to promise more than it can deliver.

    While Fleischer is credited as the sole director is has been suggested that Anthony Mann may have directed some scenes. Mann was a co-writer on the film and it has been previously written how the film’s ending is similar to other Mann works. Film writer Jeanine Basinger in her book “Anthony Mann” writes that Mann’s footprints can be seen in “the visual presentation of the final shoot-out in an abandon chemical plant and in the mixture of a semi-documentary police story and an atmospheric murder mystery.” However, she adds that without access to RKO files it is difficult to say for sure what input Mann had. The one certain highlight is the camerawork by Robert De Grasse whose other works include “The Men”, “Born to Kill” and nourish films like Val Lewton’s  “The Leopard Man” and “The Body Snatcher.”    

Overall, “Follow Me Quietly” is certainly worth watching as long a your are not expecting to find a buried treasure.