Cry Danger (1951)

589aa-crydanger2Here is yet another noir gem which would never get made today, much less in a mere 22 days! This directorial debut of Robert Parrish is boosted by an often witty script from William Bowers.

Rocky Mulloy (Dick Powell) is fresh out of prison after a former marine (Richard Erdman) testifies on his behalf though Mulloy already spent five years rotting away in prison. He went in right around the end of the war because of a robbery that he was assumed to be a part of.

Regis Toomey (The Big Sleep, Raw Deal) is Lt. Cobb and he is still skeptical when he is assigned to monitor the newly released man. Richard Erdman is the peg-legged, alcoholic marine who has a penchant for booze and dames. Also, he never actually knew Mulloy before. He just wants some of the loot.

So the two new found chums set up camp in a beat down trailer park of all places, with a music playing proprietor (Jay Adler). It’s not exactly the Ritz, but Delong finds some female company, and it just so happens that Mulloy’s former flame lives there too. Nancy (Rhonda Fleming) is married to Rocky’s pal Danny who is still in the clink. His mission is to prove his innocence, but could it be more harm than good?

Rocky goes to a local mobster named Castro (William Conrad) who left him holding the bag five years ago, and he wants reimbursement for his time. He gets some of it in the form of a horse race which leads to a big payoff.

But as it turns out, the money is hot and Lt. Cobb wants to know where it came from. Rocky obliges but it becomes all too obvious he’s being set up. There was one slip up though, proving Rocky is telling the truth for once, amidst all the lies swirling around. That does not help Delong much and his girl Darlene gets blown sky high. The bullets were obviously meant for Rocky and  Nancy.

Rocky confronts Castro and they play a little game he likes to call Russian Roulette, although it’s very one-sided favoring Rocky. The fearful mobster spills the truth, revealing Danny was actually a part of the plan 5 years ago all the time. Since he took a lighter rap, someone else is holding his share of the payoff. The missing $50,000. Who is keeping it warm for him? You guessed it.

Rocky goes back to the trailer park where Nancy spills all her beautiful guts to him. What she gives is a tempting offer and Mulloy lets her believe it will happen. Off he walks with Lt. Cobb ready to swoop in. Rocky may have gone straight, but it doesn’t mean it makes it any easier. He had to turn on one of the most beautiful girls in the world, courtesy of Rhonda Fleming.

Dick Powell has another laconic performance which nearly matches his turn as Philip Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet. I always love seeing Richard Erdman as a young jokester, because he has gained a following more recently for his work in the television show Community as Leonard. William Conrad will always be the narrator in Rocky and Bullwinkle as well as Cannon. However, his big frame and mustache make for a good criminal type. What can I say about Rhonda Fleming except that she looks stunning in black and white, much less technicolor?

Lt. Gus Cobb: Now, just get it through your heads that the pressure’s on. 
(To Nancy)
Lt. Gus Cobb: I wouldn’t give a nickel for your husband’s chances before that parole board with all this going on.
(To Rocky)
Lt. Gus Cobb: And I wouldn’t give a nickel for your chances with those two apes running around looking for you.
(To Castro)
Lt. Gus Cobb: For you, I just wouldn’t give a nickel.

4/5 Stars

Review: Double Indemnity (1944)

Double_indemnity_screenshot_8It was a hot afternoon, and I can still remember the smell of honeysuckle all along that street. How could I have known murder can sometimes smell like honeysuckle?” – Walter Neff

I can’t say this enough. Double Indemnity is so deliciously enticing each and every time I see it. Maybe it’s the A-grade script from Billy Wilder and crime novelist Raymond Chandler with its noir cynicism and memorable phraseology. Maybe it’s the shadowy, low-key interiors or L.A. exteriors. The monotonous beating score of Miklos Rozsa, mourning impending doom. Maybe it’s the plain, laconic way of Walter Neff or his bloodhound buddy Keyes. Is it the innocent Lola who gives the film morality? Or the artificial wig and the silky smooth purring of Phyllis Dietrichson?

In fact, I named many, if not all, of the many facets of this film, because I want to attempt to acknowledge all of them before I forget. But the reality is I love Double Indemnity at its most basic level as a piece of prime American cinema. Yes, it is film-noir and yes, it came from a European director, but it is very much a product of 1940s sentiment as the war years waned.

The story is pulled right from some pulp fiction sleaze by James M. Cain and cemented itself as a noir classic in its own right with all the trappings that are called for.

It opens with the beginnings of Rozsa’s score reverberating in our ears and it very rarely lets up. A car blazes wildly down the street and winds up in front of an insurance agency. Out stumbles our protagonist Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) and for the rest of the film, he relates the recent happenings over the Dictaphone of his colleague Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). It goes something like this:

During his first visit to the home of a Mr. Dietrichson, he instead has his first encounter with the man’s sensual wife, and his heart goes pitter-patter from then on. His motivation is no longer insurance. Now he just wants the chance to see her more. He gets his chance to advise her on a plan, and it all seems playful enough until she insinuates that she wants to knock off her ol’ hubby. At least that’s how Neff reads it. However, he cannot get her out of his head as he has fallen into her web. There’s no turning back.

They think of everything and Neff has everything figured out to a tee. As he suggests, it’s like having the perfect odds on the roulette wheel, you just need an accomplice to spin and Phyllis is just that person. From then it’s just straight down the line. They corroborate on all the details at local Jerry’s Market, Walter sets up his alibi, and he does the devilish deed as Phyllis stares with cool satisfaction at the road ahead.

They set it all up like an accident as the last touch, because as Neff knows all too well if it looks like Mr. Dietrichson was killed from riding a train the Double Indemnity clause of the insurance will mean double the payoff due to how unlikely the occurrence is.

 Double Indemnity (1944) - UpdatedHis only fear is the inquisitive nose of Keyes and the “little man” inside the claims investigator’s stomach, who warns him of the first sign of anything fishy. He gets close to the truth but not quite there. Neff is too close for him to see it. However, as things begin to heat up Phyllis and Neff must separate.

As Neff tries to console Lola Dietrichson over the death of her father, he quickly finds out what the naive girl has to say about her step-mother. It puts a little light on the subject, and Neff realizes what he’s been taken for. He wants to remedy things while he can, patching Lola up with her boyfriend, and going to confront Phyllis one last time.

It’s the perfect set-up. Darkened rooms with curtains drawn. Phyllis reclined in an armchair with evil intentions on her mind. In walks Walter and they have it out. Shots are fired, literally. Phyllis will never let up with her ploys until Walter gives her a little help for the final time. I’m sure the Hays Codes loved this one. I certainly did.

Back in the office Keyes finally overhears the end of Walter’s “confession” as his friend bleeds to death. In one last touching moment, Keyes returns the favor and lights the cigarette like Walter has been obliging to do the entire film.

Walter: “Know why you couldn’t figure this one, Keyes? I’ll tell ya. ‘Cause the guy you were looking for was too close. Right across the desk from ya.”
Keyes: “Closer than that, Walter.”
Walter: “I love you too”

Billy Wilder traded longtime partner Charles Brackett for Raymond Chandler, and despite a rocky partnership, they ended up with one of the greatest scripts, chock full of memorable bits of dialogue. You know you have an impressive cast when Edward G. Robinson is your third lead and each character is playing against type. It’s great casting, in a quintessential American drama solidified by great cinematography and storytelling.

It doesn’t get much better than this and it certainly does not need to. You know Double Indemnity is good when I’ve seen it multiple times and each time the bullets still keep me on the edge of my seat. Thank you, Billy Wilder, for teaching us murder sometimes smells like honeysuckle. That’s absolutely beautiful.

Phyllis: “No, I never loved you, Walter, not you or anybody else. I’m rotten to the heart. I used you just as you said. That’s all you ever meant to me. Until a minute ago, when I couldn’t fire that second shot. I never thought that could happen to me.”
Walter: “Sorry, baby, I’m not buying”
Phyllis: “I’m not asking you to buy. Just hold me close.
Walter: “Good-bye baby.”

5/5 Stars

Out of the Past (1947) – Film-Noir

13659-outofthepastStarring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, and Kirk Douglas, this classic has every element of a good film noir.   Jeff Bailey (Mitchum) makes his living in a small town working at a gas station. He has an honest living and a girl. However, soon his past catches up with him when a man from his former life comes to see him, and he must explain it all to his innocent girlfriend.

Once he was a private investigator, who got mixed up with a powerful man named Whit (Douglas). He wanted some money found, but most importantly he wanted a deadly girl brought back to him. Pretty soon Jeff’s searching leads him down to Mexico. He has a chance meeting with the beautiful woman (Greer), and he understands why Whit wanted her back.

However, Kathie is not eager to go back, and they are attracted to each other. She and Jeff agree to run off together to San Francisco — away from the searching of Whit. They are nearly found out, but they get away. San Francisco is not a nice place, but they make do, until the day where Jeff is spotted by his old partner. He must split up with Kathie and they set a rendezvous. Only there is a hitch in the plan that Jeff did not foresee. He tries to deal with it in his own way, but Kathie takes more drastic measures. She left him there and went out of his life, or so Jeff thought. He had tried to forget his past dealings, and yet they creep back into his life. With a murder pinned on him, Bailey can do nothing but go along with Whit and Kathie. Soon he becomes embroiled in more treachery and backstabbing, which all has to do with the manipulative femme fatale.

With one last entreaty, she urges him to flee with her since they both have dark pasts. In the end, Kathie’s fanciful plan to escape is foiled by Bailey and it soon turns fatal. One last time she tried to control the situation, but this final time Jeff, or at least fate, got the best of her. After his violent death, Jeff’s girl wishes to know once and for all if he was running off with Kathie. A mute boy (Dickie Moore), who knew Jeff well lies so that the girl can continue her life. Because in Jeff’s case the past came back to haunt him. The kid goes back to the station, but not before looking up at Bailey’s name on the sign, because he did what Jeff would have wanted.

With its dialogue, extended flashback, voice over, and femme fatales played by Jane Greer and Rhonda Fleming, there are not many noir experiences better than this one. Obviously, the chiaroscuro cinematography is a major aspect of this film. Except for the shots in Bridgeport, it seems like every scene is veiled in shadow whether it takes place in Acapulco or San Fran, at day, night, inside, or out. Shadows are perpetual and they seem to reflect not only these characters but also the story. They are not easy to figure and none of them can ever be fully trusted.

Mitchum is perfect in the role of Jeff Bailey, thanks to his demeanor, his fitting voice, and the constant attire of a trench coat and fedora, with a cigarette clenched in his teeth. He is a man who looks like a saint compared to his acquaintances, and yet he is a man who can show a complex set of traits ranging from avarice, cruelty, love, and sometimes heroism. Kirk Douglas is great in his role as the crooked Whit, who acts the nice guy only to be cruel at heart. Every character from the henchman Joe, to the mute boy, the accomplice Meta  Carson, and even the loyal taxi driver are all memorable in the scenes they show up in. Jane Greer stands out, however, because she is one of the most notorious femme fatales in any noir. I think she toys with the audience as much as she does with Jeff. We find ourselves starting to believe her, then we have our doubts, and then we go on believing her again. It is a fine performance.

5/5 Stars

“She can’t be all bad. No one is.”
“She comes the closest.”
~ Ann and Jeff talking about Kathie

Gun Crazy (1950) – Film-Noir

Starring John Dall and Peggy Cummins, the film opens with a young boy who is infatuated with guns. After stealing a gun from a hardware store, Bart is sent to reform school even though his friends and sister testify he would never kill a living thing with it. Bart spends some time in the army and finally returns home grown up. He goes to a carnival with old friends and meets a female sharpshooter. She gets him a job and they grow close only to be fired from the carnival. They get married and are happy for awhile but then she gives him a choice. Either they start robbing stores fro money or she will leave him. Reluctantly he agrees and they begin to get a little money robbing stores and gas stations. It is not enough so she convinces him to pull one last job so they can live a content life together. They begin working at a meat packing plant in preparation. The day arrives and they succeed but then Laurie shoots two people out of fear much to Bart’s horror. They must split up and the manhunt begins. The FBI track them down and the only place to go is back home. His old friends plead with him to surrender but they flee into the mountains with the authorities hot on their trail. They are trapped and Laurie is desperate once again but Bart cannot bear it anymore. Despite the tragic ending Bart ultimately redeems himself but it is too little too late. This was a precursor to Bonnie Clyde and it has its share of tense moments.

4/5 Stars

Murder, My Sweet (1944) – Film-Noir

murder my sweet

This film-noir adaptation of the Raymond Chandler novel stars Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, and Anne Shirley. It opens with a blinded Philip Marlowe being interrogated and so he agrees to spill everything he knows.

It all started one evening in his office when a big thug named Moose came in to get his help in finding a girl. Marlowe agrees to take the case and he questions a drunken bar owner but all is not right. He returns to his office where a man named Marriot wants his protection during a ransom drop off. However, at the location Marlowe is knocked out and the man is left dead. Through a series of events he meets Helen Grayle and her significantly older husband, who are both involved with a necklace. Also involved is the shady psychic adviser Jules Anthor, not to mention Mr. Grayle’s protective daughter Anne. Marlowe is forced to meet with Anthor and he eventually finds himself locked up in a facility. He gets away and after a meeting with Anne they head down to the Grayle’s beach house. There they have a confrontation with Helen. Now Anther is dead and Marlowe agrees to show Moose his girl Velma. They head down to the beach house and Marlowe puts all the pieces of the case together in front of Helen. Then Ann, Mr. Grayle, and finally Moose all burst onto the scene in a final chaotic finale.  Despite this bleak conclusion, there is also a hint of a happy ending. Much like the Big Sleep this film at times becomes incomprehensible but it just means your brain must work fast to catch up. Dick Powell I felt was a great Marlowe and Anne Shirley was a strong heroine. This is a quintessential film noir to say the least.

4/5 Stars

Criss Cross (1949) – Film-Noir

c8a9b-crisscrossStarring Burt Lancaster and Yvonne DeCarlo, this Robert Siodmak-directed film-noir revolves around a heist and a love triangle gone bad.

The film opens with Lancaster secretly meeting with his lover with plants to eventually run away together. Then he enters the bar and fights with his love’s gangster husband. However, when a policeman friend comes in, Lancaster will not press charges and non one talks. Little does the policeman know what is really going on. The next day Steve drives an armored car full of money to its destination. As he nervously drives, in a flashback he recalls how it all began.

He had finally returned home after a long absence. His main reason was to see his former wife and yet although they still had feelings for each other, she had remarried a gangster named Slim. Despite the circumstances  both lovers began meeting more often. In order to save himself and Anna, he suggested a robbery of the armored car with Slim.

Then, back in the present the wheels begin to turn and the armored car is ambushed. However, Slim does not stick to his word and there is a firefight. Steve is called a hero but he is left helpless in the hospital. After bribing the man who was to betray him, Steve rendezvous with Anna. However, all is not well and she is ready to leave him behind since Slim is obviously on his way. But she is not quick enough. This film reveals the nature of two double crosses which ends in a deadly criss cross.

4/5 Stars

Scarlet Street (1945) – Film-Noir

Similar to Woman in the Window, this film-noir was directed by Fritz Lang and it stars Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea. Chris Cross is a shy employee who has been working for the same man 25 years. While walking home Chris rescues a beautiful woman from an assailant, not knowing it is her brutish boyfriend. Amused Kitty agrees to have coffee and Chris who is an amateur artist, begins talking art, but Kitty gets the idea he is a wealthy painter. Because Chris is stuck in a hopeless marriage he becomes infatuated with kitty and she takes full advantage. Chris scrounges for money to pay Kitty’s rent and unbeknownst to him, Kitty’s boyfriend tries to sell the artist’s work. A critic is impressed and so Kitty masquerades as the artist. Chris finds out eventually and confronts her but the conniving femme fatale manipulates him again. Chris is delighted his work is appreciated and he is content with Kitty continuing to take the credit. An unexpected turn of events mean he can leave his wife and marry Kitty finally. However, he finds her with Johnny and after his genuine proposal she belittles him.An enraged Chris commits murder but it is pinned on Johnny. A miserable wanders the streets without a job or recognition for his art. Furthermore, he must live with his guilty conscience tormenting him until the end of his days. Woman in the Window is good but this film is more biting and powerful when it is all said and done.

4/5 Stars

The Lady from Shanghai (1947) – Film-Noir

Starring Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, the film is narrated by an Irish sailor (Welles) who meets a beautiful but unhappily married woman (Hayworth). Michael is given a job on the yacht of the wealthy lawyer Arthur Bannister and he is near the alluring Elsa once again. While he is aboard the yacht, Bannister’s partner Grisby asks Michael to fake a murder so Grisby can disappear and claim the insurance money. Michael is suppose to confess to the crime but Grisby will be long gone and there will be no evidence. However, things go awry when Grisby kills another man and then he himself ends up dead. This leaves an innocent Michael facing the gas chamber. Only after he makes a desperate escape from court does he learn who was behind the murder of Grisby and also actually in league with him. In a surreal climax ending in the hall of mirrors, Elsa, Michael, and Bannister all face each other. However, only one survives. Despite a slow beginning the exciting second half of this film is a credit to the directing of Welles.

4/5 Stars

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) – Film-Noir

Starring John Garfield and Lana Turner, the film begins with a drifter taking a job at a roadside diner for a jolly older man with a beautiful young wife (Turner). After initial conflict, Frank and Cora fall passionately in love. They try one disastrous attempt to take the husband’s life, and in desperation they try again, this time succeeding in getting rid of him. Soon they are in court fighting the murder rap. Miraculously the two of them get out of it but ironically by the time the trial is over they hate each others guts. They live in constant loathing of each other but after thwarting a blackmail scheme their wild love is rekindled. In an equally cruel twist of fate, they both end up paying for their actions the second time around. With the voice-over, femme fatale, cinematography, and twisting plot, this is a quintessential film-noir that I really enjoyed. I would consider it the landmark performance for Lana Turner and maybe John Garfield as well. They learn the hard way that the postman does always ring twice and there is nothing you can do about it.

4.5/5 Stars

Gilda (1946) – Film-Noir

*This May Contain Spoilers

This film-noir and twisted love story stars Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth. Johnny Farrell is a shady gambler who has just arrived in Buenos Aires. Through certain  circumstances, he quickly meets a mysterious man. Soon he learns this man is a casino owner and Farrell gains a job as his right-hand man. However, things get complicated when Farrell’s boss marries Gilda, a beautiful woman who Farrell had been involved with a long time ago. Quickly their mutual dislike becomes evident but Mr. Mundy has Johhny constantly watching over Gilda. Seeing her flirting with many other men increases Johhny’s hatred for her. Soon he learns his boss is in something much bigger and after a murder, Mr. Mundy attempts to escape on a plane. Johnny sees it crash but little does he know his boss is alive. To get at Gilda, he marries her and keeps her confined. Despite their hatred, they still hold complicated feelings for each other. But then Mr. Mundy comes back seeking revenge on both Johnny and Gilda. However, his plans fail and the romance is complete. If there was ever an essential femme fatale, Hayworth’s character certainly would fit that category. Her performance of  “Put the Blame on Mame” is definitely memorable.

4.5/5 Stars