Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

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The unofficial timeline for classic film noir is approximately given as 1941-1958 but of course, there are notable outliers including Stranger on The 3rd Floor (1940) at the front end and this film, Odds Against Tomorrow, bringing up the rear. Pictures with what can easily be categorized as noir sensibilities whether visually, psychologically, or otherwise certainly were released outside of these arbitrary parameters. However, that’s part of the fun because this “genre” is so fluid and malleable; there’s no technical cutoff or subjective standards.

Director Robert Wise is generally remembered for his later works like West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965) but every man has a Hollywood origin story. He cut his teeth editing Citizen Kane (1941) no less and began making gritty crime dramas in the late 40s. Two of the most commendable would be Born to Kill (1947) and The Set-Up (1949), the latter featuring Robert Ryan, now a crucial player again a decade later in the last of Wise’s outings in the same noir world.

We get our first glimpse of Earl Slater (Robert Ryan) walking on West Side Street in New York City and those shots assist in establishing the locale that we will be making our home in. Slater is on his way to a business arrangement with David Burke (Ed Begley).

They both have their reasons for joining forces. Burke was formerly a policeman who spent years faithfully serving on the force but when he wouldn’t get involved in a criminal investigation it all but sunk his career. Earl’s a less desirable character with a messy past as an ex-con and none too hidden racist tendencies.

He was the bigot with antisemitism in Crossfire (1947) so it’s a cinch that Ryan could play the narrow-minded white man in this picture too. We get an inclination when he playfully picks up the little African-American girl on his way to a meeting but it comes into full relief once he and the third member of their party, Ingram, are actually in a room together.

What makes the characterization so fascinating is though it’s so easy to envision Ryan in such roles because he plays each with such convincing enmity, he was a real-life crusader for Civil Rights and numerous other progressive causes. This is by no means his actual stance; far from it. Yet he makes us believe.

Though predominantly remembered as a singing star and for his presence in musicals, this was a self-selected part for Harry Belafonte (through his HarBel production company) that substantiates itself as arguably the most rewarding part of his career. He is Johnny Ingram a nightclub crooner who also plays a mean xylophone. But his greatest vice is that he’s a compulsive and extremely unsuccessful gambler — a bankroll of over $7,000 he’s supposed to dish out to a local mobster is residual proof.

Ed Begley, in a particularly charming role, acts as the calming force assuaging egos and keeping his team from completely tearing each other apart. Because he appreciates their talents and keeps them focused most of all on the payday that awaits them, $50,000 they could all use desperately.

Obviously, Ingram has his debts but also a daughter and an estranged wife to look after. Slater is rather unhappily married to a woman (Shelley Winters) who is supporting him for now. But he’s also fairly amicable with his neighbor down the hall (Gloria Grahame).

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Although the bigotry angle is no doubt important it’s not necessarily the focal point of the picture. Foremost of all, Odds Against Tomorrow is a showcase of style and atmospherics. There’s a seedy urban realism that aids in fashioning a tale of claustrophobic impending doom merely supplemented by the racial undertones. Wise achieves a certain look widely due to his on-location shoot but also infrared film stock which gives a very specific monochromatic quality to the exterior shots. Backed by jazzy scoring courtesy of John Lewis and we have a complete package standing toe to toe with Wise’s grittiest efforts.

Whereas most heist pictures take the route of letting the job occur and slowly unravel with mishaps that lead to extended agitation, this picture takes a slightly different approach. We get a line on the characters — their significant others and their problems — so their decisions make more sense. We know why they feel compelled to go through with what looks like “easy money.” However, the actual undertaking torques the picture’s ending into a fever pitch.

Because the title, of course, refers to gambling and the outcomes prove to be pretty bleak. Though the racial element began in the periphery it can’t help but reveal its ugliness in the film’s fatalistic finale. I won’t say the story comes off perfectly but if one is willing to feel it out and become immersed in the atmosphere, it generally succeeds by reveling in its environment.

3.5/5 Stars

Jewel Robbery (1932)

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It’s the old story. A pompous old coot is bragging proudly about his new unstoppable, indestructible system of invisible lights he has put in place to stop even the most skilled burglars. No sooner have the words left his mouth and we already know he’s doomed. Sure enough, not a moment goes by before a clerk rushes in to inform them that the impossible has happened. Someone has absconded with all the jewels. The man proceeds to fall backward in shock.

Next, we meet the “Wavishing Kay Fwancis” as she leaves the suds of her bathtub behind upon hearing the news that there’s been another brazen jewel heist pulled on one of the most foremost jewelers in Vienna. She breathes a sigh of relief when she hears which one. You see she has aspirations for a beautiful diamond from Hollanders. But for now, her pride and joy is still safe.

You can instantly gather what kind of person she is as maids and manicurists dote over her every need. Dressing her and primping her and giving her a makeover as she gossips with her best friend. But despite the decadence showered upon her, she craves something else. Namely, a strapping man who is exciting and who will carry her off to some romantic rendezvous.

Francis navigates these hoops so assuredly in such a way that we believe her in the role. There’s no denying her to be a very elegant lady. But the perfect counterpoint is her naive quality. Maybe it’s even partially based on her slight predilection to pronounce her Rs as Ws (Hence her affectionate nickname). And she acknowledges that even in her own eyes she is both shallow and weak despite holding qualities that might make her a generally decent human being. There’s still time.

When she goes to purchase her coveted diamond like a giddy child in a candy store, she’s in for a very rude awakening. If it wasn’t the 1930s it would feel like a western stick up masterminded by a gentleman criminal who is played by none other than, you guessed it, William Horatio Powell. But he’s a cut above your typical heavy. That’s obvious enough to see. He’s a robber who enjoys a good waltz playing on the phonograph while he’s looting the joint and some trivial chit-chat to make the atmosphere more relaxed.

You get the sense that Powell is relishing every line of dialogue and he’s so congenial with every word of it. It works wonders as he runs verbal rings about his cohorts completely commanding the stage from thence onward. Not to mention passing around his dandy case of cigarettes with something extra special.

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In fact, being brutally frank, William Dieterle’s film stalls when it lacks Powell and Francis together. While not dismal, the supporting cast doesn’t provide the same electricity or charm as our leading item. Perhaps that’s a good thing because we like them onscreen together. We want them to be onscreen. And we get our wish when he calls upon her at home. It’s all very daring and forward but he wants to use her safe to hide his loot. However, there was also something about the lady too that made him come see her again. Call it fate if you will.

Alas, the police are after him and he must flee. She plays the victim and plays the part well. But secretly she knows her true feelings. We do too and we know that Powell will slip away because in a picture with a tone such as this anything else is inconceivable.

The final stroke of inspiration is in the closing shot where we see something that stands in the face of classical Hollywood convention. Kay Francis looks straight into the camera and puts a finger to her lips boldly breaking that invisible fourth wall. All that has transpired thus far will be our little secret. There the picture ends. With a rendezvous in Nice in the works. If a single image can elevate a picture and leave a lasting impression, Jewel Robbery is a fitting example.

3.5/5 Stars

Logan Lucky (2017)

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On a surface level, Logan Lucky is diverting for the basic fact that it proves to be the utter antithesis of Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean films as far as heist pictures go. As one savvy newscaster notes within the film, it’s Oceans Seven-Eleven, if you will.

Sure, the novelty of a red-neck heist is probably enough to get us started but the execution and the characters of interest make it far more than a run-of-the-mill endeavor.

What’s evident is that there’s a quirky down-home absurdity to seeing these country bumpkin types filled by actors like Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, and especially Daniel Craig. Adam Driver’s not necessarily a classically handsome performer but he’s even more unique armed with a fake appendage and a fairly free and easy personality.

Tatum likewise is a miner saddled with a hard hat and a limp of his own. He’s a fairly sorry individual who gets laid off from work and has been estranged from his former wife for some time. The glory days as a high school quarterback with NFL aspirations didn’t really pan out. Still, he loves his daughter, loves himself some John Denver, and cares about his family. We can buy into liking such a figure.

Because even in their less than perfect life, an everyday dignity is attributed to both Logan brothers that feels relatable in human terms.  Even with these characterizations and as breezy as the scenario might seem at times, there’s still a kernel of truth buried under it all.

After being equated with Bond for so many years, there’s also this underlying sense that Craig relishes this opportunity to play such a weirdo as Joe Bang, a prison inmate with a penchant for salted eggs. His southern twang and bleached hair mask Craig’s usual British sentiments while his rap sheet leaves little doubt that he’s the man to help pull off the job, supremely capable of concocting homemade bombs out of gummy bears, salt substitutes, and bleach wrapped in a plastic bag.

Of course, the only problem is that he’s still in prison. Nothing for it but to break him out. Clyde gets himself sent to prison and starts their plan in motion. He and Joe orchestrate the perfect escape while the inmates cover for them by instigating a riot.

Meanwhile, on the outside, Jimmy gathers the talents of his sister Mellie behind the wheel (Riley Keough) and Bang’s two cockeyed yet surprisingly competent brothers (Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid) to bring all the pieces together in a remarkably efficient operation organized on meager means.

However, somehow, through it all, there manages to be that continued dose of humanity on display and an uncertain amount of depth to our everyday antiheroes. Look no further than the former flame and physician assistant that Jimmy sends a donation to or his joy in seeing his little girl go off script and sing his favorite song at her beauty pageant. You aren’t going to find those scenes in Oceans Eleven (2001) or Baby Driver (2017) for that matter.

But the payoff is the kind of double-take ending that makes us rethink the events we have witnessed, suggesting that things are not always as they appear. Still more satisfying than any of that is that Jimmy still has his family and there’s this sense of closure to it all. We can sit back with a smile on our face and really take a moment to appreciate all that has transpired. No better place to end up than the old watering hole Duck Tape. Classic.

One of the film’s major pluses is the number of characters who just randomly seem to pop up within its frames. Foremost among them is Hilary Swank as a government investigator, an almost unrecognizable Seth Macfarlane as a batty racing promoter, and Sebastian Stan as his health-conscious driver. Fans of The Office and Parks and Recreation will also see a couple strangely familiar faces.

By my own admission, I have never considered Steven Soderbergh in the upper echelon of filmmakers but there’s no disputing his station as a skilled craftsman and Logan Lucky proves once more that he knows how to assemble efficient entertainment of quality and levity. Expect both in this much-appreciated riff off your typical sleek heist confections.

It’s perfectly fit for laid-back blue-collar, NASCAR-cheering, John Denver-loving Americans.  The kind of people who know full well that some days are diamonds and some days are stone. Logan Lucky is a crime film carrying that kind of sentiment.

3.5/5 Star

 

Plunder Road (1957)

220px-Plunder_Road_posterThe rain is pouring down. A group of men sits in silence in truck cabs their heads full of all sorts of thoughts. Two more sit in the rear hoping the explosives sitting in their stead don’t decide to go Kablooie over the next bump. Nary a word is spoken, the entire sequence playing out in silence except for the inner monologues of each man.

But surprisingly enough all goes as clockwork with this heist as they gear up for a train carrying a U.S. Mint gold shipment. They divert the track. Get their men in place and board the vehicle to subdue all aboard. That’s done quick and efficiently and they continue doing their work that same way. They use one of the truck’s crane to hoist their plunder into the waiting beds of their getaway vehicles. No one sees it go down and no one will know anything about their job until they’re well on their way.

Of course, that’s only the first leg as the five accomplices break off. Now the spoil is split between the three trucks one loaded with furniture, another with “chemicals” and so on. So even though the events have all been done before, the execution of Plunder Road makes its version interesting in its own right.

The one lone driver steadies himself by chewing gum like there’s no tomorrow but that doesn’t help him to get past a police checkpoint after some radio static gives him away. He’s one casualty.

The only name of repute in the film that I knew was Elisha Cook Jr. now quite along in years and he’s playing a con man with the gift of nervous gab in the second vehicle. He tries to get buddy-buddy with his mate and we actually do learn some small trifles about them. It’s not much but it’s the kind of stuff that begins to make them into human beings.  They both have sons. One had his wife die while he was in the clink. The other never married. Their journey takes them to a rural gas station out of necessity and there we have the second casualty a neighborly old gas station clerk.

By this time the story has progressed to the third vehicle and they’re really sweating it now no thanks to special correspondent John Oliver from Salt Lake City who practically lives on the radio airwaves to provide the latest up to date news flashes. They weather routine police questioning and bide their time at the usual rest stops on their way to their final destination — a foundry near LA.

It’s an odd place to go but they do their best to conceal their prize in order to make their final getaway way far away from any nosy policemen. Though there plan doesn’t work completely. Still they manage. They pick up a girl who has their passports waiting for them and it looks like smooth sailing. But film-noir was born in an era that was hard-pressed to allow crime to pay and it’s a single moment of cruel fate that leads the heist off the tracks for good. Like Detour or The Killing and other such classics when fate rears its ugly head, things are never allowed to work out. That’s the accepted convention.

Plunder Road is so close to letting at least a few of its perpetrators get away but then it snatches their gold away from them. Compact heist films don’t come much better than this and this one benefits from a heightened sense of unsentimental realism.

3.5/5 Stars

High Sierra (1941)

high-sierra-1They Drive by Night is a surprisingly engrossing picture and I only mention it for its obvious relation to High Sierra. It came out a year earlier, helmed by Raoul Walsh starring George Raft, Ann Sheridan, Ida Lupino and, of course, Humphrey Bogart. The important fact is that if Walsh had gotten his way, he would have cast Raft again as Hollywood’s perennial tough-guy leading man.

But Bogart saw what this film, based on the work of W.R. Burnett, could do for him and he talked Raft out of the part while lobbying Walsh for the role. Reluctantly the director agreed and as it turned out it was the perfect vehicle for Bogart’s big break as he had foreseen.

High Sierra functions as a crossroads of sorts between America’s standard genres. There’s no question that Roy Earle is a gangster in the former sense of the word. And even as an actor Bogart was used to playing second fiddle to the likes of the Cagneys, Rafts, and Robinsons. But if there was ever a poster boy for the emerging film-noir movement Bogart is the shining example carrying that tough as nails persona from gangster films but also functioning as a fatalistic antihero in the same sense. We see it with Spade, Marlowe, and all the rest. Also, as an early heist drama, High Sierra ushers in a trend that would be explored further in films like The Asphalt Jungle, Kansas City Confidential, and The Killing (notably all gritty cogs in the film-noir canon).

To understand what Bogart saw in this picture and to comprehend what a lynchpin it was, it’s necessary to delve into the story itself penned by Burnett and Bogart’s long time future collaborator John Huston.

Veteran gangster Roy Earle (Bogart) has just earned a government pardon with a little help from a powerful friend. It’s this aged gangster from the old days Big Mac who pays his loyal henchman a favor so he can run point on a new bank job. Big Mac is on his deathbed and the changing of the guards seems all too imminent, still, Earle is beholden to him. He’s a loyal son of a gun and tough as all get out. He’s not about to trust a copper and just about scoffs at the men who are supposed to help in pulling off the job.

high-sierra-3He’s not about to lose his nerves or take his eyes off the objective but the two young bucks he’s thrown in with (Alan Curtis and Arthur Kennedy) carry the tough guy bravado well but there hardly as experienced as him. He’s not too happy about the girl (Ida Lupino) they have hanging around either because she’s an obvious liability. In his experience, women squawk too much. The man on the inside (Cornel Wilde) is even worse, a spineless hotel clerk with even less nerve.

Earle’s philosophy is nothing out of the ordinary. It’s what we expect from a gangster picture. However, there are several elements to suggest that we are on the brink of a new movement to reflect the changing American zeitgeist. High Sierra is actually composed of a great deal of on location shooting throughout the Lone Pine area that adds a layer of credence to this entire tale but also a certain visual tranquility. And although it’s difficult to know precisely how much involvement Huston had on the script, there’s no doubt that his impact on noir was crucial with The Maltese Falcon released the same year.

But the bottom line is Bogart’s character has another side. With the gears of the heist in motion, he wryly notes, “Of all the 14 karat saps, I start out this caper with a girl and a dog.” And it’s true he has a certain soft spot for Marie Garson, and the yippy dog Pard (Bogart’s own pet Zero) but that’s not the extent of his character. In the stories most striking B plot, he befriends a trio of poor country folk led by their patriarch the always amiable Henry Travers and important to Roy because of their pretty granddaughter (Joan Leslie) who also happens to be a cripple.

high-sierra-2In an unassuming act of charity, Roy has a doctor friend take a look at Velma and ultimately pays for the surgery that heals her ailment completely. Still, if the story ended there it would be a happy ending but with the heist in the works, Roy is not so lucky. He pulls off the job and makes his getaway but with most any cinematic criminal activity in Hollywood’s Golden Age there must be repercussions. After all, that’s what keeps things interesting and it’s true that Roy and Marie are able to lay low for a time but soon the word is out and the gangster is a wanted man.

Walsh orchestrates the tense finale stirringly in a way that still has the power to excite with editing, score, and camera all flowing seamlessly for the most crackerjack of endings. It’s true that big shots are brought low and the irony was that it was hardly a woman or a dog that caused his downfall. It was himself. In those faltering moments, Bogart won his audience over as a leading man and would never lose them again. Certainly, we have the rather unfair added benefit of hindsight, but High Sierra stands as a monumental picture.

4/5 Stars

 

 

Baby Driver (2017)

Baby_Driver_poster.jpgEdgar Wright has a reverence for movies, he knows his movies, and when he makes his own movies there’s always an inherent understanding of the cinematic landscape–taking what’s already been done and proceeding to add his own affectionate spin on it.

There are aspects of his filmography from Shaun of the Dead (2004), to Hot Fuzz (2007), and Scott Pilgrim (2010) that are familiar but you can never accuse him of being derivative because he seems fairly incapable of that mode of filmmaking. Coming from such a tradition of off-kilter modern classics, it’s no surprise that Baby Driver is far from your typical heist film though it boasts both cars and crime in equal measures.

Part of what sets it apart is a soundtrack, something that has been put back in vogue recently by films such as Guardians of the Galaxy. It reflects how popular music can replace a score by tying itself so closely to the plot and the most important elements of its characters so much so that it becomes vital even to the narrative arc.

In this case, it involves Baby (Ansel Elgort) a young getaway driver plagued by the memory of a life-shattering car crash, one of the many traumas being tinnitus, a ringing in the ears that he helps to alleviate by constantly blocking it out with music. Thus, he can be found with a ubiquitous pair of earbuds tucked into his auditory canals ready with an iPod Classic full of tunes for every occasion (He even has a pink one with sparkles).

Of course, his driving songs prove to be the most important and he uses music to keep himself in the zone when he’s making the getaway. What helps him concentrate proves to be an equally thrilling experience for the audience, immersing us in the action in the most utterly electrifying and crowd-pleasing way possible. Cars swerving this way and that down the busy urban jungle of Atlanta with retro tunes blasting in surround sound. If that doesn’t epitomize a summer blockbuster than little does.

Criminal types including a psycho killer named Bats (Jamie Foxx) and an armed and dangerous couple Buddy & Darling (Jon Hamm and Eliza Gonzalez respectively) are only a few of the colorful figures Baby falls into company with. Doc (Kevin Spacey) is their contact who runs all their operations with a plethora of inside contacts and a dry no-nonsense precision. He trusts Baby because he’s never steered him wrong. But it does beg the question how did this young man get himself into this life?

Because when he’s off “work” he spends time caring for his deaf foster father (CJ Jones), mixes audio cassette tapes out of his bedroom and frequents the local cafe that his mother used to work at. There’s also a waitress (Lily James) in said diner who intrigues him and brings him out of his shell with genial vivacity.  They share music as much as they share aspirations and mundane conversations.

But the danger is that the soundtrack becomes a gimmick and it’s true that Wright does a couple of no-nos including having his characters meet and subsequently fall in love over music, namely Carla Thomas’s 1966 hit “BABY” and Beck’s “Debora.” That’s an unforgivable cliche and yet we still want it and in his very best sequences he builds around the cadence and rhythms of the complementary songs that fit immaculately with the editing too. Whether a jaunt to grab coffee, the mundane creation of a peanut butter sandwich or a car chase, each becomes like a musical dance that’s surprisingly fresh.

If the genres of musicals and chase films ever had a point of intersection it would be Baby Driver. These opening moments have the energy of a Gene Kelly musical or even this past year’s La La Land pulsing through them. But it’s equally indebted to the heritage of The Driver (1978), Drive (2011), and of course the king of the heap, Bullitt (1968). The bottom line is that there is a care to deliver the goods as expected and have fun while doing it. There’s something refreshing about practical stunts that don’t utilize CGI and nevertheless manage to feel all the more exhilarating and real. There’s no question that this is an action film. But an action film set to the beat of the music.

Unfortunately, after setting such a fascinating groundwork for a film and delivering on a concept that seems admittedly absurd at times, it does feel that Baby Driver descends into utter chaos–action film hell if we want to coin a term–full of profane violence. No longer does it fully utilize the concept that it was built around or the engaging methods it initially used to draw the audience into yet another colorful creation of genre fiend Edgar Wright.

It’s as if the final act of the film doesn’t quite know where to go. The characters start to deviate from the axes that they have been moving on thus far. Not unsurprisingly Buddy is bent on getting revenge on Baby but Baby also shows a darker side without much provocation and Doc suddenly becomes a romantic sticking his neck out for the young lovebirds. There’s a certain amount of confusion on what direction to go next.

However, you could easily make the case that these developments are simply mirroring reality for a getaway driver, especially one as young as Baby. This is partially a tale of maturation. Losing innocence and trying to find it again without completely blocking out the world around you. In the end, the film settles down just enough into a conclusion that fits the parameters set up in the beginning. It’s lifted from the bloody wreckage and actually slows down long enough to ground itself in its characters once more as stylish and satisfying as ever.

4/5 Stars

Kansas City Confidential (1952)

KCConfidential.jpgSaying that Phil Karlson has a penchant for gritty crime dramas is a gross understatement. And yet here again is one of those real tough-guy numbers he was known for, where all you have to do is follow the trail of cigarette smoke and every punch is palpable–coming right off the screen and practically walloping you across the face.

Like all heist films, there must be a point of inception, however, Kansas City Confidential finds its story after the crime has been committed and the perpetrators have split up without a hitch. The man who takes the heat, their fall guy and the unsuspecting stooge is Joe Rolfe (John Payne who is adept at playing such roles) a nobody truck driver and a convict once upon a time.

It seems like the perfect crime as the three hired hands all wore masks and had no connection to each other, except for the stocky and demonstrative Mr. Big, the mastermind behind the whole operation and the one calling the shots. He sends each man off with enough money to tide themselves over until he contacts them to reconvene for their big payoff. Whether or not he will actually cough up the 300,000 clams he owes each of them is quite another story.

Still, each man heads his own way and Joe is getting grilled by the cops day after day in the hopes that he will crack. Finally, he is released, but with no prospects and no job, he sits in a bar stewing in his anger. The story takes it’s next big turn when he follows a lead down to Mexico to tail one of the hoods in on the job Peter Harris (Jack Elam). And although Joe is going in blind, he soon catches wind of the impending rendezvous in Barados and decides he’ll just show up as well, to get to the bottom of the entire mess.

It’s there where he first crosses paths with two other leering hoods, the beady-eyed Tony Romano (Lee Van Cleef) and the silently brooding Boyd Kane (Neville Brand). However, while keeping tabs on these cronies, he keeps company with a budding lawyer Helen Foster (Coleen Gray), who has come to call upon her protective father, the former policeman Tim Foster. If this set up isn’t plain enough already, it certainly becomes increasingly interesting as the gears continue to turn towards the story’s inevitable climax.

Most certainly Kansas City Confidential boasts jarring close-ups, low budget facades and perpetually sweaty faces that accentuate its unsentimental noirish qualities. However, Coleen Gray acts as a more enlightened noir heroine, who does not grovel for her man or weep incessantly at the thought of danger. Instead, she’s training to be a lawyer, and rational but still unequivocally kind. Despite not having a proper meet cute, the chemistry between Gray and Payne still works surprisingly well.

What makes the film inherently more interesting is how the crime is embroiled with family issues. Because, as an audience, we know Mr. Big’s identity: a corrupted cop who got a bum steer and now is going to reap the benefits of setting up some real losers. Still, that doesn’t excuse what he did and Joe got dealt a similarly sorry hand. The fact that Foster’s daughter is involved sheds him in a more humane light and in the same instance makes Joe a more likable figure. In many ways, she brings out the best qualities of both these characters. It’s the darker recesses that lurk behind their characters. Those are made more evident by the likes of Lee Van Cleef, Jack Elam and Neville Brand, a real rogues gallery of baddies if there ever was one.

4/5 Stars

How to Steal a Million (1965)

220px-HowtostealamillionHonestly, the main attraction of this film is its leads in Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole as well as its director, the great William Wyler. Otherwise, this film is a fluffy, silly caper comedy with a touch of drama. It falls somewhere in between a rom-com and an art heist film where everyone in Paris speaks English. Go figure.

Nicole Bonnet’s (Hepburn) father Charles is a master forger of all types of art which he supplements his own vast collection with. Many of his pieces have been sold for a pretty penny at auction, and he has yet to be found out.

He loans out a family heirloom, Cellini’s Venus, to a local Parisian museum for a large exhibition. Meanwhile, Nicole catches someone in the act of burglary and it ends up being a handsome young gentleman (Peter O’Toole).  She is given a fright but ultimately is taken by the man who hardly seems the thieving type. She lets him go without calling the police even giving him a ride home.

Eventually, they cross paths again and she recruits him to help her steal Cellini’s Venus from the museum. She doesn’t tell him why, but she has her reasons and he willingly obliges. It’s all good fun after all.

The caper scenes are no more harrowing than the rest of the film. In fact, it gives the perfect setting for more comedy as the two burglars get locked in a broom closet together after closing time, while also repeatedly setting off the alarm. But it’s all part of the man’s plan, because, after all, he’s a professional. And their plan works. They get away with the statue and the following day the news spreads like wildfire.

In the end, Nicole finds out that Simon Dermott is actually a private eye specializing in art and criminology. He’s no thief and so this was his first heist too. She thinks she’s in for it now, but they’re too in love for that to matter. He explains himself to Mr. Bonnet who reluctantly agrees to end his forgery career on top.

The two lovebirds drive off madcap down the streets of Paris with a beautiful life ahead of them. There’s not much else to say except Hepburn and O’Toole are fun together, while the score of a young John Williams has a recognizable bounciness. Hugh Griffin seems slightly miscast to be Hepburn’s father, and the film is far from pulse-pounding, but these small facts do not negate from its overall charm.

3.5/5 Stars

Review: The Killing (1956)

e4855-thekilling1Stanley Kubrick is one of the most acclaimed directors of all time, and The Killing is his first great film. The main focus of the action takes place at a racetrack, but a great deal of the story occurs in other places before and after the job is pulled.  Recently released Johnny (Sterling Hayden) is the mastermind behind an intricately planned job. It’s a whole complex jigsaw puzzle involving a few “Average Joes” and a couple professionals. When you put it together it all adds up to the perfect heist.

Marvin is a friend of Johnny’s and a fatherly figure who is backing the deal. George (Elisha Cook Jr.) is the paranoid window teller banking on the job so he can hold onto his shallow wife. Randy is the policeman who is set to pick up the plunder. Then, Mike is the bartender who is supposed to help with the distraction. Johnny lines up the brawn, Maurice, to start a fight at the race track with Mike. He gets a sharpshooter named Nikki to bump off a horse and it’s all set. All their plans revolve around the Seventh Race, and they have it planned out to the minute. The beauty of The Killing is that it all but works like clockwork. The horse is shot, the brawl does its job, the vault is cleaned out, and the money gets picked up. Only a few small problems crop up.

After the job is done is another matter, as the perfect timetable begins to break down. In a matter of seconds, things blow up thanks to George’s backstabbing wife (Marie Windsor). Soon the carnage is strewn all over the floor. Johnny holds onto the money as previously decided since things go awry, and he makes the getaway. His girl (Colleen Gray) is waiting at the airport and it looks to be smooth sailing from here on out.

Thanks to a yippy dog and a precarious perch, the money-laden suitcase takes a tumble and the contents fly off. All too soon it’s raining money, and there’s nothing Johnny can do about it. He leaves the terminal with Fay, but with no taxi to be had, he gets nabbed and there is no chance to escape. After everything lining up so perfectly for him, in a cruel turn everything that could go wrong did. He was not going to be so lucky.

The title of this film always struck me as ambiguous, whether it meant the amount of money being taken or the deaths that take place I’m not sure. However, I do know that The Killing is tautly constructed. The non-linear and sometimes overlapping narrative is held together by the narrator. He seems fit for a newsreel, but he complements the straightforward procedure of the film with timestamps included.

Because of the lead performance of Sterling Hayden and the main plot element of a heist, this film can sometimes be confused with John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle (1950). However, I enjoy this storyline more because the heist is not the issue. It is the aftermath and all the subsequent problems occurring so rapidly.

It is a wonderful unraveling thriller and although we do not see Johnny arrested, he might as well be because there are two men with pistols drawn walking right towards him. The Killing was not a big payoff for Hayden’s character, but it certainly is for the audience.

4.5/5 Stars

 

Le Cercle Rouge (1970)

LecerclerougeDirected by Jean-Pierre Melville and starring a cast including Alain Delon and Yves Montand, this crime film hearkens back to heist films such as The Asphalt Jungle, back in the 1950s.

In a cold open, two storylines are introduced. One man, Vogel, is in custody and is handcuffed to a policeman as they board a train. At the same time, a man named Corey is let out of prison, on good behavior, and he is tipped off on a possible heist job. In both cases, we have little background information to go on. Then, Corey pops in unexpectedly on an old mob boss and forcibly “borrows” some money from the man, who has also stolen his girl. He buys a new car and throws off a couple of thugs who were sent after him. As the morning dawns, the captive on the train makes a daring escape and flees into the nearby forest. Soon roadblocks are set and the manhunt begins. He desperately gets into an open car trunk to hide, ironically it is the same car of the man, who was recently released.

However, he was noticed and Corey tells him to get out of his hiding place.  Vogel is tense but his cool and collected acquaintance helps him sneak through a checkpoint noting that Paris is his best chance of escape. Corey is chased down once again by Rico’s henchmen, but Vogel sneaks out and comes to his aid. They head to Paris and find a sharpshooter to case the jewelry store and help them with their plan. The police detective is still searching for his quarry, and he tries to enlist the help of a crooked club owner. Meanwhile, the plans are made, and the heist is pulled off with great precision and efficiency. They get away with the jewels smoothly enough. However, the marksman settles to take no part of the plunder, and their initial buyer falls through. Relatively quickly there is a new person interested, so Corey takes the goods to him. Only too late Vogel comes to warn him, and just like that, they must flee the premises with police all around.

Much like Le Samourai, this film gives off an extremely cool vibe, and it makes it all the more enjoyable to watch. Alain Delon is such a smooth operator, and whether it is the way he dresses, talks, smokes, or pulls off the heist, it cannot be easily dismissed. However, the other main players give serious and nuanced performances of their own, which cannot be overlooked. Melville makes all of his scenes so interesting, through the setup and the fashion in which his characters go through the world of the film. His characters act in the mode of behavior that they believe is correct and most are rather taciturn and guarded. I cannot decide if I like Le Samourai or Le Cercle Rouge better, but it must be said they are in a special class of crime films.

4.5/5 Stars