Armored Car Robbery (1950) November 19, 2013Posted by badblokebob in : Thriller, Film Noir: Classic, Crime, 3 stars, 1950s, 2013 , add a comment
A solid rather than exceptional film noir.
On Dangerous Ground (1952) October 25, 2013Posted by badblokebob in : Drama, Thriller, Film Noir: Classic, Romance, Crime, adaptations, 3 stars, 1950s, 2013 , add a comment
Snowbound film noir.
The Lost Weekend (1945) May 27, 2013Posted by badblokebob in : Drama, Thriller, Film Noir: Classic, 5 stars, adaptations, 1940s, 2012 , add a comment
Directed by the inestimable Billy Wilder, winner of the Grand Prix at the first Cannes, winner of the Best Picture Oscar, and also Best Actor, Director, and Screenplay, it’s a wonder that The Lost Weekend isn’t better known…
That concludes my reviews from 2012.
Make/Remake: The Spiral Staircases August 30, 2012Posted by badblokebob in : Film Noir: Classic, 2000s, adaptations, 1940s, Mystery, remakes, Specials, Make/Remake, 2012 , add a comment
The Spiral Staircase (2000)
The good version is on BBC Two tomorrow at 12:50pm. If you’re interested in how I think the 2000 remake compares, click through:
#76: The House on 92nd Street (1945) September 28, 2011Posted by badblokebob in : Documentary, Thriller, Film Noir: Classic, Crime, 4 stars, 1940s, true stories, 2011 , 2 comments
Here’s an unusual one from the pantheon of film noir. These days we’d probably call it a docu-drama, though thankfully there are no talking heads, but there is a factual voiceover narration. The story, we’re told, comes from the FBI’s files and is based on a real case — IMDb tells me the original title was Now It Can Be Told and it’s “loosely based on the case of Duquesne Spy Ring headed by Frederick Joubert Duquesne and the work of real life double agent William G. Sebold.” So there you go.
The story we actually see centres on Bill Dietrich, an American student of Germanic descent who’s approached by someone with an offer to train in Germany. This being set in a period when Hitler was on the rise, Bill toddles off to the FBI, who inform him that he’s being recruited to be a Germany spy… and so they encourage him to go and become a double agent. On his return to America, he infiltrates a group who are stealing weapons secrets and things progress from there. And they’re based in a house on New York’s 92nd Street, hence the title.
What this all really allows for is a film of two halves, though thankfully it’s not obviously divided up that way. On the one hand we have a double-agent spy thriller, which has a noir-ish tinge but isn’t the most representative film of the genre; on the other, a fairly factual look at the contemporary workings of the FBI. Many of the smaller parts were played by real FBI agents and a lot of time is put into showing how they really work and investigate a case. At the time I imagine this was a fascinating procedural; now, we’re all a bit more familiar with how such things go, but it still works as an historical document.
The tone is very reverent toward the Bureau, but as it was made while the US was still at war with Japan (it was released a week after their surrender; we’ll come back to that in a moment) that’s understandable. I don’t think it goes too far — they’re certainly shown to be faultless good guys, but at the same time they’re not superheroes. Plus none of this really gets in the way of the more straightforwardly thriller-ish side of the story, which has suitable amounts of tension and an all-action climax, plus a decent twist/reveal for who The Man Behind It All is.
Two final things, then: first, another bit of trivia from IMDb that I found interesting and so will quote more-or-less in full:
The movie deals with the theft by German spies of the fictional “Process 97,” a secret formula which, the narrator tells us, “was crucial to the development of the atomic bomb.” The movie was released on September 10, 1945, only a month after the atomic bombs had been dropped on Japan, and barely a week after Japan’s formal surrender. While making the film, the actors and director Henry Hathaway did not know that the atomic bomb existed, or that it would be incorporated as a story element in the movie. (None of the actors in the film mentions the atomic bomb.) However, co-director/producer Louis De Rochemont and narrator Reed Hadley were both involved in producing government films on the development of the atomic bomb. After the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Hadley and screenwriter John Monks Jr. hastily wrote some additional voice-over narration linking “Process 97″ to the atomic bomb, and Rochemont inserted it into the picture in time for the film’s quick release.
Well there you go, eh? Don’t get much more timely than that.
Secondly, from Wikipedia: “Although praised when released in 1945, the film when released on DVD in 2005 received mostly mixed reviews. Christopher Null writes, “today it comes across as a bit goody-goody, pandering to the FBI, pedantic, and not noirish at all.”" I think I’ve addressed most of these points already, but it’s the last one that gets me. Essentially he seems to be moaning that “they didn’t make a good enough film noir!” Might be because no one ever knew they were making a film noir, eh? How can you expect something to conform to a set of rules that were only defined after the fact? Hathaway and co didn’t fail at making a noir, they just made a film that doesn’t fit the later-defined template as well as the films used to define said template. I know, four words from some other online critic hardly merit a whole paragraph, but it does bug me when people write daft things like that.
Anyway, back to the point: The House on 92nd Street is not the best example of film noir one could find, certainly, but it is an entertaining and informative documentary-ish spy-thriller.
The House on 92nd Street is on More4 tomorrow, Thursday 29th September, at 10:30am (and, naturally, on More4 +1 one hour later).
#68: The Locket (1946) September 4, 2011Posted by badblokebob in : Drama, Film Noir: Classic, 3 stars, 1940s, Mystery, 2011 , add a comment
If The Locket is known for anything, it’s for a plot structure that places flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks. There’s always the potential for good fun in that kind of structure, though it’s usually the kind of thing that sounds more complicated than it is — the straightforward ‘concentric circle’ arrangement here makes them a doddle to follow; so straightforward, in fact, that it would be easy to miss how it was so structured.
Some rich chap is about to get married to a gal named Nancy. On the big day, a doctor turns up asking for a word. He begins to relate a tale stretching back to before the war, of the guys Nancy has conned before, including himself. Is he making it all up for some reason? In the doctor’s tale, he begins dating Nancy only for an artist (played by Robert Mitchum) to turn up one day to tell him all about his past with her. Has the doctor made this similar situation up to sell his story? Or is Nancy really a serial con artist?
The story is, largely, a passable melodrama. We’re presented with plenty of evidence that Nancy is definitely a tricksy operator, but then is the man telling the tale an unreliable narrator? I don’t know if the filmmakers were even aware of such a concept. Maybe that’s unkind; maybe they just didn’t want him to be one; but the ending we do get is very pat, and I’m not sure it quite makes sense. It might have been more interesting if the doctor had been making it all up; or if it had been left open ended, with Nancy set to ruin someone else’s life. That could well have worked, leaving the audience to come to its own conclusions, etc. Considering the film’s age, however, I’m sure there were demands we see this thief and murderess brought to justice.
Despite pre-dating Hitchcock’s reportedly groundbreaking film by almost two decades decades, the deployment of psychology in Nancy’s motivations reminded me of Marnie. A burgeoning field at the time, I believe, which makes it both attractive to filmmakers and liable to be weakly applied. The film isn’t that similar to Marnie — other than the female lead with the event in her past that explains her criminal activities in the present, that is — but perhaps the reliance on psychological jiggery-pokery that I didn’t quite buy brought it to mind.
Nancy is made most complicated by the final scene, when the truth is more or less revealed. Her subsequent breakdown suggests that, maybe, she isn’t completely the manipulative criminal it seemed all along, but instead a damaged individual doing these things involuntarily. This isn’t the wholly nonsensical part of the film — her apparently-accidental marriage to the son of the house she grew up in would be that bit — but I preferred it when she was just a villain. Psychologically it holds relevance, but at the same time she’s rather taken it to extremes. Or maybe I was just fed up by then.
Generally, the film is a bit too melodramatic and half-conceived for my taste. There are some good bits — the ultimate conclusion to Mitchum’s story is neatly directed and surprising (hence I shall say no more here). As if that painting wasn’t freaky enough by itself… But, overall, this isn’t one for the “forgotten classics” pile.
#58: The Thief (1952) June 15, 2011Posted by badblokebob in : Thriller, Film Noir: Classic, Crime, 3 stars, 1950s, silent films, 2011 , 3 comments
Ray Milland stars as Dr. Allan Fields, a nuclear physicist working at the United States Atomic Energy Commission, who is photographing secret files and passing them to The Other Side, until something goes wrong and the authorities are on his tail. But that’s almost beside the point, because if The Thief is known for anything it’s for its dialogue — as the poster proclaims, “not a word is spoken…!”
At some points in cinema history that would go without saying, obviously, but this is 25 years after the first talkie, so it’s being Experimental. It’s not silent film styled either, unlike recent attempts to recreate that early era like La Antena or 2011 Cannes competitor (and Palm Dog winner*) The Artist. There’s a minimal use of text here too — certainly no intertitles, and only a couple of printed pages to help us follow the story. I’d argue most of those aren’t needed either. They all crop up fairly late on, by which point we’ve grown accustomed to interpreting what we’re seeing without the help of words, so it’s almost a shame Rouse resorts to them.
It’s credit to Rouse’s direction and performances, particularly by Ray Milland, that we can follow what we’re seeing without more text. That said, it is a fairly straightforward and archetypal story — while it demonstrates that you can tell a story without dialogue, it might leave one wondering about the possibilities for telling a wholly original or truly complex story that way. Obviously we can look back to the silent cinema for that kind of thing, but while that era could probably still teach many filmmakers something about visual storytelling, it’s hard to deny that the advent of synchronised sound adds a helluva lot to the ability of film — if it didn’t, it wouldn’t have taken over so fast and remained virtually 100% dominant for the last 80+ years.
But anyway. Milland conveys the necessary emotions through his face and actions alone. Rouse manipulates the plot to suit a little showcasing of his direction: mostly it’s a tale of espionage, meaning tense chase sequences that are often only underscored by music in regular films anyway, but the second half presents an aside in which an alluring Rita Gam — credited only as The Girl — seduces Miland as he hides out in a New York apartment. “Look,” Rouse seems to say, “we could do a romance too.”
It’s unusual that the hero is working for the other lot. Sure, there are plenty of murderers and assorted other crooks as heroes in film noir, but here we’re expected to identify with a Commie traitor? How very dare they! Perhaps this is why the villains are never explicitly named. But they’re definitely not American! Tsk tsk. More crucially, it’s a bit slow at times — it seems to take longer to explain things when stuck doing them through visuals alone. That said, it could probably have survived a speedier approach even doing what it does — perhaps, then, Rouse is playing for time: the film only runs 87 minutes in spite of its pace.
The Thief tells its story and relays the thoughts and feelings of its lead character effectively, even if that story is a bit simplistic and even if there are times when it’s clearly jumping through a hoop or two to make sure no dialogue is required. The lack of dialogue is certainly a gimmick, albeit one that — more often than not — works. It’s an interesting film, I’ll certainly give it that.
* I didn’t know they had a Palm Dog award until this. That’s… well, I think that’s awesome; as the Americans like to say, your mileage may vary.