Showing posts with label Film Noir. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Film Noir. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Review: Stanley Kubrick's "THE KILLING" is Still Killer Noir

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 85 (of 2007) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Killing (1956) – B&W
Running time:  85 minutes (1 hour, 25 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  Stanley Kubrick
WRITERS:  Stanley Kubrick with Jim Thompson for additional dialogue (based upon the novel by Lionel White)
PRODUCER:  James B. Harris
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Lucien Ballard
EDITOR:  Betty Steinberg
COMPOSER:  Gerald Fried

FILM-NOIR/CRIME/DRAMA/THRILLER

Starring:  Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Jay C. Flippen, Elisha Cook, Jr., Marie Windsor, Ted DeCorsia, Joe Sawyer, James Edwards, Timothy Carey, Joseph Turkel, Jay Adler, Kola Kwariani, and Art Gilmore (narrator)

The Killing is a 1956 American Film-Noir thriller and crime drama from director Stanley Kubrick.  The film is based upon the 1955 novel, Clean Break, from author Lionel White.  The film follows a veteran criminal who assembles a five-man team to help him pull off a daring racetrack robbery.

Mention Stanley Kubrick’s name and most film fans will immediately think of his films such as Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and A Clockwork Orange, or later Kubrick films like The Shining and Full Metal Jacket.  Not many will remember the film that first earned him the notice of Hollywood heavyweights like Kirk Douglas and Marlon Brando, a terrific little film-noir gem called, The Killing.

After spending five years in Alcatraz, ex-convict Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) decides that if he’s going to commit crimes, the reward should be worth the risk, and he’s found one that’s very worth the risk – a million dollar heist of a racetrack.  Clay masterminds a brilliant and complicated scheme to steal $2,000,000, and recruits several conspirators including track employees and a crooked cop.  The only flaw in Johnny’s near-perfect plan is that one of his gang members, George Peatty (Elisha Cook), tells his shrewish wife, Sherry (Marie Windsor), about the planned robbery, and she shares it with her boyfriend.  Add a little dog and things get complicated very quickly.

The Killing is one of the best heist films I’ve ever seen.  A superb cast of character actors, most used to playing tough guys, policeman, and shady types, gives this film a solid Film-Noir atmosphere and creates a edgy, taunt little thriller that you can’t stop watching until its concluded.  Sterling Hayden plays Johnny Clay as a firm, no-nonsense guy that any hood would follow, and in a quiet, subtle fashion, he gives this film added edge.

Stanley Kubrick shaped The Killing using a non-linear structure, in which the narrative moves backwards and forwards in time.  Many viewers will recognize non-linear structure as a Quentin Tarantino signature style in such films as Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.  In fact, Tarantino credits The Killing with influencing his decision to shape his film narratives in a non-linear structure.

The film has a few problems that keep it from being a truly great film.  Art Gilmore’s narration is poor, delivered in that stereotypical monotone used for crime films.  Some of the dialogue is a bit too stiff, and the film drags much of the first half hour.  However, The Killing pays off the viewers’ patience quite handsomely in the form of an excellent crime film about small time hoods masterminding the perfectly plotted heist.

8 of 10
A
★★★★ out of 4 stars

Original Post:  Sunday, June 03, 2007

EDITED: Wednesday, May 1, 2024


NOTES:
1957 BAFTA Film Award:  1 nomination: “Best Film from any Source” (USA)


The text is copyright © 2024 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for reprint or syndication rights and fees.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Review: Tyrone Power Struts Through Original "NIGHTMARE ALLEY"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 71 of 2021 (No. 1809) by Leroy Douresseaux

Nightmare Alley (1947)
Running time:  111 minutes (1 hour, 51 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  Edmund Goulding
WRITER:  Jules Furthman (based on the novel by William Lindsay Gresham)
PRODUCER:  George Jessel
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Lee Garmes (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Barbara McLean
COMPOSER:  Cyril Mockridge

DRAMA/FILM-NOIR

Starring:  Tyrone Power, Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray, Helen Walker, Taylor Holmes, Mike Mazurki, and Ian Keith

Nightmare Alley is a 1947 American film noir drama directed by Edmund Goulding and starring Tyrone Power.  The film is an adaptation of the 1946 novel, Nightmare Alley, which was written by William Lindsay Gresham.  Nightmare Alley the film focuses on the rise and fall of a con man.

Nightmare Alley opens at a seedy traveling carnival and introduces the carnival's barker, Stanton “Stan” Carlisle (Tyrone Power), who is fascinated by everything at this place where he works.  Stan works with Zeena Krumbein (Joan Blondell), who performs as the mentalist, “Mademoiselle Zeena,” with her alcoholic husband, Peter “Pete” Krumbein (Ian Keith).  At one time, Zeena and Pete were a top-billed vaudeville act, and the two of them used an ingenious code to make it appear that she had extraordinary mental powers.  However, the duo has been reduced to working in carnivals, and Pete is a severe alcoholic.

When Stan learns that many people want to buy the code that Zeena and Pete once used, he wants it, too.  Zeena rebuffs Stan's attempts to get the code, but one night, while the carnival is in Burly, Texas, a terrible accident provides Stan with the opportunity to get the code.  With Molly (Collen Gray), a young carnival worker by his side, Stan becomes “The Great Stanton” the acclaimed mentalist.  But can this “uncommonly shrewd young trickster” (as one character refers to him) escape his troubled past, his guilt, and his fate?

I became interested in Nightmare Alley when I heard that Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro was going to remake it.  Actually, del Toro's film is less a remake and more a new adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham's novel.

Regarding the 1947 film:  apparently, Tyrone Power (1914-1958) wanted to play the role of Stanton Carlisle in order to expand his career beyond playing romantic leads and swashbucklers.  These were the roles that made him a matinee idol in Hollywood in the mid-1930s and early 1940s, his star being born with 1936's Lloyd's of London.  Stan is a good character to play.  He is complicated and complex because he is not one thing.  Stan can be ruthless and cruel and kind and considerate from one moment to another.  He is highly skilled at the things in which he endeavors, but his greatest skill is his ability to con even the most skeptical people.

Stan is the kind of character who is perfect for a story of the “rise and fall” of an ambitious person, and this film is about the rise and fall of Stanton Carlisle, except that isn't a plot.  The film follows Stan around, but the movie does not have a hook that really captures the audience's interest.  It is not until an hour into the film when the narrative finally engages a conflict, which involves a psychiatrist, Lilith Ritter (Helen Walker), who is also Nightmare Alley's “femme fatale.”  That's when we get the hook in the form of con job that is brilliant if it is successful and disastrous if even one thing goes wrong.

Upon its initial release, Nightmare Alley proved to be scandalous, in part because of the way religion plays a part in Stan's cons, and it was not a box office success.  Over time, the film has apparently gained a following and is considered a classic of the film noir genre.  Whether or not it is classic film noir is up to the viewer, although I don't consider it a classic.  Nightmare Alley is not a great film, but there are times when it is really good.

However, I cannot help but find myself impressed by Tyrone Power's layered performance.  Power really does make Stanton Carlisle feel like a genuine person, and he conveys Stan's dark side in a way that makes me pity him rather than dislike him.  I am certain that over the years, other viewers felt the same way.  I think that film noir fans will want to see this, and if there are any Tyrone Power fans still out there, they will want to see Nightmare Alley.

7 of 10
B+

Monday, December 13, 2021


The text is copyright © 2021 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for syndication rights and fees.

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Book Signing Celebrates "The 101 Best Film Noir Posters"


Film Noir Poster Exhibition at Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery

Seattle, WA. Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery is pleased to host an exhibition of posters featured in the new boo,k 101 Best Film Noir Posters from the 1940s-1950s. The show opens on Saturday, September 13 from 6:00 to 9:00 PM. Editor Mark Fertig will be available to discuss the work and sign copies of the book. The exhibition continues through November 10, 2014.

The film noir genre holds a special place in American cinema and the posters reveal a lot about mid-century aesthetics. As director William Friedkin observes in the book's introduction, "he posters convey the style and content of the movies they were designed to advertise, and yet they represent an art form of their own. They are a valid and important school of American art." These posters depict the biggest stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood in some of their most memorable roles. The book includes both a synopsis and fascinating analysis of the films depicted by the posters.

Mark Fertig will attend the opening to discuss and sign copies of the book. This event coincides with the colorful Georgetown Art Attack, featuring visual and performing arts presentations throughout the historic arts community. Fantagraphics Bookstore is located at 1201 S. Vale Street (at Airport Way S.), just minutes south of downtown Seattle. Open daily 11:30 to 8:00 PM, Sundays until 5:00 PM. Phone 206.658.0110.

Also, don't miss appearances by Seattle native Charles Burns signing his new graphic novel Sugar Skull on Friday, September 19 from 6:00 to 8:00 PM and Chris Wright signing Black Lung on Sunday, September 21 from 3:00 to 5:00 PM.





Film Noir 101: The 101 Best Film Noir Posters from the 1940s-1950s

Listing information:

Film Noir Posters from the 1940s-1950s
Mark Fertig gallery talk and book signing Saturday, September 13, 6:00 to 9:00 PM
Exhibition continues through November 10, 2014
Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery
1201 S. Vale Street | Seattle, WA | 206.658.0110
Open daily 11:30 to 8:00 PM, Sundays until 5:00 PM

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Friday, May 23, 2014

Review: "The Asphalt Jungle" is a Film-Noir Gem (Remembering Sterling Hayden)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 152 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Asphalt Jungle (1950) – B&W
Running time:  112 minutes (1 hour, 52 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  John Huston
WRITERS:  Ben Maddow and John Huston (from the novel by W.R. Burnett)
PRODUCER:  Arthur Hornblow, Jr.
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Harold Rosson (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  George Boemler
COMPOSER:  Mikos Rozsa
Academy Award nominee

FILM-NOIR/CRIME/DRAMA/THRILLER

Starring:  Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe, John McIntire, Marc Lawrence, Barry Kelley, Anthony Caruso, Teresa Celli, and Marilyn Monroe

The subject of this movie review is The Asphalt Jungle, a 1950 film noir and crime drama co-written and directed by John Huston.  The film is based on the 1949 novel, The Asphalt Jungle, written by author W.R. Burnett.  The Asphalt Jungle the movie is a caper film that focuses on an initially-successful jewelry heist that turns sour because of bad luck and double-crossing.

There was a time when an urban crime drama didn’t require massively staged shootouts in which by the time the credits rolled literally hundreds of bullet shell casings had hit the ground.  There was indeed a time before painfully loud gunfire and bodies flying backwards from high impact bullet hits.  That was before Hong Kong produced cop dramas and crime thrillers were the gold standard for crime films.  That was a time when all a director needed was a solid script, a large ensemble cast of character actors, and a gritty, urban American setting.

That simple age yielded a film like director John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle.  The actor/writer/director best known for such films as The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The African Queen could also turn a cool trick with such crime films as the timeless flick, The Maltese Falcon, and the Oscar-nominated Prizzi’s Honor.  Released in 1950, fans of the movie genre, Film-Noir, consider The Asphalt Jungle to be a noir classic.

The film follows a band of thieves who plan and execute a million dollar jewelry store heist.  Fresh out of prison, German-born master thief, Doc Erwin Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe, who earned an Oscar nomination for his performance), takes into his confidence a wily hood named “Cobby” Cobb (Marc Lawrence) who runs an illegal betting parlor.  Cobb helps Doc assemble just the kind of team he needs to execute his crime:  Louis Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso), a safe cracker; Gus Minissi (James Whitmore), a driver; and Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden), a hooligan or thug.

However, they run into complications with the man who is supposed to help them fence (sell) the diamonds on the black market, Alonzo D. “Lon” Emmerich (Louis Calhern), a prominent criminal attorney.  Lon is in deep financial straits.  Broke and desperate for cash, he plots with a shady cohort, to double cross Doc and his gang, which, of course, puts the entire plan on the road to ruin.

John Houston and his crew splendidly create the gritty and grimy world in which skilled thieves and hardened criminals exist.  An underworld, it is indeed as the film’s tagline reads, “The City Under the City,” or at least it is the world behind the backdoors, alleyways, and criminal haunts (like Gus’s restaurant).  The actors superbly play to type the kind of ethnic and poor white characters that fill such stories – career criminals whose jobs or addictions (like Dix’s gambling habit) force them to continue working the streets the same way the needs of a family necessitate that an honest man or woman keep working just about everyday.

The Asphalt Jungle isn’t glossy or shiny noir.  Houston’s film is as matter-of-fact and as tough as Hayden’s Dix Handley – mistrustful of those who might befriend him and ready to put a big hurt on anyone in his way.  The Asphalt Jungle seems not to really care if someone likes it, and that makes this coarse little film truly a gem of a crime film and a gritty Film-Noir treat.

8 of 10
A

NOTES:
1951 Academy Awards:  4 nominations: “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” (Sam Jaffe), “Best Cinematography, Black-and-White” (Harold Rosson), “Best Director” (John Huston), and “Best Writing, Screenplay” (Ben Maddow and John Huston)

1951 BAFTA Awards:  1 nomination:  “Best Film from any Source” (USA)

1951 Golden Globes:  3 nominations: “Best Cinematography - Black and White” (Harold Rosson), “Best Motion Picture Director” (John Huston), and “Best Screenplay” (John Huston and Ben Maddow)

2008 National Film Preservation Board, USA:  National Film Registry

Monday, July 17, 2006

Updated:  Friday, May 23, 2014


The text is copyright © 2014 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.



Thursday, January 2, 2014

Review: "Murder My Sweet" is Flawed But Compelling (Rembering Dick Powell)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 79 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

Murder, My Sweet (1944) – Black & White
Running time:  95 minutes (1 hour, 35 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  Edward Dmytryk
WRITER:  John Paxton (from the novel Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler)
PRODUCER:  Adrian Scott
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Harry J. Wild
EDITOR:  Joseph Noriega
COMPOSER:  Roy Webb

FILM-NOIR/MYSTERY/CRIME

Starring:  Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley, Otto Kruger, Mike Mazurki, Miles Mander, Douglas Walton, Donald Douglas, Ralf Harolde, and Esther Howard

The subject of this movie review is Murder, My Sweet, a 1944 film noir detective movie from director Edward Dmytryk.  This film stars Dick Powell (one of my favorite actors) as a private detective drawn into a complex web of mystery and deceit after being hired to find an ex-con’s former girlfriend.

Murder, My Sweet is the film adaptation of the Raymond Chandler 1940 novel, Farewell, My Lovely, which was also the film’s original title.  For the U.S. release, the film’s name was changed to Murder, My Sweet so that people wouldn’t mistake it for a musical, as the film’s star, Dick Powell, was, up to that point, known as a singer.  The role revitalized Powell’s career, and he went on to play many tough guys.

The plot is convoluted and takes some effort to follow.  It begins when a big bruiser named Moose Malloy (Mike Mazurki) shows up at the office of private detective, Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell).  Malloy has been in prison for eight years; recently released, he wants Marlowe to find his girl Velma, with whom he hasn’t spoken in six years.  However, another person hunting for something or someone walks into Marlowe’s office – Lindsay Marriott (Douglas Walton), a foppish fellow who claims to be acting as a middleman to retrieve a rather expensive jade necklace from the thieves who took it and who are willing to make a deal.

After Marriott is killed, the police consider Marlowe to be the lead murder suspect, but Marlowe has his eyes on a dysfunctional family trio:  a beautiful young woman named Ann Grayle (Anne Shirley), her wealthy father, Mr. Grayle (Miles Mander), and her stepmother, Helen Grayle (Claire Trevor).  Each one wants the jade necklace, for various reasons and is trying to manipulate Marlowe to get what he or she wants.  He, however, just isn’t having it, and he begins to connect his first case with his second.

Convoluted plot aside, some consider Murder, My Sweet to be the definitive film-noir movie in spite of its shaky script and throwaway and/or underdeveloped characters.  The characters don’t really stick and their connections to one another are flimsy and contrived, which drove me crazy because they had such potential.

The film is likely beloved because of its seductive vision of nighttime Los Angeles, here, shrouded in rich, lush shadows suggesting the quintessential film-noir setting for a hardboiled roughneck dick like Philip Marlowe.  There is hardly a daytime scene in this picture; it’s a dreamy nocturnal setting for night owls, and this is just the environment to make you forget a weak script and vastly undercooked characters.  Director Edward Dmytryk and cinematographer Harry Wild combine the former’s tendency towards flashy effects and the latter’s brilliant sense of noir into an atmosphere that is pure detective film from beginning to end.

The performances are mixed, although Claire Trevor as Helen Grayle creates a great femme fatale out of a very small part.  When she comes onto Marlowe, we know that she’d use her sexuality on him without hesitation in order to get her way, and this lady is just plain dangerous; you realize that from the moment you see her.  All that aside, the main attraction is Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe.  He interprets Marlowe as a no-nonsense kind of kind guy, but a glib fellow with a droll sense of humor.  He doesn’t pretend to play along with other’s bull, and he’s the proverbial straight shooter who calls bullshit when he sees it.  He’s not the strong, silent type because he talks a lot, but his verbalizing is merely the quick and tricky moves of a savvy fighter.  Powell adds life, a blazing presence, and practicality to the film-noir art of this movie.  Powell or artful noir – either one is more than enough reason to see this sadly flawed, but compelling film.

6 of 10
B

Monday, May 23, 2005

Updated:  Thursday, January 02, 2014

The text is copyright © 2014 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.



Monday, December 9, 2013

Review: "Out of the Past" is an Entertaining Film-Noir (Happy B'day, Kirk Douglas)


TRASH IN MY EYE No. 44 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

Out of the Past (1947) – Black & White
Running time: 97 minutes (1 hour, 37 minutes)
NR – not rated by the MPAA
DIRECTOR:  Jacques Tourneur
WRITERS:  Geoffrey Homes (based upon the novel Build My Gallows High by Geoffrey Homes)
PRODUCER:  Warren Duff
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Nicholas Musuraca
EDITOR:  Samuel E. Beetley
COMPOSER: Roy Webb

FILM-NOIR/DRAMA/THRILLER

Starring:  Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming, Richard Webb, Steve Brodie, Virginia Houston, Paul Valentine, Dickie Moore, and Ken Niles with (no screen credit) Theresa Harris, Caleb Peterson, and Wallace Scott

The subject of this movie review is Out of the Past, a 1947 film noir drama and thriller from director Jacques Tourneur.  The film is based on the 1946 novel, Build My Gallows High, by Geoffrey Homes (the penname of author Daniel Mainwaring), who also wrote the screenplay adapting his novel for this film.  Frank Fenton and James M. Cain also contributed to the writing of the screenplay, but did not receive screen credit.

Out of the Past stars Robert Mitchum as a private eye who escapes his past and runs a gas station in a small town.  Kirk Douglas and Jane Greer star as the hood and his dame (respectively), and they are the past that catches up to the former private eye.

Out of the Past is a definitive classic of film noir; some even consider it the best noir film ever.  It is certainly a film that stands the test of time because it is not only fondly remembered and on the National Film Registry, it was also remade as the 1984 film, Against All Odds.  Who can forget Phil Collins’ powerful theme song for the film?

Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) is a gas station owner with a troubled past.  It catches up with him when a tough looking, film heavy named Joe Stephanos (Paul Valentine) comes looking for Jeff and tells him he needs to take a trip.  Stephanos and his employer are “acquaintances” of Jeff’s.  So Jeff’s trip is to pay a visit to that old friend, gambler and mobster, Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas).  It turns out Jeff was once a private eye named Jeff Markham (told in a flashback) whom Sterling hired to find his mistress, Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer), a drop-dead gorgeous woman who’d shot Sterling several times and disappeared with 40,000 of Sterling’s dollars.  Bailey did find her, but the unexpected (or expected) occurs.  Now, Sterling wants payback, so he coerces Bailey into taking another job for him, one that might cost Jeff his neck or a trip to the gas chamber.

Out of the Past has all the things that marks a movie as film noir, especially the lighting, the dangerous dames, menacing thugs, snappy dialogue, and hard-living hero.  The film actually seems longer than its running time, and that’s good.  The director and screenwriters pack a lot of twists and turns into this film.  It’s beautifully shot, and the dialogue is not only snappy (which might take some getting used to for people not familiar with noir or movies from the 1930’s and 40’s), but it’s also quite witty, sharp, and biting.  The film is engaging and almost compels the viewer to keep watching.

They really don’t make movies like this anymore or movie stars like this.  Robert Mitchum is an electric and magnetic presence, so much so that he almost steals the film from his co-stars.  It’s obvious why every female character in the film wants to disrobe for his Jeff Bailey.  In fact, if it weren’t for Kirk Douglas’ own super-powered film presence, his Whit Sterling couldn’t register as a dangerous adversary for Mitchum’s Bailey.

With nearly ever scene revealing another twist or surprise, Out of the Past is an absolute delight and a must-see for fans of the cast and film noir.  It’s only shortcoming is that the script brushes aside too many characters, and while those characters’ motivations aren’t contrived, they’re turned into a kind of short hand or footnote, although if developed only a little more, they’d enhance the story.  In places, the film lacks meat on its bones and lacks the emotional resonance to fully sell the various relationship triangles.  That said, this is still very entertaining film-noir.

8 of 10
A

NOTES:
1991 National Film Preservation Board, USA:  National Film Registry

Updated:  Monday, December 09, 2013

The text is copyright © 2013 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.



Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Review: "Phantom Lady" is for Fans of the Genre (Remembering Franchot Tone)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 79 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Phantom Lady (1944) – Black and White
Running time:  87 minutes (1 hour, 27 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  Robert Soidmak
WRITER:  Bernard C. Schoenfeld (from a novel by William Irish)
PRODUCER:  Joan Harrison (associate producer)
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Woody Bredell
EDITOR:  Arthur Hilton
COMPOSER:  Hans J. Salter

CRIME/FILM-NOIR/MYSTERY with elements of a drama, romance, and thriller

Starring:  Franchot Tone, Ella Raines, Alan Curtis, Aurora, Thomas Gomez, Fay Helm, and Elisha Cook, Jr.

The subject of this movie review is Phantom Lady, a 1944 film noir and crime and mystery film from director Robert Soidmak.  This film is based on the 1942 crime novel, Phantom Lady, which was written by author Cornell Woolrich and published under his pseudonym, William Irish.  Phantom Lady the film follows a secretary who risks her life trying to find an elusive woman that may be able to prove that her boss did not murder his selfish wife.

Although photographing a film in black and white was not an artistic choice but a matter of being the only choice for many directors during Hollywood’s Golden Era of the 1930’s and 40’s, some directors took advantage of black and white cinematography to create some of the most compelling and beautiful looking films in movie history.  Case in point:  German-born director Robert Soidmak took a Universal Studios B film, Phantom Lady, and turned it into a work of black and white movie art.

In the film, unhappily married Scott Henderson (Alan Curtis) takes a woman wearing a strange hat for a night on the town, but the woman insists that the two remain on a no-name basis for this one-night only date.  However, Scott’s wife is found strangled in their apartment, and Scott takes the rap for it because he has no alibi.  No matter how hard he and the police look, they can’t find the mysterious woman with whom he spent an anonymous date, and everyone whom Scott claims saw him and the woman together only remembers Scott being alone.

When Scott is convicted of the murder and sent to death row, his loyal secretary, Carol Richman (Ella Raines), and Inspector Burgess (Thomas Gomez), the policeman who has a change of heart about Scott, begin another search to find the mystery woman.  Someone, however, doesn’t want them to find the woman and actively interferes in the case with deadly consequences.

Phantom Lady is mostly a curiosity; it has a few good moments, and while it falls far short of being forgettable, it’s not really memorable.  Siodmak and his cinematography Woody Bredell compose countless exquisite black and white shots, staging the first three quarters of the film as if it were a series of artsy photographs.  While the look is classic film noir, the meat of the story is low rent noir.  The story stumbles towards an end, and the hammy killer, replete with pseudo psychological reasons for his killer tendencies, doesn’t help.  The cast is strikingly B movie, being made of character actors – most of them solid, except for Ella Raines’ wildly inconsistent performance.  Look for a nice sequence featuring Elisha Cook, Jr. (the "gunsel" from The Maltese Falcon) and Ms. Raines that is rife with overt and almost raw sexual energy.  Overall, this is mainly for those who love film-noir mysteries and crime dramas, but there’s little else for the average-Joe film fan.

6 of 10
B

Updated:  Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The text is copyright © 2013 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.



Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Review: "Gun Crazy" is Crazy Cool (Remembering Dalton Trumbo)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 151 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

Gun Crazy (1950) – B&W
Deadly is the Female (1949) – original title
Running time: 86 minutes (1 hour, 26 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  Joseph H. Lewis
WRITERS:  MacKinlay Kantor, Millard Kaufman, and Dalton Trumbo (based upon the short story by MacKinlay Kantor)
PRODUCERS:  Frank King and Maurice King
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Russell Harlan (director of photography)
EDITOR:  Harry Gerstad
COMPOSER:  Victor Young

FILM-NOIR/CRIME/DRAMA

Starring:  Peggy Cummings, John Dall, Barry Kroeger, Morris Carnovsky, Anabel Shaw, Harry Lewis, Nedrick Young, and Rusty Tamblyn with (cast that received no screen credit) David Bair, Paul Frison, and Trevor Bardette

The subject of this movie review is Gun Crazy, a 1950 film noir crime drama directed by Joseph H. Lewis.  The film was originally released under the title, Deadly is the Female, apparently sometime in 1949.  Gun Crazy is based on a short story written by MacKinlay Kantor, one of the film’s screenwriters.  Although Millard Kaufman is also credited as a screenwriter on Gun Crazy, he is not.  Kaufman was a “front writer,” meaning he allowed another screenwriter to use his name in order to work on the project.  The writer who used Kaufman’s name was Dalton Trumbo.

Trumbo was one of the “Hollywood 10.”  They were cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to give testimony to the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) concerning Communist activity in Hollywood in the 1930s and early 1940s.  Trumbo and others were blacklisted from working on Hollywood film productions, or, if they did work on a production, their names were omitted from the film.  Trumbo is credited as the writer who reworked MacKinlay Kantor’s Gun Crazy story into a tale of a doomed love affair, but he could not receive a screen credit for his work on the film.

Gun Crazy the movie introduces Bart Tare (Rusty Tamblyn).  As a boy, Tare was obsessed with guns, although he was loathed to kill anything.  His obsession lands him in a reform school, but he retains the support of his family and especially of his friends, Dave Allister (Paul Frison) and Clyde Boston (Trevor Bardette).  After leaving the reform school and doing a stint in the army, adult Bart (John Dall) returns home to find that the adult Dave Allister (Nedrick Young) is now the editor of their hometown paper and that Clyde is now Sheriff Clyde Boston (Harry Lewis).

The trio attends a traveling carnival where Bart meets the love of his life, Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummings), a carnie trick pistol shooter, who, like Bart, is gun-obsessed.  The two run off and get married, but Laurie is a dangerous girl who wants the high life.  The legitimate jobs that poor Bart can get won’t pay enough to buy her all the things she wants.  He’s too in love to be without her, so it’s easy for her to talk him into a life of crime.  They commit a string of daring robberies across the country that eventually cause them to kill.  Hunted and desperate, Laurie and Bart head back home to Bart’s sister, Ruby (Anabel Shaw), and her family, but Sheriff Clyde and Dave are waiting for them.

Experts and students of the film genre known as Film-Noir consider Gun Crazy to be classic noir.  The film, released initially under the title, Deadly is the Female, is based upon novelist MacKinlay Kantor’s short story that was originally published in The Saturday Evening Post.  Gun Crazy was mostly forgotten until it fell into favor in France with film critics, especially the group of critics who would themselves one day become filmmakers and also become tied to a movement called French New Wave – the most famous of the lot being Fran├žois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard.  Godard’s 1960 film, Breathless, apparently references Gun Crazy.

Although many critics and reviewers have praised director Joseph H. Lewis for the film’s documentary feel, used especially during the robbery sequences, Lewis’ film is actually very stylized and expressionistic from a visual point of view.  Everything that is important for the audience to know about Laurie and Bart:  their roles, identities, thoughts, and feelings, as well as the roles of the people around them, Lewis tells through visual cues.  From the titled camera shots early in the film that suggest the mental state of young Bart to the sexualized first encounter of Bart and Laurie – all are stylish.  In fact, Lewis really pushes the idea of sex and the duo’s obsession with guns being interrelated.

The film has some good performances, a few exceptional – especially British actress Peggy Cummings as Laurie and, in two small roles, Barry Kroeger as Laurie’s carnival boss, Packett, and Morris Carnovsky as Judge Willoughby.  The script is a good blueprint for Lewis, but is soft on the dichotomy between Bart’s two worlds – Peggy and crime and Dave and Clyde.  Ultimately this film does fit the auteur theory that Truffaut, Godard, and their contemporaries pushed – the idea that the director is the film’s author.  Joseph H. Lewis takes the best that his cast and crew give him and turn Gun Crazy into a film of notorious love, sexual tension, lust, and the kind of violence that can come from two lovers’ obsessions.  This is definitely a precursor to Bonnie and Clyde.

7 of 10
B+

Saturday, July 15, 2006

NOTES:
1998 National Film Preservation Board, USA:  National Film Registry

Updated: Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The text is copyright © 2013 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.



Monday, January 14, 2013

Review: "The Good German" Recalls a Certain Kind of 1940s (Happy B'day, Steven Soderbergh)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 86 (of 2007) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Good German (2006) – B&W
Running time: 120 minutes (2 hours)
MPAA – R for language, violence, and some sexual content
DIRECTOR: Steven Soderbergh
WRITER: Paul Attanasio (based upon the novel by Joseph Kanon)
PRODUCERS: Ben Cosgrove, Gregory Jacobs, and Steven Soderbergh
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Peter Andrews (Soderbergh)
EDITOR: Mary Ann Bernard (Soderbergh)
2007 Academy Awards nominee

DRAMA/MYSTERY with elements of a thriller

Starring: George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Tobey Maguire, Beau Bridges, Leland Orser, Robin Weigert, Tony Curran, Ravil Isyanov, Dave Power, and Christian Oliver

For The Good German, Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh shot this film the old Hollywood way. For instance, he used the fixed-focal length lenses available to cinematographers in the 1940’s instead of the modern sophisticated zoom lenses. He also directed the actors to perform in the presentational, stage style (which was the acting style used in most Hollywood films before method acting). And it’s in black and white.

In The Good German, U.S. war correspondent Capt. Jacob “Jake” Geismar (George Clooney) gets caught in a web of intrigue involving his former girlfriend, Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett) in post-World War II Berlin. Before the war, Jake managed a news bureau in Berlin, and Lena worked for him. Jake is in the city to cover the upcoming Potsdam Peace Conference where the Allied leaders will determine the fate of the defeated Germans and the newly liberated Europe and split whatever is of any value between the U.S. Russia, and Great Britain. That means people as well as nations.

After Lena’s boyfriend, Patrick Tully (Tobey Maguire), is found dead, Jake learns that Tully, a motor pool driver, was planning on selling information on the whereabouts of Lena’s supposedly deceased husband, Emil Brandt (Christian Oliver), an SS officer who worked in the Nazi’s V2 rocket program. As both the U.S. and Russian militaries hunt for Emil, Jake, still in love with Lena, tries to help her get the papers necessary to get both her and Emil out of Berlin. Tensions arise between Jake and Lena when he learns that she’s been keeping lots of dark secrets of her own.

The acting is pitch perfect for this film. Cate Blanchett, who made 2006 a career year with this film, as well as Babel and Notes on a Scandal, does period pieces so well. She can make a character seem as if she certainly fits in that time period. Clooney keeps his charm and usual film persona intact, but gives a nice turn that has the flavor of a Humphrey Bogart character.

Paul Attanasio’s screenplay (based upon Joseph Kanon’s novel) has the specter of the Holocaust hanging over the story, but Attanasio acknowledges the Cold War looming over the horizon. While Soderbergh visually references Casablanca (1942) for this movie, Attanasio’s script both in mood and plot are similar to Roman Polanski’s 1974 film Chinatown, which was screenwriter Robert Towne’s recreation of 1930’s detective films.

Soderbergh successfully reproduces the kind of story Hollywood told in the 1940’s, and he does it using the technical production methods of that time. The Good German, however, is more than just a smooth slab of meta fiction. It’s a period romance and political thriller like Casablanca. It reminds movie viewers that fine cinema comes first from a great storyteller who makes great storytelling. Sometimes, a director has to make do with what he has – even if it’s not the cutting edge of movie science and technology.

8 of 10
A

NOTES:
2007 Academy Awards: 1 nomination for “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score” (Thomas Newman)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Review: "The Maltese Falcon" is an All-Time Great (Remembering John Huston)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 44 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Maltese Falcon (1941) – Black & White
Running time: 101 minutes (1 hour, 41 minutes)
DIRECTOR: John Huston
WRITER: John Huston (based upon the novel by Dashiell Hammett)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Arthur Edeson
EDITOR: Thomas Richards
PRODUCER: Hal B. Wallis (executive producer)
Academy Award nominee

MYSTERY/FILM-NOIR

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George, Peter Lorre, Barton MacLane, Lee Patrick, Sydney Greenstreet, Ward Bond, Jerome Cowan, and Elisha Cook, Jr.

The subject of this movie review is The Maltese Falcon, a 1941 film noir detective film. It is based upon Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 novel of the same name and was the film debut of actor, Sydney Greenstreet, who earned a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for his performance. The Maltese Falcon was also John Huston’s directorial debut and went on to earn a best picture Oscar nomination.

Before the word “thug” entered the popular lexicon via Hip-Hop culture, there were men we could have called “thugs.” If we go by popular rapper Nas’s definition, a thug is “a man who answers to no one.” That describes one of my favorite characters of the golden age of Hollywood, “Bogie,” a popular nickname for that famous actor Humphrey Bogart, to a tee. Bogie was a thug, and he gave the ladies and not-so-lady-like his thug lovin;’ he answered to no man and even used cops to further his own agenda. And in no film is that more evident than in the beautiful and fantastic The Maltese Falcon, one of the great detective dramas and one of the films that created the template for film noir.

After someone kills his associate Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) during a seemingly routine assignment, Samuel “Sam” Spade (Bogart) reasons, “When a man’s partner is killed, he’s supposed to do something about it.” He’s not “all talk,” and is certainly going to do something about the murder of his partner. Along the way of finding the killer, Spade becomes involved in a desperate quest to find and to possess “The Black Bird,” the Maltese Falcon, a legendary treasure so prized that it tangles Spade with some of the most devious and eccentric characters he’s ever faced.

There’s the damsel in distress Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) who first catches Archer’s eye and later Spade’s. Close on her heels is the shifty and effete Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) who always finds himself on the wrong side of slap or a punch even when he has the gun. Finally, there’s “The Fat Man,” Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet) and his tag-along gunman (or “gunsel” as Spade slyly calls him), Wilmer Cook (Elisha Cook, Jr.). Gutman is the main mover and shaker in the scheme to get the Falcon, the man with the most dough and who is a gourmand when it comes to the finer things.

The performances are heightened to a fever pitch, and the actors play their characters with a theatrical flair. Even the dialogue crackles with energy, bite and wit, but it’s all for a good purpose. It adds style and even color to the black and white film. Most of the players fairly drip with deceit and duplicity, but the mack daddy, the playa, is Bogart’s Sam Spade. A crouching tiger and a hidden dragon, he’s always on top even when it seems as if he’s just got the bad end of things. With the ladies, especially Ms. Astor’s Brigid, he’s tough but romantic. He’s world weary, but savvy, and he has an unbreakable code of honor when it comes to his profession as a detective. It’s what drives him through the maze of weird foes and police traps to find his partner’s murderer.

Spade would define the kind of characters Bogart would play for the rest of his career, but even in this highly stylized performance, we can see a man with superior talent and ability to act in front of a movie camera. Both Bogart and his character Spade are intriguing and exciting; let this performance go down as one of the great ones.

The Maltese Falcon was the debut of legendary director and filmmaker John Huston. Although he would continue to do fine and challenging work, Huston caught lightning in a bottle with Falcon. He gave life to a genre of film and a style of filmmaking that continues to influence all of popular culture to this day. It’s a great work, and if you like movies, you should have seen it already.

10 of 10

NOTES:
1942 Academy Awards: 3 nominations: “Best Picture” (Warner Bros.), “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” (Sydney Greenstreet), and “Best Writing, Screenplay” (John Huston)

1989 National Film Preservation Board, USA: National Film Registry

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Review: "Crossfire" is a Timeless Social Film (Remembering Robert Ryan)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 123 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Crossfire (1947)
Running time: 86 minutes (1 hour, 26 minutes)
DIRECTOR: Edward Dmytryk
WRITER: John Paxton (based upon the novel The Brick Foxhole by Richard Brooks)
PRODUCER: Adrian Scott
CINEMATOGRAPHER: J. Roy Hunt (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: Harry Gerstad
COMPOSER: Roy Webb
Academy Award nominee

CRIME/DRAMA/FILM-NOIR

Starring: Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Gloria Grahame, Paul Kelly, Sam Levene, Jacqueline White, Steve Brodie, George Cooper, George Cooper, William Phipps, Tome Keene (as Richard Powers), Lex Barker, and Marlo Dwyer

The subject of this movie review is Crossfire, the 1947 Film-Noir drama and murder mystery from director, Edward Dmytryk. The film earned a best picture Oscar nomination, the first B-movie to receive that honor. Crossfire is based upon Richard Brooks’ 1945, The Brick Foxhole, which dealt with the murder of a homosexual victim. The victim in the film is Jewish.

Edward Dmytryk’s film Crossfire is an excellent crime drama about murder that resulted from unchecked bigotry. The filmed earned five Oscar® nominations including nods for “Best Picture,” and “Best Director.” In the film, police Captain Finlay (Robert Young) is trying to solve the murder of Joseph Samuels (Sam Levene), a man who befriended a group of soldiers at a bar. At first glance, the perpetrator would seem to be the drunk and depressed Cpl. Arthur Mitchell or “Mitch” (George Cooper), as his friends call him. However, Finlay and an Army Sgt. Peter Keeley (Robert Mitchum) believe Samuels was murdered because he was Jewish, so they set about trying to sniff out the anti-Semite who really committed the crime.

The film is very entertaining, and is also a quite-effective mystery. The characters, even the bit players, are excellent, engaging, and intriguing. Robert Ryan earned an Academy Award nomination for his supporting performance as the slyly genial, yet menacing Montgomery. Quite a bit of the credit for this film’s success must be given to the John Paxton’s adaptation of Richard Brooks’ novel. Paxton’s script (which changed the novel’s murder victim from a gay man to a Jewish man) is filled with witty and effective dialogue, most of it brief, yet efficient enough to color and to establish even the smallest character parts.

Dmytryk, a master film craftsman, gives the entire work a finish and polish that makes the film’s defects charming rather than distracting. Crossfire is a movie that has stayed with me, and I often find myself, for a few moments, remembering it.

8 of 10
A

NOTES:
1948 Academy Awards: 5 nominations: “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” (Robert Ryan), “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” (Gloria Grahame), “Best Director” (Edward Dmytryk), “Best Picture” ((RKO Radio), and “Best Writing, Screenplay” (John Paxton)

1949 BAFTA Awards: 1 nomination: “Best Film from any Source” (USA)

1947 Cannes Film Festival: 1 win: “Best Social Film” (Edward Dmytryk)

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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Review: Mitchum Makes "The Night of the Hunter" a Classic (Remembering Robert Mitchum)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 29 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Night of the Hunter (1955) – B&W
Running time: 93 minutes (1 hour, 33 minutes)
DIRECTOR: Charles Laughton
WRITER: James Agee (from the novel Davis Gubb)
PRODUCER: Paul Gregory
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Stanley Cortez
EDITOR: Robert Golden

DRAMA/FILM-NOIR/THIRLLER

Starring: Robert Mitchum, Shelly Winters, Lillian Gish, Billy Chapin, Sally Jane Bruce, James Gleason, Evelyn Varden, Peter Graves, and Don Beddoe

The subject of this movie review is The Night of the Hunter, a 1955 American thriller starring the great actor, Robert Mitchum. The film is directed by Charles Laughton, who reportedly also wrote the film’s screenplay, although James Agee is the credited writer. The Night of the Hunter is based upon the 1953 novel of the same name by Davis Gubb. The film follows a reverend-turned-serial killer who stalks two children to learn a secret he believes they know.

In this Depression-era tale, self-proclaimed preacher, Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum), learns from his cellmate, Ben Harper (Peter Graves), a thief and double murdered condemned to hang from the gallows, that he hid $10,000 in stolen money, and only his two children, John (Billy Chapin) and Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce), know where the loot is. When Powell gets out of prison, he charms Ben’s weak-minded widow, Willa (Shelly Winters), into marrying him. However, the children have made a pact never to reveal the whereabouts of the money, and the mature-beyond-his-years John stubbornly refuses to give into Powell’s threats of bodily harm lest they give up the money. As Powell stalks them, the children take up refuge with the indomitable Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish), an older woman who takes in abandoned and abused children, and so begins an inevitable test of wills between Harry and Rachel for the fate of the Harper children.

The Night of the Hunter is probably one of the scariest Film-Noir motion pictures you’ll ever see. Haunting, eerie, and dreamlike, its hold on the viewer is as relentless as the title character played superbly, with such gusto, and honest-to-God menace by Robert Mitchum. The wedding night scene in which Harry rebuffs Shelly Winters’ Willa Harper simply and definitively says that Mitchum’s Powell is a total asshole. Actually, it’s at that point Winters’ character really begins to register in this film; before that scene, Willa Harper was extraneous. In Mitchum’s scenes with the children, Powell’s demeanor and dishonest piety mark him as an evil shit. However, when he stalks the Harper kids across cinematographer Stanley Cortez’s otherworldly rural landscapes and its seemingly enchanted river, you know that Powell is an all-too-real human murder, even if he takes on a sort of supernatural aura.

In a sense the film is like a fairy tale, some Brothers Grimm tale that taps into primordial fears and bad dreams – young lambs that find that a ravenous wolf has replaced their parents and now stalks them for a prize. There are superb performances by the child actors. Billy Chapin ably becomes the little man that John Harper must become as he takes on the responsibility of both protecting his sister and his father’s legacy, symbolized by the money that Ben Harper stole specifically to make sure his children didn’t go homeless and hungry. It is with bitter irony that it is that same money is the reason Ben’s children end up homeless and hungry. Sally Jane Bruce mixes cuteness, a precocious confidence, and innocence into a unique mixture that allows her to face Harry Powell, to even sit on his lap on occasion.

Lillian Gish’s Rachel Cooper is God’s voice to as Mitchum’s Powell is the bad spirit; she is his exact opposite when it comes to viewing God. While Powell’s God is a hyper vengeful Old Testament deity who allows a madman to roam about killing his human servants, Gish’s Cooper believes in a God who sends children who will do great things into the world – children who will grow into Kings that will in turn save all God’s children.

Some people may be put off by the film’s theatrical style and staging and its religiosity, but that adds a layer of wonderful metaphors and symbols on director Charles Laughton’s otherwise gritty fable. Carefully and deliberately, he shaped The Night of the Hunter into a true classic in the film thrillers genre.

9 of 10
A+

NOTES:
1992 National Film Preservation Board, USA: National Film Registry

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Review: "Sunset Boulevard" is a Hollywood Classic (Happy B'day, William Holden)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 80 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

Sunset Blvd. (1950) – Black & White
Running time: 110 minutes (1 hour, 50 minutes)
DIRECTOR: Billy Wilder
WRITERS: Charles Brackett, D.M. Marshman, Jr., and Billy Wilder
PRODUCER: Charles Brackett
CINEMATOGRAPHER: John F. Seitz
EDITOR: Arthur Schmidt
COMPOSER: Franz Waxman
Academy Award winner

DRAMA/FILM-NOIR

Starring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olson, Fred Clark, Lloyd Gough, Jack Webb, and Cecil B. DeMille

The subject of this movie review is Sunset Boulevard, the 1950 Film-Noir from director Billy Wilder. The film follows an unsuccessful screenwriter drawn into the fantasy world of a faded silent movie star who dreams of a big screen comeback. Sunset Boulevard, named for the boulevard that runs through Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, California, is widely accepted as one of the greatest films of American cinema.

Joe Gillis (William Holden) was a struggling, journeyman screenwriter in late 1940’s Hollywood. Recently deceased, he begins to narrate the final months of his life. He only has a few films to his credit – B-movies, and he’s a few months behind on both his rent and car payment; in fact, two repo men are tracking him to take his car. Chance takes him into the driveway of a humongous old mansion (an actual mansion once owned by Jean Paul Getty) built at the height of the silent film era.

There, he meets the owner, faded silent film star, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). After a bit of a rocky start to their relationship, Norma hires Joe to help edit a long script she has penned for what she firmly believes will be her comeback film, a movie directed by her old collaborator, director Cecil B. DeMille (playing himself). As the work progresses, however, Norma draws ever so closer to Joe and becomes more dependent on him for support during this trying (for her) time, but her neediness and passionate obsession engulfs him in its fiery throes.

Sunset Blvd. or Sunset Boulevard is famed writer/director Billy Wilder’s ode to the decadence of old, old, Hollywood – the silent film era, and it is am unblinking look at the people on the periphery of Hollywood filmmaking – journeyman (or hack) writers, assistant directors, script readers, and other second and third string behind-the-camera people and studio foot soldiers. Not many individual elements of this film can be called great, with the exception of Holden’s narration, his screen performance, and the film’s art direction and set decoration. The screenplay also daringly tackled the less glamorous side of filmmaking from various angles, and that was groundbreaking.

The magic in Sunset Blvd. is how everything comes together. William Holden’s narration combined with John Seitz’s sultry black and white photography create a film-noir edge that is riveting and engages the audience like a championship wrestler. Billy Wilder’s patient direction seems to slowly gather up all the ingredients, allowing them to blend into a haunting tale of obsession and the ravenous hunger to regain what was lost.

Gloria Swanson’s performance strikes the right note, for the most part, but the performance often seems like it’s too much, annoying even. The truth of the matter is that Ms. Swanson is all surface, and she never gets to the bottom or to the meat of the character; there is no real history or reason why behind her. Gloria Swanson becomes more hysterical as the film advances toward the conclusion; Norman Desmond becomes more pathetic than sympathetic, and that hurts the storytelling. As good as the film is and as good as things come together progressively, about three-quarters of the last hour are redundant.

William Holden’s Joe Gillis, on the other hand, is a great character. Holden creates a man who has no pretensions and has accepted the idea that he’s a hack. He can deal with being a failure without falling apart or feeling like a failure. He’s an extraordinary ordinary Joe. While it’s true that Gillis and Desmond know they need each other, but are either too caught up in himself (or herself) or are blind except for his or her own need, Gillis is a reasonable voice to tell this peculiar story. There is something that keeps me coming back to this near perfect gem, and I think it is Holden. He embodies the thing this film is trying to be (about unrequited want), and his achievement is what we call movie magic.

9 of 10
A+

NOTES:
1951 Academy Awards: 3 wins: “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White” (Hans Dreier, John Meehan, Sam Comer, and Ray Moyer), “Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture” (Franz Waxman), and “Best Writing, Story and Screenplay” (Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, and D.M. Marshman Jr.); 8 nominations: “Best Picture” ((Paramount), “Best Director” (Billy Wilder), “Best Actor in a Leading Role” (William Holden), “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” (Erich von Stroheim), “Best Actress in a Leading Role” (Gloria Swanson), “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” (Nancy Olson), “Best Cinematography, Black-and-White” (John F. Seitz), and “Best Film Editing” (Arthur P. Schmidt and Doane Harrison)

1951 Golden Globes: 4 wins: “Best Motion Picture – Drama,” “Best Motion Picture Actress – Drama” (Gloria Swanson), “Best Motion Picture Director” (Billy Wilder), and “Best Motion Picture Score” (Franz Waxman); 3 nominations: “Best Cinematography - Black and White” (John F. Seitz), “Best Screenplay” (Charles Brackett, D.M. Marshman Jr., and Billy Wilder), and “Best Supporting Actor” (Erich von Stroheim)

1989 National Film Preservation Board, USA: “National Film Registry”

May 23, 2005

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