Written by / 1/13/2014 / No comments / , , , ,

ANOTHER BLOODY BAGFUL OF FILM NOIR

year: 1949 rating: ***1/2
In our next bloody bagful, we take an eclectic mix of crime melodramas that are edgy and intentionally uncomfortable, stylish and serious and sometimes even humorous...

TENSION It's always uncomfortably enjoyable seeing a put-upon husband dealing with a cheating wife, who, in this particular case, isn't exactly sneaking around. She's right out in the open with her infidelity, and this would seem to snuff out any suspense, but not when murder is involved. In the second half, after our weak antagonist, who took another identity to carry through the perfect crime, fails at his mission... When a sappy love-interest climbs on board, and as the cops move in to figure things out... the plot weaves around in too many circles, but no matter... this is an enjoyably addictive maze. Especially the first half: plotting a murder that we, the audience, really want to see work because the vulnerable anti-hero, played by Richard Basehart, really wants to make it happen. 

year: 1955 rating: **1/2
THE PHENIX CITY STORY: The first fifteen minutes has interviews with actual townies from Phenix, Alabama. While a bit creepy, contrived and downright boring, these people counter-balance the melodramatic "fictional" story involving a group of semi-interesting characters (portrayed by very capable actors), all adding their own twists and turns for the first half, fleshing out a corrupt town with good guys and bad guys, and lawyer John McIntire caught in the middle.

It's the second half, where the villains go around knocking heads and killing people, where things go downhill: simply because there's nothing else to build: This is one of director Martin Scorsese's favorite Film Noirs, selected to be part of a box set that can be found online.

1950 rating: ***
DIAL 1119: Nice set up has a young man who, when he sees a particular thing, gets in a very dark mood and wants to kill... But he doesn't always.

There's something holding him back. Perhaps the same thing that's setting him loose. This brooding, dangerous youngster ends up at a bar where we already know all its inhabitants, including gruff but likable bartender William Conrad, an off-duty newspaperman and a sexy lush...

And when the bloodthirsty cops, and one sympathetic psychologist, close in the kid takes hostages. At this point things glide along nicely, yet predictably, as the film, very Noirish in buildup, ends up more of a melodramatic stage play yet still pretty decent overall.

year: 1950 rating: ***1/2
SIDE STREET: Although Farely Granger, as a rookie mailman, acts a bit too guilty about doing the wrong thing aka thieving from the mob... this action-packed melodrama races around with a heart pounding pace. 

Even the cops allow Granger to be in harm's way as he struggles his way into, then out of, what is sure to be an inevitable death. 

Corny segments involving his beautiful wife and newborn baby in the hospital dulls the edgy rhythm, but are needed to legitimize our hero's initial reason, and then overall shame, for stealing in the first place.

year: 1941 rating: **1/2
SUSPICION: Every woman's dream: to marry Cary Grant (or a man who resembles him), soon turns into her worst nightmare... He's a lazy, bullying, gold-digging loser who might also be a killer. 

Alfred Hitchcock, who has his own style of Noir that often exceeds the beloved genre, plays tongue and cheek with ease and has Grant, practically winking at the audience, as his partner-in-crime... More of a parody of the film's title than a suspenseful yarn embodying it, SUSPICION, while a bit silly for its own good, is still fun and somewhat involving, Monkeyface.

year: 1947 rating: ***1/2
DESPERATE: This would seem a cookie-cutter crime melodrama involving good husband/independent trucker, Steve Brodie, framed for a cop's murder he didn't commit... 

But how the crime's pulled off, how our innocent hero's thrown into it, and how the dark-lit warehouse scenes are filmed, involving Raymond Burr and his shady henchman, makes up for the generic journey as Brodie and his pregnant wife seek shelter in a rural town... till sinister forces catch up. And the final showdown involves a suspenseful fifteen minutes (owned by Burr) leading to midnight: when someone has to pay.

year: 1950 rating: *****
NIGHT AND THE CITY: "Don't look surprised at anything that happens", says hustler Richard Widmark as he's about to land the con of his fleet-footed career. And that's exactly the way to watch this movie; let nothing surprise you and everything amaze you. 

Although dialogue-spouting Widmark is the centerpiece, the ensemble cast, including Franics L. Sullivan, Googie Withers, Herbert Lom and Stanislaus Sbyszko, are all of equal importance. 

One scene in particular, as an aging wrestler (Sbyszko, the father of chief mobster Lom) wrestles a flash-in-the-pan lughead, might be the greatest "sport" scene ever filmed. In fact, from start to finish, this is a brilliantly-paced, non-stop game of cat-and-mouse: Widmark the cat, attempting to make it big in the fight game despite the odds, and the city his mouse. Meanwhile, a few lurking snakes, including Lom as the most venomous (protecting his father whom he feels Widmark's exploiting) control everything. But what works most is what we don't see: the forces moving in on our fast-talking anti-hero, frantically keeping one step ahead of fate.

year: 1958 rating: ***
ACT OF VIOLENCE: Begins tense and spooky as family man/war veteran Van Helflin is stalked by a limping, mysterious Robert Ryan, followed from his suburban home to a rural fishing spot and back home again. 

Then we eventually learn the reason why Heflin's being hunted in the first place... something having to do with a Nazi concentration camp, an edgy tale more interesting than this post-war melodrama that should have kept us in the dark a while longer. 

As Ryan's character gains more humanity he, with the help of a put-upon girlfriend, becomes less interesting. It's the first half, with all the murky shadows and mystery, that feels a lot more Noir.

year: 1947 rating: ****1/2
KISS OF DEATH: This is a classic study in fear mainly because of two memorable scenes, one of Richard Widmark, as a creepy, giggling thug, shoving a wheelchair-bound woman down a staircase. 

The other where Widmark and the main character, played by Victor Mature as an imprisoned thief who, to protect his children, "rats" on his former partners-in-crime, have a few drinks. Thus the audience, and main character, realize two things: Mature's family is in peril and there are absolutely no bounds when it comes to Widmark's Tommy Udo who, as one of the great cinematic villains, becomes even more of a formidable threat off-screen.

year: 1952 rating; ***1/2
THE SNIPER: Most of this film, centering on a sniper who kills women, is wonderfully executed (pun intended) but only as we center on the gunman himself as he goes from one hit to the next, led by various "dames" who bring the nasty out in him. 

Along the way he leaves subtle clues to the police who, only used sparingly in the first half, then become too important as the death scenes shorten or vanish and we only hear about the killings from the cops who, along with a psychologist, dissect each remaining murder with plodding dialogue...

The wordy pontification replaces the violence that might have been too much for audiences at that time. Although when this movie works, it works wonderfully. Arthur Franz as the sniper is excellent, as is the taut, disturbing direction by Edward Dmytryk. AND FOR THE FIRST BLOODY BAGFUL OF FILM NOIR, CLICK HERE.
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