Steve reviews and (slightly) critiques the PRC classic noir, DETOUR.
In a 1954 interview Jean Renoir said of Hollywood: “Don’t go thinking that I despise “B” pictures; in general I like them better than big, pretentious psychological films they’re much more fun. When I happen to go to the movies in America, I go see ‘B’ pictures. First of all, they are an expression of the great technical quality of Hollywood. Because, to make a good western in a week, the way they do at Monogram, starting Monday and finishing Saturday, believe me, that requires extraordinary technical ability; and detective stories are done with the same speed. I also think that “B” pictures are often better than important films because they are made so fast that the filmmaker obviously has total freedom; they don’t have time to watch over him.”
Raymond Chandler in 1948 in an acid essay on the Oscars, and 20 years before Pauline Kael wrote ‘Trash, Art, and the Movies’, framed his critique by saying of the motion picture “that its transitions can be more eloquent than its high-lit scenes, and that its dissolves and camera movements, which cannot be censored, are often far more emotionally effective than its plots, which can.” Though he didn’t spell it out it, Chandler was clearly highlighting the artistic choices made by the director of a film.
Not until the 1950s did the enfants terribles of Le Cahiers du Cinema develop the insights broached by Chandler. American film academic and writer Justus Nieland in a piece foreshadowing tonight’s Oscars titled ‘Auteurism and the Genius of the Market’ and published last week in The New York Times, writes:
“This logic of aesthetic judgment, in which films and their directors mutually ratify each other’s greatness has, of course, auteurist roots. The word persists today because a group of film critics in the 1950s hashed out a “politique des auteurs” that discerned, among the industrial products of American mass culture, signatures of a presiding, singular artist like Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, Fritz Lang or Nicholas Ray, among others. This Romantic view of expression, with its abiding myths of freedom, style and personality, sought to solve the problem of how industrially produced and distributed mass entertainment might also be art. But auteurism was also a category of reception, allowing cinephiles to sift and sort, and value and hierarchize, the films and directors to which they had access. In France and elsewhere in the 1950s, that meant seeing Hollywood cinema as a cultural sign of the economic and political power of the U.S… If the Oscars are important, then the best director award is the most important not just because it rewards the work of gifted nominees (and this year’s are an estimable bunch), but because the name of the director remains, for better and worse, contemporary film culture’s way of organizing knowledge about film artistry and its relation to markets and consumers. This says as much about what persists in our fantasies of aesthetic agency as it does about the strategies of the corporate present that shape, and limit, our power to discern the best.”
Hollywood ‘B’ movies of the 40s and 50s were production line ‘filler’. But for the reasons identified by Renoir and Chandler, and despite being made quickly and on the cheap, they sometimes transcended their humble aims and by virtue of the craft and artistry (of mostly journeymen film-makers) made a claim to being considered as art.
One such ‘B’ movie is The Killer is Loose made in 1956 by United Artists and directed by Budd Boetticher, who after completing this film went on to make six cult Westerns that established his auteur status.
The Killer is Loose is not a great movie nor is it even particularly good. The plot is by this late stage of the classic noir cycle more of the same police procedural that noir largely devolved into as the War years receded. A gormless war veteran working as a bank teller provides inside information for a heist, and when he is cornered by police in his apartment and his innocent wife is accidently shot dead by a police detective in the shootout that ensues, swears vengeance on the wife of the cop. After a couple of years he escapes from detention and heads onto a bloody path to the cop’s wife. The climax is a stakeout at night in suburbia.
Strong performances from Wendell Corey as the disturbed killer and Joseph Cotton as the cop, and Rhonda Fleming as the hapless wife, don’t quite overcome the inertia of the scenario and plot-holes that most likely derive from keeping the running time to 73 minutes. The score is dramatic in the wrong places, better dialog is not hard to find, and the ending is predictable but what unshackles the movie is the consummate direction and editing. Strong depth of field outside and long fluid takes inside. The climax is a master-class in editing for suspense. Even daylight scenes have a tension that subverts otherwise normal life in the suburbs. A journey on a crowded brightly bus at night holds a palpable existential terror.
In November last year The New Yorker film critic Rich Brody named the recent archive release of the The Killer is Loose as his DVD of the Week, writing that “Boetticher… saw violence everywhere and was sensitive to its ambient horrors, even when unleashed with principle. This movie, with its focus on crime and punishment—and on the private lives of police officers and criminals alike—redefines the very idea of the war at home.”
Brody’s video review of The Killer is Loose is featured below.
My top 25 films noir by year of release. Ranking them would be arbitrary as there is little if anything between them. For my full listing of essential films noir click here.
|Port of Shadows||1938 France||Aka Le Quai des brumes. Fate a dank existential fog ensnares doomed lovers Jean Gabin and Michèle Morgan after one night of happiness.|
|The Maltese Falcon||1941 US||Bogart as Sam Spade the quintessential noir protagonist. A loner on the edge of polite society, sorely tempted to transgress but declines and is neither saved nor redeemed.|
|Double Indemnity||1944 US||All the elements of the archetypal film noirare distilled into a gothic LA tale of greed, sex, and betrayal.|
|Murder, My Sweet||1944 US||(Aka Farewell, my Lovely) The most noir fun you will ever have. Raymond Chandler’s prose crackles with moody noir direction from Edward Dmytryk.|
|The Big Sleep||1946 US||Love’s Vengeance Lost. Darker than Dmytryk’s Murder, My Sweet. Bogart is tougher, more driven, and morally suspect.|
|Ride the Pink Horse||1946 US||Disillusioned WW2 vet arrives in a New Mexico town to blackmail a war racketeer. Imbued with a rare humanity.|
|Body and Soul||1947 US||A masterwork. Melodramatic expose of the fight game and a savage indictment of money capitalism. Garfield’s picture.|
|Out of the Past||1947 US||Quintessential film noir. Inspired direction, exquisite expressionist cinematography, and legendary Mitchum and Greer.|
|The Lady From Shanghai||1947 US||Orson Welles’ brilliant jigsaw noir with a femme-fatale to die for and a script so sharp you relish every scene.|
|T-Men||1947 US||Mann and Alton offer a visionary descent into a noir realm of dark tenements, nightclubs, mobsters, and hellish steam baths.|
|Act of Violence||1948 US||Long-shot and deep focus climax filmed night-for-night on a railway platform: the stuff noirs are made of.|
|Force of Evil||1948 US||Polonsky transcends noir in a tragic allegory on greed and family. Garfield adds signature honesty and gritty complexity .|
|Raw Deal||1948 US||Sublime noir from Anthony Mann and John Alton. Knockout cast in a strong story stunningly rendered as expressionist art.|
|The Set-Up||1949 US||Robert Ryan is great as washed-up boxer in Robert Wise’ sharp expose of the fight game. Brooding and intense noir classic.|
|The Third Man||1949 UK||Sublime. An engaging cavalcade of characters in a human comedy of love, friendship, and the imperatives of conscience.|
|Night And the City||1950 US/UK||Dassin’s stark existential journey played out in the dark dives of post-war London as a quintessential noir city.|
|The Asphalt Jungle||1950 US||Quintessential heist movie transcends melodrama and noir. A police siren wails: “Sounds like a soul in hell.”|
|On Dangerous Ground||1951 US||City cop battling inner demons is sent to ‘Siberia’. A film of dark beauty and haunting characterisations.|
|The Prowler||1951 US||Van Heflin is homme-fatale in Tumbo thriller. Director Losey is unforgiving. Each squalid act is suffocatingly framed.|
|The Big Heat||1953 US||Gloria Grahame as existential hero in Fritz Lang’s brooding socio-realist noir critique.|
|Kiss Me Deadly||1955 US||Anti-fascist Hollywood Dada. Aldrich’s surreal noir a totally weird yet compelling exploration of urban paranoia.|
|Rififi||1955 France||Dassin’s classic heist thriller culminating in the terrific final scenes of a car desperately careening through Paris streets.|
|The Big Combo||1955 US||“I live in a maze… a strange blind backward maze’. Obsessed cop hunts down a psychotic crime boss in the best noir of 50s.|
|Sweet Smell of Success||1957 US||DP James Wong Howe’s sharpest picture. As bracing as vinegar and cold as ice. Ambition stripped of all pretense.|
|Odds Against Tomorrow||1959 US||A work of art from Rober Wise. New York City and its industrial fringe are quasi-protagonists that harbor the angst and desperation of life outside the mainstream – sordid dreams of the last big heist that will fix everything.|
Dementia (1955 aka Daughter of Horror 57min)
Director/Writer – John Parker
Cinematography – William C. Thompson
Music – George Antheil
I’m sure the 50’s hep-cats and ‘seasoned’ film-noir enthusiasts among you will already know of this film. Nevertheless for a greenhorn like myself, I find it damn near impossible to simply watch something like Dementia and not say a few words about it; even if it is just to confirm, through the reader’s feedback, whether or not I’m clueless as to what defines art, missing the point all together, or that I’m simply a weirdo!
Dementia (or as it was later changed to: Daughter of Horror) is a very stylish and strange short film (ca. 57 mins) from deep within the archives of the 50’s avant-garde b-movies. In fact, most movie-buffs may know it more as the film being watched in the cinema, during that famous scene in the 50’s cult-classic, The Blob, rather than a movie of any cinematic significance. In fact, it’s believed that it was Jack H. Harris, producer of The Blob, who eventually bought the film from Parker and added the narration, renaming the movie Daughter Of Horror. This would make complete sense as Harris could then feature it in The Blob without hindrance. And the added narration, which can be heard in the background during The Blob’s famous cinema scene, serves well to intensify the suspense as The Blob approaches the screaming kids. Even the name ‘Daughter of Horror’ seems like it was added with The Blob in mind, as a poster for ‘Daughter of Horror’, and not ‘Dementia’, can also be seen for a split second during that scene.
This mostly ‘silent’, black and white film opens with a high-angle, night-time shot of a neon-lit street, when, after being invited by the narrator to come with him, ”into the tormented, haunted, half-lit night of the insane”, we are drawn slowly through an open window into a young lady’s bedroom, á la Orson Welles. On the bed lies the sleeping beauty squirming and clutching her bed-sheet tightly. Is she having a nightmare… or an erotic dream? Of this the audience is kept guessing, and from here on in, the tone is set for a private view into the young lady’s twisted and perverse psyche. After wakening from her dream-state, she takes a flick-knife from the drawer and ventures out onto the streets, where she encounters all forms of low-lives, debauchery and sexual depravity, all tied together by hallucination sequences that even have the viewer questioning ‘what is reality/ what is fantasy?’.
Although the film has strong ‘noirish’ elements (lighting, street scenes, atmosphere etc), it’s intrinsically expressionist in nature. Very reminiscent of works by German expressionist film-maker, Robert Wiene (The Cabinet of Dr Caligari). Though I’m sure French Impressionist aficionados will argue with this. And they would have every right to, as the film (whether intentional or not) also pays homage to the early, experimental works of the great Luis Buñuel. Either way, this will put into context for you, that this isn’t your average Sunday-afternoon matinee, but rather a performance art concept masqueraded as a film-noir. It also fits into the horror bracket. Although as a horror it struggles to hit its mark. Throw in some very jazzy underground scenes featuring the legendary West Coast jazz ensemble, Shorty Rogers and His Giants, (which along with the narrators voice and a some sound effects are the only sounds you hear, as the film has no spoken dialogue from the actors whatsoever) and you have yourselves a compelling and ambitious ‘Art-Noir’ film (eventually favouring this term over ‘Beatnik-Noir’!) that needs to be seen to be appreciated.
For those brave enough to give Dementia a chance, and once you get over the initial feeling that your watching an Ed Wood movie, you’ll be pleasantly surprised as to how skilfully director John Parker manages to pull off a project which, on paper, you’d swear was doomed from the start. Personally, I loved Dementia. But like I said at the beginning of this review, maybe I’m just a weirdo!
Alan Fassioms writes on film noir, expressionist cinema, and obscure silent films at his web site Dodgy Revolver, and you can follow him on Twitter.
British film-maker David Beazley is seeking financing for a new film noir short, The Man In The Chair, a dark comedy about an out of work lawyer who lands a client – one problem though – the client is a dead man.
Beazley’s work has been screened at film festivals, including the London Film Festival, Raindance, Edinburgh, San Francisco, Soho Shorts, Palm Springs & the European Film Festivals, and his documentary short, ‘Gravediggers’, was nominated for Best Short Documentary at the 2013 Sheffield Doc Fest. He has produced and directed commercial & music videos for Red Bull, Robbie William’s Farrell, Brora, Clarks, Tinie Tempah, Bryan Ferry, Above & Beyond, and Metronomy. His film portfolio is featured at http://ift.tt/1mGe25g.
You can check out the project at Kickstart. Only six days before the funding window closes, so if you have the inclination – and the readies – start clicking. Forty backers have already pledged £2,419 towards the goal of £3,000.
Coming as a big surprise to me, the forgotten gem Riot in Cell Block 11 is being released by Criterion on DVD soon.
The film is a semi-documentary noir released in the early 1950s. The film documents a fictional riot at the famous California prison, Folsom.
The film has none of the dramatic shadows found in classic noir. It’s shot like a documentary. No showy camera angles. But don’t let the films look — or its lack of stars keep you from seeing it. It’s one of a kind.
Directer Don Siegel was still years away from becoming Eastwood’s mentor and the director of slick 70s and 80s big-budget productions. Some film historians will tell you he made his mark in the 70s while learning his craft in the 40s and 50s. I think they might be wrong. Siegel directed some of the best noir — many of which we’ve showcased here. They were Noir of the Week selections not because of the director, but because the films are just so good. The locked-room mystery The Verdict (1946), Mitchum’s The Big Steal (1949), Count the Hours (1953), Ida Lupino in Private Hell #36 (1956), and Eli Wallach in The Lineup (1958) have all been written about here. All are outstanding. Those titles could put Siegel up there with some of the best noir directors. And I didn’t even mention the still-imitated but never topped sci-fi noir Invasion of the Body Snatchers!
Riot in Cell Block 11 is a story ripped from today’s headlines. It begins like other semi-documentary noirs with newsreel footage over a booming voice. The footage shows prison riots around the country.
The Folsom riot is started after mistreatment of prisoners. The combination of no-name actors and actual prisoners and prison personnel give the film a real feel. And it’s shot on location.
My only criticism of the movie is they downplayed some of the horrors of prison life. The filmmakers do a bit of a soft shoe and doesn’t show any real brutality. It’s certainly not hopeful like Shawshank Redemption, but it’s surprising the film doesn’t get into corruption or some of the real problems facing prisoners back then. Surprising because the producer just spent some real hard time in lockup.
Producer Walter Wagner just got out of jail after serving four months for shooting his wife’s “paramour.” His wife? None other than Joan (The Woman in the Window) Bennett. Wagner was a wildly successful producer but financial woes after starting his own production company and, yeah, shooting a guy end all the good times for a while. When he was released in ’51 he managed to secure a 5-million dollar deal with Allied Artists and made the modest Riot in Cell Block 11.
Like many noirs, sometimes the story behind the film is as interesting as the movie. Not only did Wagner just get out of jail, but one of his stars also did some real hard time. Leo Gordon served a stretch in San Quentin for armed robbery. Legend has it Gordon was strip searched by prison guards every day he showed up for shooting Riot in Cell Block 11. Guards knew his reputation as a prisoner in San Quentin. Siegel called him, “The scariest man he ever met!” He’s the guy in the trailer in a tank top flipping a knife into a guy’s chest.
|Leo Gordon threatens Whit Bissell in Riot in Cell Block 11|
Western and noir fans will recognize Neville Brand from DOA and countless oaters, Emile Meyer is the prison warden, Frank Faylen — the cabbie in It’s a Wonderful Life — makes an appearance, and timid Whit Bissell — of all people — as the sadistic screw.
But most will recognize none and just enjoy a gritty, brutal film with a bittersweet but highly appropriate ending. Audiences did in the 1950s as this film played in theaters for years after it’s release.
By the way, you may confuse this film with the other Folsom prison movie, 1951′s Inside the Walls of Folsom with Steve Cochran. The earlier film is the first to be filmed in the famous lock up — and Johnny Cash’s inspiration. It’s a Warner Bros. film and has much more of the traditional noir style than Riot in Cell Block 11. It also shows Folsom as a harsher, scarier place. It — not unlike the great Brute Force — shows the prisoners in a much more positive light than the guards and warden. Maybe when it came down to making another movie at Folsom prison officials made it clear that they wanted the production team to tone it down. Even so, Riot in Cell Block 11 is the better of the two films and a worthwhile choice by Criterion.
written by Steve-o
comment below or in the Back Alley
Two very talented film-makers from the UK, Robin Hudson and Stuart Albone, have recently released a compelling neo-noir short titled AnnA. Filmed on location in Brighton and London, the elliptical story centers on a young night-club singer and her descent into a real or imagined crisis. In some ways the scenario is reminiscent of the dream imagery in Maya Deren’s classic short Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)
The production values are very impressive, with all round solid direction, photography, and editing, Some technical work has been deftly done, and a minimalist score works well too. An interesting and sexy protagonist with the nice use of voice-over draws you in, and the mystery keeps you interested.
Here is the YouTube video. Highly recommended.
from film noir http://filmsnoir.net/film_noir/anna-new-neo-noir-short-from-britain.html
Much like Shed No Tears (1948), Don’t Gamble With Strangers is a film that was long considered lost by most film noir aficionados. An official release on home video was non-existent, and bootleg copies were nowhere to be found, even among the most dedicated collectors. Then, earlier this year, thanks to the fine folks at the Warner Archive Collection, the film finally made its quiet debut on DVD, sourced from a high quality print. Yet the film remains largely unknown. As of this writing, it has garnered only 11 scored votes from registered users of the Internet Movie Database. (To put that number in context, Guilty Bystander (1950), another largely forgotten noir that still has no official home video release, has almost ten times the number of votes.) Despite its recent DVD release, the film is still flying under the radar in noir circles.
All of this begs the question: does Don’t Gamble With Strangers deserve the cold shoulder? Or is this Poverty Row programmer ripe for rediscovery?
The film opens in a game room of a boat at sea, where Fay Benton (Bernadene Hayes) is working a poker table, feigning the role of a ditzy, I’m-so-new-at-this, oh-look-did-I-win-another-hand blonde. She’s about to move in for her biggest score of the night when a suave newcomer (Kane Richmond) sits down at the table, stacks the deck, bottom deals an ace to himself, bets up the pot, and wipes everyone—including Fay—out. Fay knows another card shark when she sees one, so after the game, she tracks him down and finds out his real identity—Mike Sarno, a legendary card shark. She suggests they team up, and while he initially refuses, it’s not long before they’ve cooked up a brother/sister backstory and are working the clubs, cleaning out the suckers.
While in the midst of one of their gambling trips, they come across a new mark: John Randall (Frank Dae). The wealthy older man takes a shine to Fay, who lets him win a few hands of gin at Mike’s direction. Randall invites both of them to his hometown, Lakeside, where Mike says they’re already headed—much to Fay’s surprise. As it turns out, Mike’s brother is collecting dust in the slammer for embezzlement, and Mike wants to find out where he stashed the dough. He gets the dirt from his brother by promising to dole out the dirty money to his impoverished wife and daughter, but instead, he keeps most of it for himself to fund his gambling habit.
In quite the plot contrivance, Mike’s old gambling partner, Morelli (Phil Van Zandt), is running an illegal gambling club on the outskirts of Lakeside, and Mike is there to settle a score. Morelli once skipped town and left Mike holding the bag, so in return, Mike strong-arms Morelli out of the club and takes over, while simultaneously wooing Ruth (Gloria Warren), a local heiress, away from Bob Randall, John’s son and the local assistant district attorney. Since Fay is under the impression that she and Mike are more than just gambling partners, this obviously doesn’t sit well with her. As Mike makes more and more enemies in his ruthless pursuit of money, it isn’t long before someone ends up dead, and since everyone has something to hide, there’s no shortage of suspects.
At 67 minutes, Don’t Gamble With Strangers moves at a nice, brisk pace, rolling out plot developments at a speed that always keeps things interesting. The film’s economy of plot should come as no surprise to those who recognize the director, the legendary William “One Shot” Beaudine, who directed hundreds of films and television episodes—including the notorious sex ed film Mom and Dad (1945) and the fantastically titled Black Market Babies (1945)—and earned his nickname by shooting his films so quickly that he rarely shot a second take. As a Monogram cheapie, the film’s budgetary limitations are obvious—the film was shot almost entirely on simple interior sets—but Beauline finds creative ways to work around his low budget and keep the film engaging, such as the hole card reveals in the film’s opening scene. The performances range from serviceable to good, and while the ending is a bit of a head-scratcher—it’s either completely nonsensical or a sly subversion of the Hays Code’s mandate that evil must be punished (in all likelihood, it’s the former)—the film is never boring. For noir fans and Poverty Row enthusiasts that have yet to see it, Don’t Gamble With Strangers comes recommended.
from Film Noir of the Week http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/filmnoiroftheweek/~3/b5Vfdd4G6Gc/much-like-shed-no-tears-dont-gamble.html