New Noir News AnnA: New Neo-Noir Short from Britain

AnnA AnnA: New Neo Noir Short from Britain

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.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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New post from our friends at Film Noir of the Week:Don’t Gamble With Strangers (1946)

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.

Written by Nighthawk
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New Noir News Guest Post: Alan Fassioms on Uncovering The Mysteries Of The Origins Of Film Noir

TheLastLaugh Guest Post: Alan Fassioms on Uncovering The Mysteries Of The Origins Of Film Noir

The plots and subtexts of Expressionist films often dealt with “intellectual” topics such as madness, insanity, betrayal, and humiliation, as we see here in a still from F.W. Murnau’s 1924 silent classic Der Letze Mann (aka The Last Laugh)

After some encouragement from my Film Noir-loving comrades, I’ve decided not to be modest about my enthusiasm for Film Noir and to share this with you.

Recently I became slightly obsessed with the origins of Film Noir, of which I knew very little about, so decided to do some digging. Boy, did I ever underestimate the incredible journey that I was about to embark upon. It was a journey of discovery that took me through the mysteriously dark, yet compelling archives of silent horror movies, to early divas that shaped the mould for our beloved femme fatales (one of two for whom I developed a slightly unsettling school-boy crush), to the meaning of Pre-Code and the realisation of just how much freedom these early film pioneers were permitted in expressing themselves in the most imaginative ways. The results were often horrific, shocking, slightly perverse and even upsetting to watch sometimes, yet compelling to the end. Nevertheless, they had in common the fact that they were stylish, sexy, incredibly intellectual, and possessed of a charm that would make a grown man weep at their sheer, simple beauty.

I feel that it would be unfair to keep this treasure to myself, and so would like to share it with those yet to discover the mysteries of Film Noir’s origins. I use the term ‘treasure’ deliberately because the journey of discovery into this world is exactly that: a treasure hunt; identifying clues along the way that will lead you further and further back into cinematic history. My own personal treasure-hunt led me as far back as the mid 1910’s. But even here I had the distinct impression that the blueprint for what would later become known as Film Noir, had already been well established.

So you can call this little write-up a map of sorts, if you decide to take on the case! On the way you may encounter the very first femme fatales. You’ll then exuberate: “Oh, wait a minute. Ah, now I see where that came from”. I saw my first fatale in a 1913 German silent  titled Der Student Von Prag (The Student of Prague) directed by Stellan Rye and Paul Wegener. She was quite tame, and not as ‘naughty’ as her counter-part in the 1926 remake of the same name. But still she was distinctly present and up to no good. If you do decide to do some digging yourselves, I would suggest going down the ‘availability’ route, as so much early material has been lost. If you can get hold of anything pre 1930 from any of the following directors, you’ve found yourself a gem and another piece of the puzzle: Fritz Lang; F.W. Marnau; Robert Wiene; and Josef von Sternberg. A good starting point is Fritz Lang’s masterpiece M (1931) and then work your way back through the 1920’s and before.

Alternatively, you may consider yourself a bit of a maverick like me and think, “To hell with that. I’m going to start with material from as far back as I can possibly find and end with M. That makes more sense to me”, then bravo and good luck. That’s a tougher route because you may spend all your time looking for the door to the treasure chamber when you could be inside looking at the treasure itself. But it does indeed make more sense to do it that way starting with The Student of Prague (aka A Bargain with Satan) from 1913. Last I looked, it was available on YouTube. If you can’t find the original version, the 1926 remake, (aka The Man Who Cheated Life) directed by Henrik Galeem, which is just as important as its predecessor. Many critics claim it’s even better, but that’s for you to decide. These silent classic will be your Stranger on a Train pushing forward or back in time.

Obviously none of these films are listed as Film Noir, but rather as horror films, thrillers, crimes or dramas. They are almost all silent films and mostly German (or directed by Germans in Hollywood).

Your assistants on this journey will be YouTube, Amazon, Wikipedia, IMDB and a multitude of online streaming sites. Finally, here are a few clues to get you started. Beware there is a red-herring among them!

  • German Expressionism (this is a massive clue!)
  • Caligari
  • Eliza La Porta
  • Nosferatu
  • Metropolis
  • Hitchcock
  • Hermann Warm
  • Weimar era
  • Walt Disney
  • George Wilhelm Pabst
  • Louise Brooks
  • Leopold Jessner
  • “An azure-colored celestial being”
  • Paul Wegener

Good luck. I envy you – especially if you have not yet made the acquaintance of Louise Brooks!

Alan Fassioms is freelance writer and  self-confessed “film noir addict”. You can folllow Alan attwitter.com/DodgyRevolver

 

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New post from our friends at Film Noir of the Week:Floods of Fear (1958)

This is a UK production set in the American Northeast during a rather nasty flood. A group of convicts are put to work reinforcing a levee with sandbags. The levee however gives way and everyone is sweep into the rushing waters. Two convicts, Howard Keel, Cyril Cusack and an injured guard, Harry Corbett all make it to safety. They are joined by local, Anne Heywood. The four take shelter from the rising waters on the top floor of Heywood’s home.

Keel immediately starts building a raft. He has no intention of returning to prison. He has murder on his mind. Keel got a life sentence for murdering his business partner, John Crawford’s wife. The two had been having an affair and when she had turned up dead, all the evidence pointed at Keel. Crawford and Keel had been partners in a river tug outfit located just down the river.

Corbett does his best to protect the girl Heywood, from the unwanted attentions of the oily Cusack. Cusack arms himself with a large blade and hints that Corbett will get his soon. Keel finally gets his raft done only to have Corbett swipe the thing in order to get away from Cusack.

The rising waters soon push the rest of the house off its footings and into the river. Keel, Cusack and Heywood manage to survive by holding onto a piece of the roof that breaks off and serves as a raft. As luck would have it, they find a small boat and transfer to it. Keel soon grows tired of the rat, Cusack, and his constant attempts at Heywood. He fires the rodent off the boat at the first bit of land they come to, before continuing towards his “date” with Crawford.

Heywood realizes that Keel is not the vicious murderer she had thought him to be. Keel simply wants the truth to come out about the crime he was sent up for. Keel lands Heywood at a safe spot and carries on. Guard Corbett has made it to safety and contacts the local law, Eddie Byrne. He tells Byrne that Keel intends to murder Crawford if he can reach him. Byrne hands Corbett a revolver and assigns him a couple of National Guardsmen to escort him to Crawford’s place.

Now we find out that Cusack has knifed a would be rescuer, and stolen his small motorboat. Cusack plans on reaching Crawford before Keel. Cusack intends a bit of blackmail. He believes Crawford to be the real murderer as well. Cusack is sure Crawford will pay for the warning about Keel, as well as for Cusack to keep his silence about the murder. Heywood has also reached the local law. A quick word with Byrne has the Sheriff send Heywood and a couple deputies racing to Crawford’s in case Corbett might need help.

Guard Corbett and the two National Guardsmen have by this time reached Crawford’s tug boat pier. Corbett warns Crawford about Keel’s break out, and his planned attempt on Crawford’s life. Soon Cusack comes puttering out of the rain in his little motorboat. Everyone mistakes him for Keel, and Cusack collects several bullets before being collared. Heywood arrives with the extra men, everyone now just sits and waits for Keel to put in an appearance.

Keel however is already there, and has been watching everything for the last 20 minutes. He sneaks under the dock and enters Crawford’s office. He gets the drop on the man and proceeds to give Crawford a most vicious beating. He cannot however bring himself to kill Crawford. He turns himself in to Corbett. Corbett, who has been busy questioning Cusack, tells Keel that enough questions as to his guilt have been raised, that a new trial is likely.

There are some fairly intense moments in the film and Keel is surprisingly good in a non-musical role. What throws the viewer off to a degree, is the rather ineffective American accents used by the UK members of the cast. It would have worked better being set in the UK.

Having said that, the film as a whole works quite well. There are several noir touches throughout, murder, revenge, infidelity being the foremost. And the raging waters do well at replacing the alleys and dark streets of an urban setting. Both are empty to the man on the run.

The look of the film also works with D of P Christopher Challis, supplying a nice assortment of black and grey tones. The four time BAFTA nominated Challis did some top fight work with The Small Back Room, Footsteps in the Fog, Chance Meeting, Never Let Go, Sink the Bismark, Arabesque, Villain and Evil Under the Sun. They’re all good examples of his work.

The director, Charles Crichton, is best known for the films Hue and Cry, The Lavender Hill Mob and A Fish Called Wanda. He also touched on suspense with Hunted and The Third Secret.

Written by Gordonl56

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New Noir News Cry Terror! (1958)

Cry Terror Poster Cry Terror! (1958)

James Mason, Rod Steiger, and Inger Stevens got the star credits for Cry Terror, but Neville Brand, Angie Dickinson, and Jack Klugman also deserve acting kudos in this tautly directed b-noir thriller which boasts not one but three climaxes.

An innocuous middle-class family: mum, dad, and young daughter from the suburbs are kidnapped as part of an airline extortion caper. A bomb has been planted on a passenger plane and the would-be terrorists are demanding a cool half million to disable the device. The bomb’s triggering circuit was innocently built by TV technician Dad, and Mum will be used to collect the ransom if she wants to keep hubby and the kid from harm. The scenario is sufficiently novel and the tension wound tightly enough to sustain interest throughout. Never mind the plot has holes big enough to fly a jet-liner through, and that some almost absurd daring-do in an elevator shaft staggers belief.

For a movie that runs 96 minutes there are surprisingly vivid characterizations of the major players. This comes from nuanced performances, some good dialog and, unusually for a 50s police procedural, only sketch portraits of the cops involved.

Mason is the duped father, a rather cardigan-like hand-wringer who finds unforeseen (and incredible) fortitude later on. Stevens is in melodrama-overdrive as the hysterical yet (again incredibly) when-it-counts cool under pressure mother. Steiger dominates as the patently wacko yet methodical mastermind. His menace is that more scary as you couldn’t tell him from a bespectacled bow-tie wearing 50s bean-counter. Angie Dickens does very well as Steiger’s girlfriend and but-is-she-really?-that-ruthless accomplice.  Brand is particularly effective as the muscle of the gang with a convincing turn as a pill-popping sexual psychopath. When Stevens is held hostage by Brand in a suburban hide-out, a perverse sexual tension is played out with a lurid simmering violence that would have made 50s audiences very uncomfortable. The studio marketing suits played this angle up with promotion stills that exposed more of Stevens’ ample bosom than in the actual movie. Klugman is good as a pseudo-nasty but nervous henchman.

The three climaxes are more than competently filmed, edited and directed with a palpable tension by a journeymen crew, who deserve recognition: Andrew L. Stone, wrote and directed (Confidence Girl (1952), Highway 301 (1950)), Walter Strenge lensed, and Virginia L. Stone (Confidence Girl) edited. While the movie has the flat TV look of the period, the final dénouement in a subway station has an expressionist tone.

Definitely worth a look.

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New post from our friends at Film Noir of the Week:Farewell, My Lovely (1975)

A few weeks ago, we talked about The Long Goodbye. Brilliant — at least in my opinion. But purists sure disagreed. “We are fedora.” film noir fans said.

Well here’s a neon-drenched, booze smelling, modern noir that treats Raymond Chandler‘s Philip Marlowe exactly as you would have imagined him from reading the books:

Hard to argue with that clip. It’s just the first few seconds of the film. I’m happy to say the film holds up to the strong open. Of course it’s not as brilliant as Chinatown (released a little more than a year before this one) which dealt with larger issues. In fact it seems downright old fashioned compared side by side. But it’s a great film — and not done with a wink like so many other Chanderesque films of that time. Really.

You’d think Robert Mitchum was a bit too old for the part, but they hit the age question head on in that opening clip. Mitchum’s world-weary voice overs and attitude makes you wonder why he didn’t play Marlowe in the 40s, 50s and 60s too. Professionally Mitchum would set himself on cruise control not long after this one. But this, The Yakuza and especially the Boston neo-noir The Friends of Eddie Coyle showed Mitchum could really deliver when he wanted to.

In addition to Mitchum, there’s Charlotte Rampling as the femme fatale. Rampling is having quite a third act as an actress. Model beautiful in the 1970s she’s apparently resisted the urge for plastic surgery and has aged just right. Recently, she was the best part of the unfortunate end of TV’s Dexter and played the worlds worst grandma in the haunting film noir I, Anna in 2012. She’s quite good in Farewell, My Lovely. Mitchum clashed with the disciplined actress:

“The girl on the picture,”[Mitchum] said, “was Charlotte Rampling. She was the chick who dug S-and-M in ‘The Night Porter.’ She arrived with an odd entourage, two husbands or something. Or they were friends and she married one of them and he grew a mustache and butched up. She kept exercising her mouth like she was trying to swallow her ear. 

“I played her on the right side because she had two great big blackheads on her left ear, and I was afraid they’d spring out and lodge on my lip. There were no tea breaks on THAT set.”

Pulp writer Jim Thompson (The Grifters, The Killing, The Getaway) plays Judge Baxter Wilson Grayle in his only film role. Some will recognize John Ireland. Probably known for his westerns, Ireland was the lead in tons of minor noirs like Open Secret and Railroaded!

The most notable supporting actor is Sly Stallone playing a thug (his part is considerably bigger than Arnie’s bit in The Long Goodbye).

Sylvia Miles is fantastic in her role too. Check out how sympathetic Mitchum is to the old burlesque dancer. She was nominated for an Oscar for her role.

A few pieces of trivia:

  • Producers originally wanted Richard Burton for the part of Marlowe, but he was tied up with other work. Mitchum walked off the set (or was fired for drinking) of an Otto Preminger film Rosebud and was quickly snatched up for the role in Farewell, My Lovely.
  • Mitchum’s dark pinstripe suit (with no available backup) was originally made for Victor Mature during the 40s. He hated wearing “Victor Mature’s old farted-up suit.” Does anyone know what film Mature wore it in? 
  • Although the film took place in the 40s, the sequel The Big Sleep took place in the 70s. And it’s horrible. Amazingly, Mitchum would be the first actor to play Marlowe in two films.
  • The Chandler story was first made into a film as The Falcon Takes Over with George Sanders (but not playing Marlowe but The Falcon). Murder, My Sweet was made shortly after that. Mitchum’s recommendation before filming Farewell, My Lovely? “I suggested we buy up the rights to Murder, My Sweet with Dick Powell, re-release it and go to the beach.”

Luckily, Mitchum didn’t. It a film that’s not to be missed. Top shelf Raymond Chandler.

Written by Steve-O

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New Noir News Since My Baby’s Gone: New neo-noir short from Ray Ottulich

sincemybabysgone Since My Babys Gone: New neo noir short from Ray Ottulich

Ray Ottulich has released on Vimeo and YouTube a new neo-noir short in his series riffing on familiar themes and motifs from film noir titled Since My Baby’s Gone about the perils of giving lifts to dangerous dames. The scenario is a nod to the cult noir Detour and was filmed on the road way out West. Ray has done a really fine job of editing which gives the movie a nice rhythm, making the visuals particularly compelling. Here is the Vimeo video. Enjoy.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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New post from our friends at Film Noir of the Week:The Long Goodbye (1973)

 The Long Goodbye, at least to me, is my favorite Robert Altman film. Altman, like Hitchcock and a few others, were artists. Their films, because of their unmistakable look, construction, and dialog are each in their own genres. The Long Goodbye has been called a film noir, neo-noir, comedy. It’s best to call it an Altman film.

I rewatced The Player last week and was taken back. Back to the 1990s. The film is brilliant but also a time machine back to a particular time in Hollywood. But it also affectionately references a number of film noirs including Sunset Boulevard and The Big Sleep. That was enough inspiration for me to rewatch The Long Goodbye.

After watching I reads some of the old reviews of Altman’s take on Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. I think most critics got it wrong. I don’t think it’s a longhair’s take on quaint crime films of the 40. I don’t think it’s a spoof or parody of noir. It’s a solid crime film that’s not nearly as dated as The Player — despite being 20 years older and taking place in a time of crazy 70s styles.

Unlikely choice Elliott Gould was Marlowe. He’s excellent. He has later said that he and Altman wanted to have Philip Marlowe wake up — like Rip Van Winkle — and all of a sudden it’s not 1953 but the 1973. He plays the part always wearing a suit like Bogart would. Despite the grown-up clothes he’s always seems to be acting like an overgrown child. Maybe unique for the time but his portrayal seems to be the template for all future action heroes. His spoken dialogue — sometimes overlapping with others — is used like Philip Marlowe film voiceovers used in Murder, My Sweet and The Big Sleep.

The beginning of the movie shows some of Altman’s unique touches. A long scene showing Marlowe trying to feed his cat. The cat only eats a specific brand of cat food. Marlowe gets in his car and drives to the all-night supermarket. Night owl Marlowe is known by nearly everyone working at 3am by name. He also picks up brownie mix for his stoned neighbors. The young candle-making sirens are always on their deck in various states of undress.

This entire part of the film is unneeded. But it’s there and it’s amazing.

From there it’s a cryptic L.A. detective story filled with Raymond Chander-inspired characters. Jim Bouton — the former baseball player that wrote Ball Four — plays Marlowe’s blonde playboy friend that may be involved in a murder. Director Mark Rydell is terrifying as gangster Marty Augustine. Film noir veteran Sterling Hayden is a bear-sized Hemingwayesque writer. He’s about as intimidating as he was in the Godfather a year before. Finally there’s 70s celebrity Nina Van Pallandt as the femme fatale.

The film — like ALL Philip Marlowe mysteries — doesn’t make much sense. The screenplay was penned by the legendary Leigh Brackett. The script was rewritten on set by Altman and dialog sometimes improvised by Gould. Brackett found the book from the early 1950s filled with cliques and attempted to instead updated it to modern times instead of creating a period piece. Brackett – a writer that accepted that her work was always a collaboration with the film makers – was satisfied with the final result. Her work on the original The Big Sleep — with William Faulkner and Jules Furthman — is one of the most quotable movies ever. Having Brackett write the screenplay is a clear sign that they didn’t want to just make a tired Bogie spoof like The Black Bird or Peeper.

Finally there’s the end. The only misstep. After a killing that’s very un-Marlowe, the detective walks into the sunset while “Hooray for Hollywood” plays. He jumps up and clicks his heels. It’s a wink at the audience that’s says, at least to me, “look how clever we are. We know how silly these old movies are!” Movie hipsters probably love it. I think it shows contempt toward the viewers that just spent 2 hours watching it. Ugh. But I guess it can be forgiven because it’s right at the end. Critics ravaged the film in it’s initial release, I suspect it’s because of the flippant ending. Time Magazine’s review at the time of release wrote

“Altman’s lazy, haphazard putdown is without affection or understanding, a nose-thumb not only at the idea of Philip Marlowe but at the genre that his tough-guy-soft-heart character epitomized. It is a curious spectacle to see Altman mocking a level of achievement to which, at his best, he could only aspire”. 

Ouch.

And it’s still my favorite of all Altman films.

A few stray observations:

The soundtrack features two songs, “The Long Goodbye” and “Hooray for Hollywood”. While “Hooray” is only played once, “The Long Goodbye,” composed by Johnny Mercer and John Williams, is reworked in a number of different ways — grocery store muzak and even a doorbell features the tune. Good thing the song is so good.

David Carradine is unrecognizable as one of Marlowe’s cell mates.

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a thug in it. A few years later in the next Phillip Marlowe film Farewell My Lovely Sylvester Stallone plays a thug.

Morris the Cat plays the finicky cat in the film. Morris was a rescue cat that was discovered in the late 1960s. He went on to appear in Shamus. He left film noir and got typecast as a finicky cat on TV commercials for 9lives.

The comic poster art for the film — a clear sign that United Artists didn’t know how to market it — was painted by Mad Magazine’s Jack Davis.

Written by Steve-O
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