Tag Archives: Film Noir

Dark Passage-1947

Dark Passage-1947

Director Delmer Daves

Starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall

Scott’s Review #1,393

Reviewed August 25, 2023

Grade: B

In 1947, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were big Hollywood stars. Dark Passage is the third of four films the real-life couple made together in the 1940s and must have catapulted audiences to theaters to see the power couple perform.

To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), and Key Largo (1948) were the others.

Dark Passage is based on the 1946 novel of the same title by David Goodis.

Vincent Parry (Bogart) has just escaped from San Quentin prison near San Francisco, California after being locked up for murdering his wife, a crime he did not commit.

He finds a plastic surgeon to give him new features. After getting a ride out of town from a stranger, Vincent crosses paths with a young woman Irene Jansen, (Bacall) who lets him stay in her apartment while he heals and continues to try and clear his name.

The duo falls madly in love and attempts to figure out the puzzle and find the real killer.

Delmer Daves, a director with whom I’m not familiar, also writes the screenplay. The first portion of the film uses superior camera angles and the use of the point of view (POV) filming from Vincent’s perspective.

The audience sees what Vincent sees. This was used to justify Vincent’s plastic surgery and the knowledge that viewers wouldn’t buy a different actor from Bogart. It makes sense and brings a creative technological perspective to the film quality.

Something about black-and-white filmmaking always conjures up 1940s cinema for me. That Dark Passage is a thriller with film noir elements making it all the more effective.

A personal treat for me was to see the exterior sequences of San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge and Union Square are easy to spot and having spent time in both locales I was fascinated by what both looked and felt like in the 1940s.

Notwithstanding the ‘look,’ the main draw is Bogart and Bacall. Having not seen their other films the chemistry is apparent in Vincent and Irene.

The tenderness between the pair considering the characters have only just met is strong, especially during a quiet scene when they sip after-dinner coffee next to a window with driving California rain.

They are getting to know each other and so is the audience.

Bacall who is terrific and smolders with sensuality and confidence easily outshines Bogart who doesn’t deliver his best work. This could be partly because he doesn’t speak until the midway point of the film but there is an aura that Bacall has that Bogart doesn’t.

My favorite film of his is Casablanca (1942).

The story starts tremendously with mystery and intrigue. Who killed Vincent’s wife quickly becomes who killed Vincent’s friend after he is also found murdered.

A tremendous scene between Vincent and a man he hitches a ride from and a taxi cab driver who helps Vincent increases the thrill ride with quick and engaging dialogue meant to hold suspense.

The climax fizzles with an overly complicated and overwrought build-up to the final reveal that drags. When the villains are unmasked their motivations are a bit suspect and underwhelming.

One character plummeting from a high-rise window to their death is pretty cool, especially for 1947. The shrieking neighbor and the dead body displayed along the sidewalk is a highlight.

Also, a sliver of the film takes place in beautiful Peru and is a comparison to the nightclub featured in Casablanca.

Dark Passage (1947) is a pretty good film but will be appreciated mostly by fans of Bogart and Bacall. The plot is up and down but the behemoth Hollywood stars are the main attraction.

The Naked Kiss-1964

The Naked Kiss-1964

Director Samuel Fuller

Starring Constance Towers, Michael Dante

Scott’s Review #1,346

Reviewed February 25, 2023

Grade: A

A pure treat for me is to see a film, especially a classic film, that exudes creativity and a left-of-center approach. In the 1960s cinema, films were starting to break away from the tried and true and safe, telling sinister stories of macabre and unusual human behavior.

Samuel Fuller bravely created The Naked Kiss (1964) a film that goes beyond well-meaning but straightforward offerings. Dusting off the film noir genre it is riddled with perfections like the tarnished glitter of small-town Americana and what secrets lie beneath the surface.

It also dares to delve into the lustful and perverse depths of abnormal human psychology which few films did in the old days.

The film has a B-movie and black-and-white filmmaking which only enhances its power and lurid nature.

Eager to start a new life, a prostitute named Kelly (Constance Towers) arrives in a small town but finds the sunny veneer and the residents’ cheery, wholesome dispositions to be a sham.

Kelly meets the handsome town sheriff Griff (Anthony Eisley) and eventual fiancé Grant (Michael Dante) but ultimately finds out that both men have something to hide.

Hard to believe but we do anyway is the haughty incorporation of a secret small-town brothel with one gorgeous prostitute after another. It is led by the evil madame, Candy, portrayed by Virginia Grey.

Constance Towers easily carries the film as Kelly. Towers did not make many films but later became well-known in theater circles before becoming a legendary villainess on the ABC daytime drama General Hospital.

Kelly is sultry yet highly learned and intelligent not afraid of using her smarts to get ahead. She calculates and wisely pursues opportunities to go the straight and narrow while using a man or two to get what she wants and needs.

Despite this, she is a kind human being and revels in caring for children of all colors and backgrounds. She also watches out for her fellow nurses. One of them, Buff, nearly stumbles into a life of prostitution if not for Kelly daringly describing what her new glamorous life would ultimately become.

Kelly, and thanks to Towers, relays every possible emotion to the audience from comedy to love, to horror, and controlled manipulation.

I don’t think I’ve seen any other projects by director, writer, and producer Fuller but I want to. Perhaps only a coincidence since the films were made in the same year but comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie are noticed.

When Kelly briskly combs her blonde hair while looking into a mirror and smirking is reminiscent of Marnie doing more or less the same in Hitchcock’s classic. Both characters are tall and leggy blondes with a secret or two to hide and damaged psyches to preserve.

They also each arrive in a new town presumably to start over boldly carrying a suitcase while wearing a smart, grey business suit. Proudly walking down a suburban street with possibilities lying ahead.

The Naked Kiss is a very progressive and feminist film.

During the first scene, Fuller shows what few directors ever would- a female character with a shaved head. Kelly has been humiliated for the last time and takes her owed $75 from her pimp. In this scene, the honest personality of Kelly is revealed since she could have easily taken $900 from him and fled.

The cagey and spiteful underbelly of suburban life is exposed. A  pointed critique of small-town hypocrisy and the exploitation of women is nearly at every turn.

Another comparison to the masterpiece The Night of the Hunter (1955) is worth mentioning since the use of child characters in haunting form appears in both films.

The theme of pedophilia is powerful and sickening but portrayed with a warped sense of a fairy tale.

Finally, the cinematic use of harsh, glowing white light makes many characters appear to be angelic which works tremendously well.

Because of Fuller’s direction and Towers’s encompassing the character of Kelly so well with great acting, we get a character study to savor and a strong female character to root for. Both aggressively champion their respective areas of expertise.

The Naked Kiss (1964) challenges the rules of early 1960s filmmaking and storytelling with a brave journey through the dark nature of human beings, breaking every rule as it goes forward.

Nightmare Alley-2021

Nightmare Alley-2021

Director-Guillermo del Toro

Starring-Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara

Scott’s Review #1,229

Reviewed February 13, 2022

Grade: B+

I have not seen the original Nightmare Alley made in 1947 so can make no comparisons to how the film noir remake in 2021 compares but I am a fan of respected filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. His knack for creating such dark treats containing fantastical elements like Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and The Shape of Water (2017) have similar tones.

Set back in the 1930s and the 1940s when the United States of America suffered from the Depression and subsequently World War II, a midwestern carnival and then wintry Buffalo, New York are the chosen settings for his latest film.

Nightmare Alley feels like two different films and I prefer the first half by a small margin. del Toro is a major filmmaker and while he creates an experience that is gorgeously shot and simmering with effective elements it’s not one of his best films and certainly not on par with the above-mentioned gems.

The story stretches believability at times and feels like the film noir elements from the original might have been included just for the sake of making it fit a defined category. The twist at the end shocks and disturbs which cements the del Toro flavor.

To summarize, the look of the film is exceptional and the story is pretty good and the two halves, one in the midwest and the other in Buffalo, feel disjointed.

When handsome and very charismatic but down-on-his-luck Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) meets the clairvoyant Zeena (Toni Collette) and her aging mentalist husband Pete (David Strathairn) at a traveling carnival, he creates a powerful act utilizing his ability to manipulate townfolks.

He has fled from a dark past involving his father and fire but we don’t know the exact details.

Moving on to Buffalo, he enshrouds the wealthy elite of 1940s New York high society. With the virtuous Molly (Rooney Mara) by his side, Stanton plots to con a rich yet vulnerable tycoon (Richard Jenkins) with the aid of a mysterious and pouty psychiatrist (Cate Blanchett) who might have tricks up her sleeve.

Since I adore Blanchett I was eagerly awaiting her entrance which unfortunately doesn’t come until midway through the film. Nonetheless, she makes quite an impression as she smokes and drinks in stylish glamour befitting gorgeous women of the time. Moreover, her character of Lilith Ritter is cold and calculating as the audience knows she is toying with Stanton, we just don’t know how or why.

While not quite a romantic triangle, Cooper has good chemistry with Mara but tremendous chemistry with Blanchett. Both actresses reunite from their turn together in Carol (2015) but have very little screen time together.

Each of the three delivers a mighty performance with Cooper and Blanchett simply mesmerizing.

One can even forget the plot entirely and simply look at the film. It’s that good and polished. From the dusty and depressing midwestern ordinary towns to the architecturally fabulous Buffalo, del Toro and team construct a lavish production design. Each costume and set piece is perfectly staged.

I was more attuned to the strange and creepy carnival characters like the ‘geek’ and Cooper and Blanchett making on-screen magnificence than to care as much as I should have about the storyline plotholes or inconsistencies.

The unsatisfying reveal about the relationship between Stanton and his father or the backstory of the rich tycoon abusing young girls only gave me mild interest. The story as a whole becomes too complex and uncompelling for me to really care for a while.

The sweet spot of Nightmare Alley (2021) is the grand production design and the flawless acting. Besides an effective ‘oh, shit!’ moment at the conclusion which confirms Cooper as a great actor, the story mainly meanders.

It’s a very good effort but not one of del Toro’s best.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design

Stage Fright-1950

Stage Fright-1950

Director Alfred Hitchcock

Starring Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich, Michael Wilding

Scott’s Review #1,160

Reviewed July 9, 2021

Grade: A-

Stage Fright (1950) is a British film directed by Alfred Hitchcock before his American invasion.

The film feels like a hybrid British/American project with the leading lady, Jane Wyman, being American, but otherwise is set in London with many British actors.

Hitchcock mixes plenty of film noir influences with the typical thrills and suspense creating an excellent product that flies under the radar when matched against his other films.

Wyman is cast as an attractive aspiring actress who works on her craft by going undercover to solve a mystery. There are Nancy Drew elements and it’s fun to watch Wyman, who would become Mrs. Ronald Reagan before he entered politics and later would become President of the United States.

She reportedly divorced him because she had little interest in entering the political spectrum by association.

The action gets off to a compelling start with two characters driving in a car in clear peril. Hitchcock loved driving scenes like these. It is learned that the police think actor Jonathan Cooper (Richard Todd) is a murderer, and now they’re on his tail.

He seeks shelter with his ex-girlfriend Eve (Wyman), who drives him to stay in hiding with her father, Commodore Gill (Alastair Sim).

He explains that it was his lover, the famous and snobbish actress Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich), who killed the victim (not coincidentally, her husband). Convinced Jonathan is innocent, Eve plays detective and assumes multiple disguises, slowly developing feelings for Detective Inspector, Wilfred O. Smith (Michael Wilding).

Once embroiled in a web of deception, she realizes that Shakespeare was right and that all the world is a stage.

Wyman is the Hitchcock brunette as opposed to his later fascination with the blonde bombshell. Therefore, her role is more sedate and astute than the sex appeal that would come with Hitchcock’s later characters.

Eve closely resembles the character of Charlie whom Teresa Wright played in 1943’s Shadow of a Doubt. They are both astute and investigative with a mystery to unravel. Interestingly, they both fall for detectives.

All the glasses! Hitchcock’s fetish for women wearing glasses is on full display, especially with the character of Nellie, a cockney opportunist played by Kay Walsh. Look closely and one can spot several minor or background ladies sporting spectacles and even Eve dons a pair as a disguise.

Pat Hitchcock, the director’s daughter, plays a small role as she would in Strangers on a Train (1951) and Psycho (1960).

Speaking of Strangers on a Train, there are similarities to mention.

Both involve a tit-for-tat exchange where one character is requested by another to kill someone in exchange for either a payoff or another form of motivation.

Marlene Dietrich is as sexy as ever in the pivotal role of Charlotte. She is self-centered, self-absorbed, and thoughtless, constantly mispronouncing Eve’s fictitious name and barely noticing that she is covering for her regular maid/dresser.

But is she evil and capable of killing her husband?

Stage Fright has a thrilling finale. In the climax, the audience finally finds out who has been telling the truth who has been lying, and what explanations are revealed. There is a pursuit, an attempted killing, and a shocking death by way of a falling safety curtain, in the theater naturally.

What one would expect from a Hitchcock final act.

The focus on theatrical stage actors is a nice topic and adds to the existing drama as the implication of playing various roles comes into play big time. So is the prominence early on of the Big Ben landmark in London and other location trimmings.

Stage Fright (1950) doesn’t get the love saved for other Hitchcock masterpieces and that’s a shame because the film is excellent.

L.A. Confidential-1997

L.A. Confidential-1997

Director Curtis Hanson

Starring Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Kim Basinger

Scott’s Review #1,102

Reviewed January 19, 2021

Grade: A

An enormous critical and commercial hit of 1997, L.A. Confidential spins a tale of intrigue and mystery during the 1950s with plenty of big-name stars to go around.

The film can be classified as a throwback, neo-noir escapade, but it’s quite stylistic and fleshed out. It’s well-made with slick elements and Hollywood looks and feels like the lavish production design and musical score, but it’s the seduction and bevy of secrets that will keep viewers glued to their seats, trying to guess what happens next.

As if it doesn’t have enough great elements a powerful whodunit is constructed leading viewers to question if the bad guys are good or the good guys bad.

Stalwarts like Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger, and Danny DeVito bring star power, while unknowns at the time, Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce are the real reasons to tune in.

L.A. Confidential has a seemingly endless tangled web to absorb and unravel, but the film is paced well and never overcomplicates itself. The strong art direction and musical score make it a delight to the eyes and ears.

The film is fraught with a saucerful of secrets just waiting to be brought to the surface.

Based on the James Ellroy 1990 novel of the same name, it’s the third book in his L.A. Quartet series, the others being The Black Dahlia (1987) and The Big Nowhere (1988). All focus on the Los Angeles Police Department, corruption, and scandal. The former was turned into an unsuccessful film in 2006 starring Josh Hartnett and Scarlett Johansson.

I love films set in the City of Angels with a focus on Hollywood darkness lurking beneath the sunny and swanky exterior. Especially effective is the 1950s time, post World War II, when everything seemed to be coming up roses.

Naturally, murder is the offering of the day.

To summarize, three policemen, each with his motives and obsessions, tackle the corruption surrounding an unsolved murder at a downtown Los Angeles coffee shop in the early 1950s.

Detective Lieutenant Exley (Pearce), the son of a murdered detective, is out to avenge his father’s killing. The ex-partner of Officer White (Crowe), implicated in a scandal uncovered by Exley, was one of the victims.

Sergeant Vincennes (Spacey) feeds classified information to a tabloid magnate (DeVito). Basinger portrays Lynn Bracken, as a glamorous prostitute.

It’s nice watching the film with the knowledge of the big stars Crowe and Pearce would become. Also interesting is to see Spacey when he was a big star, eventually destined to turn into Hollywood mud due to a scandal.

That’s the beauty of watching a classic film and adds a realistic element unknown at the time of the first release.

From a romantic angle, it’s fun and juicy to wonder who Lynn, a Veronica Lake lookalike, will wind up with. Basinger has chemistry with all of the handsome cops and one wonders who she will screw and screw over.

The role is the best of Basinger’s career.

L.A. Confidential is a film that can be viewed multiple times to notice intricacies missed during the first go-around. It harkens back to the 1940s in style, pizazz, and texture. There is something for everyone and it develops well beyond the film noir genre.

It contains great acting, exceptional writing with twisting storylines and events, bloodshed, and thrills. It is an exceptional crime drama almost on par with one of the greats, Chinatown (1974).

The 1990s was an excellent decade for well-made films and L.A. Confidential (1997) is near the top of the pile.

Oscar Nominations: 2 wins-Best Picture, Best Director-Curtis Hanson, Best Supporting Actress-Kim Basinger (won), Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published (won), Best Original Dramatic Score, Best Sound, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing

Suspicion-1941

Suspicion-1941

Director Alfred Hitchcock

Starring Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine

Scott’s Review #1,029

Reviewed June 3, 2020

Grade: B+

An early American effort by the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock (1941), follows the Oscar-winning Rebecca (1940) with a similarly themed film.

A dazzling beauty (Joan Fontaine) is manipulated by her charming husband (Cary Grant) but is he gaslighting her and plotting her death or is it all in her mind? The puzzle unfolds with a sizzling final thirty minutes that eclipses the remainder of the film, which drags and plods along slowly.

Wealthy but insecure Lina McLaidlaw (Fontaine) meets handsome and irresponsible playboy Johnnie Aysgarth (Grant) on a train in England. He charms her into eloping despite the strong disapproval of her father, General McLaidlaw (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) who thinks Johnnie is after the family money.

After a lavish honeymoon and return to an extravagant new home, Lina discovers that Johnnie has no job and no income, habitually lives on borrowed money and intends to try to sponge off her father.

She talks him into getting a job, which he embezzles from.

Lina begins to think that not only is Johnnie after her money but intends to kill her. She becomes aware of his financial schemes and motivations, feeling conflicted over her love for him and her survival.

Events kick into high gear after a friend’s death, an insurance policy, and discussions with an author’s friend, Isobel Sedbusk (Auriol Lee), a writer of mystery novels, about untraceable poisons. A bizarre dinner conversation surrounding ways to get away with murder causes Lina to start unraveling.

Many suspensions of disbelief must be contained in frustrating measures throughout most of the film and a bothersome level of female mistreatment is to be endured.

Gnawing at me from the very first scene is the insecurity of Lina. She is gorgeous, rich, and intelligent so why does she feel, and is perceived even by her parents, as a lonely spinster certain to become an old maid?

Despite Hitchcock’s love of glasses on female characters, brandishing Lina with gawky bifocals hardly makes her an ugly duckling. Johnnie’s nickname “Monkeyface” is jarring and insulting.

The determination to not make Hollywood royalty Carey Grant too bad of a guy does not work. It feels like a weak effort to suddenly go in a different story direction to thwart the perception of a character as not a villain but someone to feel sympathetic toward.

Unclear is if this was Hitchcock’s decision or the mighty studio’s (my best guess would be the latter since Hitchcock was not afraid to take risks). The audience hardly has a chance to let their emotions marinate as the big reveal quickly culminates in the end credits rolling and the film concludes.

A significant positive to Spellbound is the hidden tidbits brewing beneath the main saga of the Hollywood glamour boy and girl (Grant and Fontaine).

A clever LGBTQ+ revelation among two supporting characters can be unearthed, decades before the terminology was even invented. Hitchcock loved his gay characters, who could not be openly gay, though the director did his best to offer the now-obvious idiosyncrasies.

Sophisticated Isobel seems to live alone in her quaint and lovely cottage, but during a dinner party, a blonde woman wearing a suit and tie, clearly butch, joins the conversation. As Isobel asks her to pour more wine, we realize she is hardly a servant but Isobel’s lesbian lover!

The stunning yet highly subtle revelation is prominent to eagle-eyed viewers and cagey enough to catch on. Besides these lovely ladies, an odd-looking male dinner guest wearing glasses and discussing murder novels is an interesting character though we see little of him.

The same can be said for Lina’s sophisticated mother, Mrs. Martha McLaidlaw (Dame May Whitty), and Lina and Johnnie’s maid, Ethel (Heather Angel). Both, playing small roles, add subtle delights to the film.

Suspicion (1941) is an early Hitchcock film, rarely mentioned among his best works. The film is a tough sell for its tedious pace, the inexplicable insecurity of the lead character, and an unfulfilling story conclusion.

The suspense and activity in the final act (mostly the stunning edge of the cliff car drive) promote the film to an above-average rating, but grander works were soon to follow in the decades ahead.

The most fun is noticing the delicious peculiarities of interesting supporting characters.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Outstanding Motion Picture, Best Actress-Joan Fontaine (won), Best Scoring of a Dramatic Picture

I Confess-1953

I Confess-1953

Director Alfred Hitchcock

Starring Montgomery Clift, Anne Baxter

Scott’s Review #1,007

Reviewed April 2, 2020

Grade: A-

I Confess (1953) is an early effort by the brilliant Alfred Hitchcock with a decidedly religious slant but keeps the suspense and thrills commonplace like his other films.

The picture is not one of his best-remembered works and in fact, is one of his least-remembered projects. This is unwarranted because the film contains all the standard elements known to the director, creating an entertaining and enthralling effort.

Montgomery Clift and Anne Baxter, big Hollywood stars of the day, are featured.

Not a fan of exterior shoots where he couldn’t control the elements, filming was nonetheless done largely on location in Quebec City with numerous shots of the city landscape and interiors of its churches and other emblematic buildings, such as the Château Frontenac, heavily featured.

This factor adds to the enjoyment as French sophistication and culture are added and the accents provide a European influence, especially powerful during the final act.

A handsome Catholic priest, Father Michael Logan (Clift), wants nothing more than to be a good priest but his calling is made complicated after someone confesses a murder to him and he’s subsequently blamed for the death.

A World War II veteran, he harbors secrets told in the back story, as a strong connection to another character comes to light. An easy way to clear his name is to reveal exactly what he knows, but doing so would break his vows as a clergyman and alienate members of his community who trust he will keep their steamy secrets very private.

Ruth Grandfort (Baxter) is a respected member of society, married to her husband Pierre (Roger Dann), a member of the Quebec legislature. They live a comfortable existence in a lavish house with servants and regularly throw cosmopolitan parties befitting people of their stature.

Amid martinis and festive party games, Ruth keeps not one secret but two and is being blackmailed for her shenanigans. Her connection to Father Michael slowly bubbles to the surface.

Christian viewers will neither be offended nor completely embraced either. Hitchcock does not mock religion but makes certain of the conflict and demons that can encircle even a pious or righteous man.

Known as far back as the 1940s Rebecca was toying with viewers and frequently adding an LGBTQ uncertainty, this can be said of I Confess.

Assumed to be in love, Father Michael offers little romantic passion or zest towards Ruth and the connection seems one-sided. Could his descent into the Catholic Church be a front to cover up his sexuality?

Only Hitchcock will know the answer.

Eagle-eyed Hitchcock fans will certainly discover similarities to his other works.

In the very first scene, an unknown man is strangled to death, collapsing to the floor. This is reminiscent of the 1948 masterpiece, Rope (1948) when an identical sequence occurs. The audience knows nothing about the stranger- yet.

In both films, the character, even after death, becomes integral to the plot twists and turns in store. The tremendous use of shadows and lighting is on careful display mirroring the look of the soon-to-come The Wrong Man (1956).

While not the cream of the crop among Hitchcock’s best film entries or even a top ten offering, I Confess (1953) is certainly deserving of viewing or two on its own merits.

Clift and Baxter have excellent chemistry and enough mystique and plot are guessing to keep audiences well-occupied.

The final twenty minutes provide cat-and-mouse revelry and a shocking death perfect for a dramatic climax to a film oozing with Hitchcock’s finest traits.

5 Against the House-1955

5 Against the House-1955

Director Phil Karlson

Starring Brian Keith, Kim Novak

Scott’s Review #998

Reviewed March 11, 2020

Grade: C-

5 Against the House (1955) is a film that may have influenced heist films such as the Rat Pack Ocean’s 11 (1960) or countless other films featuring groups of young men holding up an establishment for money.

The film is mediocre and lacks much that is memorable as nothing distinguishes it from other similar-themed genre films.

Star Brian Keith is charismatic in the lead, but the chemistry with the ravishing Kim Novak goes nowhere with any of the actors.

The film is mildly interesting with a few tense moments but little more. 

Four Midwestern University college pals, Brick (Keith), Al (Guy Madison), Ronnie, and Roy, devise a grand casino heist while drunk and partying one weekend in Reno. The idea is to go through with their plan and then return the cash to prove they can get away with the high-stakes prank.

But when one of the group betrays the others and plots to keep the money for himself, he imperils them all.

Novak plays Kaye, the girlfriend of Al, who recently has become a singer at a local nightclub.

The standouts from the cast are Keith and William Conrad and this might be more because the then-unknown actors became television stars in later years, for Family Affair and Jake and the Fat Man, respectively.

Keith is great in the lead role of Brick, the tormented and conflicted ex-veteran of the Korean War, unable to forget tragedies he saw while abroad. He is a cool every man with an edge, angry and out to prove something to the world. He also needs the money that the heist will provide him.

The character is interesting and empathetic.

Conrad is gruff and memorable in the role of a cart operator, who plays an important role in the film’s finale. Sent to retrieve cash from the money room, using the prerecorded message to make him believe that there is a desperate man with a gun in the cart who will shoot him if he does not cooperate, Conrad does wonders with his eyes and facial expressions.

The luscious Novak, soon to be a household name in the stunning and cerebral Alfred Hitchcock film, Vertigo (1958), is not as compelling as Kaye.

The main reason is that she has little to do but stand around and serve as window dressing. This is too bad since the actress has talent and charisma for miles, but this work is beneath her.

Not her debut, but one of her early films, What’s a Girl to Do? To add insult to injury, her voice was dubbed by another singer. Novak needed the paycheck.

Director, Phil Karlson is unsuccessful at bringing the picture completely- circle but does pepper in some nice exterior night scenes of Reno. The casino sequences are also commendable with proper zesty and flashy set pieces when appropriate.

But trimmings never make a film complete and 5 Against the House needs more meat on the bone than it serves up.

The heist is the main attraction as it always is in these types of films. Some tension does exist but not enough, and the finale is a letdown. After the robbery, which is unspectacular, Brick leaves the others behind and escapes with the money, and a pursuit ensues. Kaye, having alerted police, follows them, and a tepid standoff follows.

Ultimately, Brick changes his mind while Al and Kaye embrace on a crowded street. The feeble final scene is meant as a romantic sendoff between Al and Kaye, who didn’t have chemistry, to begin with.

5 Against the House (1955) contains an adequate cast and a few positive tidbits worth mentioning, but the story is way too predictable, the conclusion, which should be the high point disappoints, and the actors are too old to be believable as college-aged students.

Many other film noir or heist films released before or after this film are superior and better crafted.

Touch of Evil-1958

Touch of Evil-1958

Director Orson Welles

Starring Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh

Scott’s Review #914

Reviewed July 2, 2019

Grade: A

Touch of Evil (1958) is a film noir directed by the legendary influential Hollywood director, Orson Welles.

The film contains suspense, drama, and mystery, but is to be praised largely for its use of visual treats to enhance the cinematic experience. The dark and foreboding thriller was revolutionary for the time of release and influenced many films of similar ilk in the years to come.

Robust and fraught with tension, the experience is marvelous and worthy of study for its many nuances.

Welles not only directs the work but also stars in and writes the screenplay, so his entire being is invested in the production and execution.

Known mostly for the legendary Citizen Kane (1940), a film that arguably changed the course of cinema with its direction and cinematography, Touch of Evil explores a different genre entirely but keeps the superlative aspects of Welles’s loftier film, including black and white, intact, resulting in a grand and dangerous crime infused classic.

The screenplay was loosely based on the novel Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson.

The tension is ample from the onset as the humidity-drenched Mexico-United States border is the focal point. A car driven by a young couple is laced with a bomb and detonates as soon as they cross into U.S. territory.

In a hint of irony, Newlyweds Miguel “Mike” Vargas (Charlton Heston), a drug enforcement official in the Mexican government, and his wife Susie (Janet Leigh) pass the car several times on foot before the explosion.

An investigation ensues with the introduction of other characters, including Police Chief Pete Gould (Harry Shannon), District Attorney Adair (Ray Collins), and police captain Hank Quinlan (Welles), with a prime suspect being Sanchez, a young Mexican secretly married to the victim’s daughter.

Typical in the film noir genre, events are not what they seem like as layers of the plot slowly unravel. The heavyset and disheveled Captain nostalgically visits a brothel run by Tanya (Marlene Dietrich), who barely recognizes him because he’s gained so much weight since their last meeting.

Vargas forsakes his bride to spearhead the investigation but soon locks horns with corpulent Quinlan and the duo begins to feud. Could Quinlan or Vargas have something to do with the car bombing, or could other supporting characters be either behind or involved in the shenanigans?

This is a great part of Touch of Evil as the film leaves the viewer guessing.

Heston and Leigh smolder as the lead couple and their chemistry is apparent from the first scene in which they appear together. Sexy and mysterious, she hunkers down in a dump fraught with peril, while he attempts to solve the crime and keep his girl safe.

Outside factors play heavy roles in keeping the lovers apart and although Heston playing a Mexican man is quite the stretch, the audience will nestle comfortably into the events as they reveal deeper layers.

Wells, once a handsome man, is not afraid to let it all hang out as the fat and racist Quinlan becomes one of the greatest and most complicated screen villains as his true colors emerge.

As the film’s title boldly suggests does his character contain complexities that make him evil and keep some sympathies or does he wreak havoc on all he touches with his devious nature only the tip of the iceberg?

Viewers will need to await the final act to have several questions answered as motivations are finally revealed.

Touch of Evil (1958) gave delicious and pulsating material to filmmakers clever enough to study its intricacies, most notably Roman Polanski for Chinatown (1974).

Nuggets were also thrown the way of Alfred Hitchcock who got the idea for Leigh to appear in Psycho (1960) two years later, catapulting her character alone in a hotel peril, mixing in a weird hotel clerk.

The power the film had to hatch other great films from its ingenuity is the most fun part of watching it again and again.

Sudden Fear-1952

Sudden Fear-1952

Director David Miller

Starring Joan Crawford, Jack Palance

Scott’s Review #873

Reviewed March 3, 2019

Grade: B+

Sudden Fear (1952) is a gripping film noir thriller, a genre that became commonplace for a time during the early 1950s.

The film is raised to lofty acclaim due in large part to the casting of legendary Hollywood star Joan Crawford in the lead role. Her performance led to an Oscar nomination and is the main draw of the film.

Sudden Fear suffers from some cliches but is otherwise a solid watch although largely forgotten at present time.

Crawford stars as Myra Hudson, a successful Broadway playwright who rejects the suave and handsome Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) after he auditions for the lead role in her play.

Later, they coincidentally meet on a train headed for San Francisco as Lester manages to sweep the mature woman off her feet. When Myra impulsively marries Lester his true intentions to manipulate and then kill her to inherit her money are revealed.

The suave Myra uncovers the plot and instead plans to kill Lester and place the blame on his scheming former girlfriend, Irene (Gloria Grahame).

As a rabid fan of Ms. Crawford and her talents, my opinion leans towards the film belonging exclusively to the star. With her expressive eyes and mannerisms, the role is tailor-made for her talents and not too far from the role she would later play in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1966).

As the strong yet beleaguered character Myra has been unsuccessful in the romance department and after a glimmer of hope is devastated when she realizes she is being played for a fool.

Thanks to Crawford her pain and humiliation are palpable and her subsequent paranoia believable without overacting too much for effect.

Palance and Grahame are okay in their respective supporting roles but are either outshined by Crawford or written in a banal way- or both. Regardless, the roles are one-note and not the best of either actor’s career.

The characters have little rooting value and we know their motivations and shenanigans nearly from the start. The conclusion of the film produces a satisfying demise for each one as their comeuppance is in perfect form.

From a plot and pacing perspective, the film is never boring and contains many twists and turns and surprises galore which will undoubtedly keep audiences engaged. The action moves along in stellar form and never tires as the viewer will undoubtedly anticipate a cool ending.

The final chapter is fraught with chase scenes throughout the streets of San Francisco as a terrified Myra runs through the streets clad in a black coat and a white head shawl, wearing high-heels naturally while being chased by a crazed Lester.

Sudden Fear adds some clever camera angles and cinematography mentions making it slightly left of center and creative looking with cool shadows throughout.

Elements of Hitchcock emerge as a shaky hallway scene featuring a lumbering Lester approaches the camera. Closeups of the actors and the illuminating black-and-white lighting provide a glowing look to the film.

Shots of a gun, a pendulum swinging representing a clock, or a bottle labeled “poison” add elements of tension.

For fans of the illustrious Joan Crawford, Sudden Fear (1952) is a recommended watch and will please those seeking a good helping of the star. She does not disappoint and is the main draw in an otherwise by-the-numbers genre film.

The film’s conclusion is the high point and I wished for more layers and character development from Palance and Grahame, but Crawford shines in an otherwise forgotten offering.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Joan Crawford, Best Supporting Actor-Jack Palance, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Best Costume Design, Black-and-White

Double Indemnity-1944

Double Indemnity-1944

Director Billy Wilder

Starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck

Scott’s Review #847

Reviewed December 26, 2018

Grade: A

Double Indemnity (1944) epitomizes the classic film noir genre perfectly. All the necessary elements exist, from intrigue, suspense, and unpredictable thrills, to schemes and dastardly deeds by the major players.

The on-screen chemistry between leads MacMurray and Stanwyck provides enough romantic flair and provocative moments to entertain all as developments progress when a smitten man meets a femme fatale and a devious plot is hatched.

Director Billy Wilder was one of the most influential directors of his day with this picture being his first effort resulting in fabulous critical acclaim.

The accolades put him firmly on the map for years to come culminating in an Oscar win in 1950 for The Apartment. Wilder uses a clever insurance “double indemnity” clause as its title making it one of the best and most influential crime dramas of the 1940s staking ground for other similarly themed films.

The story is told via flashbacks as a wounded Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) scrambles to record a confession to his colleague and best friend, Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson).

The action rewinds to an average, ordinary day when Neff makes a routine stop to sell insurance and meets flirtatious Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). She brazenly inquires how she ought to go about taking out an insurance policy on her husband’s life without his knowledge.

When Neff deduces Phyllis’s intention to kill her husband he declines any further help but cannot forget the ravishing beauty and her charms. He ultimately succumbs to her whims and aids her in a wicked crime.

The adventure the audience is taking on is the most fun aspect of the film. We already deduce that Neff is involved in shenanigans but most of the fun occurs after the murder has been committed and Phyllis and Neff’s scheme begins to unravel.

The added component of Neff’s colleague and close friend, Keyes, being in the mix as he starts to suspect foul play is equally compelling.

Will he finally figure out that Neff is involved in the plot? Will Keyes cover for Neff if discovered? Will Phyllis’s history catch up with her and twist events?

These questions make the film a great picture.

A debate among viewers can ensue whether Neff is sympathetic as this point continues to cross my mind with each viewing. One can safely say that he is seduced by the charms of an eager and aggressive woman, but if he is to blame for the crimes is she not even more to blame?

As events unfold sides can be drawn and characters can be more focused, particularly after Double Indemnity’s startling conclusion.

Neff is not a strong, heroic character but is rather weak, easily manipulated by the cagey Phyllis. It is interesting how little time it takes to succumb to her plot and willingly do the crime for her.

In the final act, Neff does show some needed muscle, but this is only because his “goose is cooked” and he finally realizes the dire nature of Phyllis’s character, but shouldn’t he have discovered this sooner?

MacMurray and Stanwyck have smoldering chemistry and is a major success of the film keeping the audience invested in the plot. The added measure of the murder victim being rather unknown to the audience adds a macabre rooting value to the pair.

Wilder never presents the plot as a romantic triangle or Neff and Phyllis having any other romantic entanglements, and the only roadblock is the insurance company and their suspicions surrounding Phyllis.

Wilder adapted the screenplay from James M. Cain’s novella of the same name and spins a potent film noir from these pages. Double Indemnity (1944) is intelligent, sexy, and mysterious mixing in as much sultry poise as witty dialogue.

Thanks to the allure of fine actors and a stunning adventure on a train, the film is a measured success and a highly influential cinematic story.

Oscar Nominations: Best Motion Picture, Best Director-Billy Wilder, Best Actress-Barbara Stanwyck, Best Screenplay, Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, Best Sound Recording, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White

The Long Goodbye-1973

The Long Goodbye-1973

Director Robert Altman

Starring Elliott Gould

Scott’s Review #830

Reviewed November 14, 2018

Grade: A

Nearly a full-fledged character study of one man’s moral fiber, The Long Goodbye (1973) is an edgy piece of direction by famous mastermind Robert Altman.

The setting of the Los Angeles underbelly is fabulous and effective as is dim lighting and excellent camera work prevalent throughout. The film is not cheery and rather bleak which suits me just fine given the smart locale.

Perhaps a more obscure Altman offering, but the film sizzles with zest and authenticity.

The film is based on a story written by Raymond Chandler in 1953.

Altman, however, opts to change the setting from 1950 to present times- 1970s Los Angeles and present a film noir experience involving deceit and shenanigans where all is not as it seems.

I think this is a wise move and I could not help but draw many comparisons (mainly the overall story) to Chinatown (1974), released the year after The Long Goodbye, but a film much better remembered.

Elliott Gould is wonderful as Phillip Marlowe, a struggling private investigator, and insomniac. He is asked by a friend, Terry Lennox, for a ride to the Mexico border one night and agrees to do the favor.

This leads to a mystery involving police, gangsters, and Eileen and Roger Wade after Phillip is questioned regarding his connection to Terry, who is accused of murdering his wife Sylvia.

The seedy side and complexities of several characters are revealed as the story unfolds and the plot gradually thickens.

My favorite aspects of The Long Goodbye are not necessarily the primary storytelling, though the writing is filled with tension.

As the film opens an extended sequence featuring a “conversation” between Phillip and his cat is both odd and humorous. The finicky feline refuses to eat anything other than one brand of cat food. As Phillip tries reasoning with the cat through talking and meowing, he is forced to venture out in the middle of the night to an all-night grocery store.

Altman, known to allow his actors free-reign for improvised dialogue, appears to allow Gould to experiment during this scene.

Phillip’s neighbors, a bundle of gorgeous twenty-something females, seem to do nothing except exercise on their balcony, get high, and request he buy them brownie mix for a “special occasion”.

As they stretch topless, usually in the background and almost out of camera range, they are a prime example of an interesting nuance of the film. The girls are mysterious but have nothing to do with the actual plot adding even more intrigue to the film.

In one of the most frightening scenes in cinematic history and one that could be straight from The Godfather (1972), crazed gangster, Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell), slices the beautiful face of his girlfriend to prove a point to Marlowe.

In a famous line, he utters, “That’s someone I love. You, I don’t even like.” The violent act is quick, unexpected, and fraught with insanity.

Finally, the film’s conclusion contains a good old-fashioned twist worthy of any good film noir. In the end, the big reveal makes sense and begs to raise the question “why did we trust this character?”

In addition to the viewer being satisfied, Marlowe also gets a deserved finale and proves that he cannot be messed with nor taken for a fool.

The Long Goodbye is undoubtedly the best film of Gould’s career. With a charismatic, wise-cracking persona, the chain-smoking cynic is deemed by most as a loser. He is an unhappy man and down on humanity but still wants to do what is right. He lives a depressed life with few friends and the company of only his cat.

While he is marginally entertained by his neighbors, he goes about his days only barely getting by emotionally. Gould is brilliant at relaying all these qualities within his performance.

The addition of the title theme song in numerous renditions is a major win for the film and something noticed more and more with each repeated viewing. The ill-fated gangster’s girlfriend hums along to the song playing on the radio at one point, and a jazz pianist plays a rendition in a smoky bar.

This is an ingenious approach by Altman and gives the film a greater sense of mystery and style.

There is no question among cinema lovers that Robert Altman is one of the best directors of all time.

In his lengthy catalog filled with rich and experimental films, The Long Goodbye (1973) is not the best-remembered nor the most recognizable.

I implore film fans, especially fans of plodding mystery and intrigue to check this great steak dinner of a film out.

The Grifters-1990

The Grifters-1990

Director Stephen Frears

Starring John Cusack, Anjelica Huston, Annette Bening

Scott’s Review #597

Reviewed January 9, 2017

Grade: B-

The Grifters (1990) is a film that has witty writing and an overall appeal. It is unique and quirky and is in the style of a charismatic film noir from one of the golden ages of film, the 1930s, and the 1940s.

Additionally, the film has a very sharp, clean look to it.

The performances, especially Anjelica Houston, are excellent. All three principles, (John Cusack and Annette Bening) give fantastic performances and feed off each other so that the chemistry works quite well.

Cusack plays a small-time crook named Roy Dillon, inept in ways, and estranged from his mother (Huston). When she returns to town, she along with his girlfriend (Bening), all attempt to con and outmaneuver each other for their gain.

The film is set in sunny Los Angeles.

As compelling as the film sounds on paper, I did not find myself completely captured by it. It took me a while to get into the film and by the time I finally did, it had ended.

Overall, well made, and respectable, and I can see how some people would love it, but for me, there remained something missing.

Oscar Nominations: Best Director-Stephen Frears, Best Actress-Anjelica Huston, Best Supporting Actress-Annette Bening, Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 2 wins-Best Feature (won), Best Female Lead-Anjelica Huston (won)

Kiss Me Deadly-1955

Kiss Me Deadly-1955

Director Robert Aldrich

Starring Ralph Meeker

Scott’s Review #391

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Reviewed April 2, 2016

Grade: A-

Kiss Me Deadly is a 1955 film noir drama that heavily influenced many films that followed it. On my “to see” list for years, I finally got around to viewing this influential gem and now realize the power of the film.

At times confusing and perplexing, and certainly requires additional watches, I rate it a grade of A-, however, can see its grade rising to a solid A upon subsequent viewings.

Still, Kiss Me Deadly has much respect from me as a lover and appreciator of a good film.

The mysterious plot goes something like this- Mike Hammer (played by Ralph Meeker) is a tough Los Angeles private eye. One evening, driving along a lonely country road, he picks up a hitchhiker named Christina (the film debut of Cloris Leachman) clad only in a trench coat.

He quickly realizes she has escaped from a mental institution but is compelled by her desperation.  When thugs catch up to them, this sets off the crux of the film as Mike spends his days investigating the strange turn of events.

The plot twists and turns in innumerable ways and becomes quite complex, but always fascinates. A peculiar glowing box, which everybody seems to want, comes into play as the film progresses.

Wonderfully directed by Robert Aldrich, Kiss Me Deadly features unique and creative uses of lighting, camera angles, and moody shadows to great effect, and this is one of the first aspects that I noticed.

Shot in highly effective black and white, it allows Kiss Me Deadly a murky, suspicious look- as if danger and doom might be around every corner.

Meeker and Maxine Cooper as Velda, Mike’s secretary/lover make a nice pair, as they are good-looking, but a rather B-movie type couple, in contrast, to say, Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, two gorgeous upper echelon Hollywood stars of the day.

Casting those stars might have changed the tone of the film.  Meeker and Cooper bring, perhaps, a blue-collar look to the film. Nevertheless, the chemistry works.

An interpretive film, Kiss Me Deadly undoubtedly influenced such later film noir classics as Chinatown, L.A. Confidential,  and Pulp Fiction, not to mention science-fiction films and, arguably even Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The list could go on and on as Kiss Me Deadly crosses into numerous genres.

The ending of the film is highly complex, spooky, and downright weird. It is one of the craziest endings I have ever experienced.

Once the mysterious box is opened, the film transforms into a strange Twilight Zone episode, containing screeching sounds, and the explosion is open to complete interpretation and changes the dynamic of the film. I had the enormous good fortune to be able to view the alternate ending, not released in theaters.

Needless to say, Mike and Velda’s fates were vastly different from one end to another. My preference was the alternate ending. Sometimes the studios play things too safe.

What does it all mean? Nuclear weapons, the apocalypse,  the Cold War, glowing boxes, detectives- so many elements in one film.

A conversation about Kiss Me Deadly could certainly be enjoyed and, in the end, that speaks volumes for the high quality of the film.

I look forward to seeing this revolutionary film again for further appreciation.

Sunset Boulevard-1950

Sunset Boulevard-1950

Director Billy Wilder

Starring Gloria Swanson, William Holden

Top 100 Films #42

Scott’s Review #330

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Reviewed January 8, 2016

Grade: A

I adore films about Hollywood (good ones), and Sunset Boulevard (1950) is an absolute treasure.

Directed by classic film director, Billy Wilder, the film is a film noir about a legendary silent film star, Norma Desmond, unable to cope with modern films involving sound, and living a life of instability and mental illness, as her career has long ended.

Handsome Joe innocently stumbles upon her mansion and the two form an eerie relationship ending in tragedy.

Sunset Blvd. is a famous street that runs through Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, California and is immediately featured in the film as Joe Gillis, played by William Holden, drives down the street, an unsuccessful screenwriter, whose car is about to be repossessed.

Joe narrates the film and we see a man lying dead in a vast swimming pool. Ironically, this is the film’s ending, and Wilder interestingly works backward so the audience knows tragedy will eventually ensue.

To avoid men chasing him, Joe pulls into a driveway and hides his car in a garage near a vast yet run-down mansion. He is mistaken for a coffin salesman and meets the infamous and creepy Norma and her servant, Max.

The coffin is for Norma’s pet chimpanzee, who has died. Intrigued, and broke, Joe hatches a plot to re-write Norma’s terrible screenplay- and make some money from the aging Hollywood star.

Norma needs companionship. The two, with Max, embark on a weird relationship based on jealousy, passion, and rage.

The black-and-white style works extremely well in the film. The lighting gives off a mystique of intrigue and film noir.

Sunset Boulevard combines the noir with a rich character study of Norma and we feel her pain and isolation at being cast aside because of the times.

I love how Wilder focuses both on the gloomy nature of Norma’s vast mansion- especially when she throws a New Year’s Eve party- isolated with just she and Joe and a hired band- interspersed with a lively party in Hollywood- filled with young, energetic, up and coming talents.

The scenes mix perfectly and show the two different worlds and perspectives.

Sunset Boulevard is a brilliant depiction of old Hollywood at its best (and worst). A study in ambition, struggle, high hopes (Joe), and faded success and dreams shattered in reality, where delusion is the only defense (Norma).

Oscar Nominations: 3 wins-Best Motion Picture, Best Director-Billy Wilder, Best Actor-William Holden, Best Actress-Gloria Swanson, Best Supporting Actor-Erich von Stroheim, Best Supporting Actress-Nancy Olson, Best Story and Screenplay (won), Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (won), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White (won), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Best Film Editing

Chinatown-1974

Chinatown-1974

Director Roman Polanski

Starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway

Top 100 Films #30

Scott’s Review #321

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Reviewed January 3, 2016

Grade: A

Chinatown (1974) is like a perfectly aged fine red wine- with each passing year or viewing, it becomes more and more spectacular.

A thinking man’s film, if you will, Chinatown is a complex puzzle, just waiting to unravel in a layered, complicated fashion. However, this is to its credit, as it is a fantastic, rich, film noir, and as good as cinematic writing gets.

Set in the 1930s the set pieces and art direction are flawless- as great a film in look as in the story.

Director Roman Polanski and star Jack Nicholson are largely responsible for the success of the film.

The direction is a marvel as the cinematography, flow, and pacing are astounding. A slow build, the film takes off at just the perfect point as the mystery gets deeper and deeper, building to a crescendo.

Nicholson plays Jake Gittes, a handsome Los Angeles private investigator hired by a woman claiming to be Evelyn Mulwray. Evelyn desires to have her husband followed, as she suspects him of an affair with another woman.

Jake begins tailing the woman’s husband, only to uncover an intriguing mystery involving the Los Angeles water supply. Soon, the real Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) turns up and the film segues into a masterful web of complications and turns of events.

One will not see the ending coming.

Nicholson leads the film as only he can. With his charismatic, aww shucks attitude, mixed with humor, he is eye candy for the camera, as he takes the case and becomes more and more immersed in the action.

This film was a pivotal point for him as he began a slew of worthwhile and abundant performances in pictures.

Let us not forget to mention the acting performance of Dunaway. Smoldering, sexy, classy, intelligent, and vulnerable, she perfectly plays almost every emotion.

Chinatown, Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and Mommie Dearest (1981) are her best works in a career that spanned decades of success.

Chinatown (1974) is an entity unto itself in film noir. It is incredibly well-written, nuanced, and flawless.

This film simply must be seen.

The final thirty minutes- in addition to the “great reveal” are also violent, shocking, and extraordinary. A blueprint of what great filmmaking truly is.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Picture, Best Director-Roman Polanski, Best Actor-Jack Nicholson, Best Actress-Faye Dunaway, Best Original Screenplay (won), Best Original Dramatic Score, Best Sound, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing

Strangers on a Train-1951

Strangers on a Train-1951

Director Alfred Hitchcock

Starring Farley Granger, Robert Walker

Top 100 Films #27

Scott’s Review #318

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Reviewed January 2, 2016

Grade: A

A thrill-ride-per-minute film, a classic suspense story, filled with tension galore, Strangers On A Train is a great Alfred Hitchcock film from 1951, which began the onset of the “golden age of Hitchcock” lasting throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

A British version of the film exists somewhere, but I have yet to see it.

The American version is a brilliant, fast-paced experience involving complex, interesting characters, including one of the greatest villains in screen history, and a riveting and heart-pounding plot.

Who can forget the important ominous phrase “criss-cross”?

The film begins with a clever shot of two pairs of expensive shoes emerging from individual taxi cabs. Both are men, well-to-do, and stylish.  They board a train and sit across each other, accidentally bumping feet.

We are then introduced to the two main characters- tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger) and wealthy Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker). They engage in conversation and immediately we become aware that Bruno is assertive, Guy the more passive individual.

Ultimately, Bruno manipulates Guy into thinking they will exchange murders- Bruno will kill Guy’s unfaithful wife, Miriam, while Guy will murder Bruno’s hated father.  While Bruno takes this dire “deal” seriously, Guy thinks Bruno is joking.

A psychological complexity of the film is the implied relationship between Guy and Bruno. Certainly, there are sexual overtones as flirtation and bonding immediately develop while they converse on the train.

They are complete opposites, which makes the relationship compelling- the devil and the angel if you will. The mysterious connection between these two men fascinates throughout the entire film.

Robert Walker makes Bruno a delicious villain- devious, clever, manipulative, and even comical at times. He is mesmerizing in his wickedness- so much so that the audience roots for him.

The fact that Hitchcock wisely makes the victim Miriam (wonderfully played by Laura Elliot) devious, only lends to the rooting value of Bruno during her death scene. His character is troubled, and almost rivals Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter as a lovable, evil, villain.

Later in the film when Guy is playing tennis, he gazes into the stands to see the spectators turning left and right in tandem with the moving tennis ball, and the audience sees a staring straight ahead Bruno immersed in the sea of swaying heads.

It is a highly effective, creepy scene.

The pairing of Guy and his girlfriend Anne (a seemingly much older Ruth Roman and, interestingly despised by Hitchcock) does not work. Could this be a result of the implied attraction between Bruno and Guy? Or is this a coincidence?

The casting of Roman was forced upon Hitchcock by the studio, Warner Brothers.

Hitchcock reveals his “mommy complex”, a common theme in his films, as we learn that there is something off with Bruno’s mother, played by Marion Lorde, but the exact oddity is tough to pin down.

She and Bruno comically joke about bombing the White House, which gives the scene a jarring, confusing edge. Is she the reason that Bruno is diabolical?

The theme of women’s glasses is used heavily in Strangers On A Train. Miriam, an eyeglass wearer, is strangled while we, the audience, witness the murder through her dropped glasses. Black and white, the scene is gorgeous and cinematic and continues to be studied in film schools everywhere.

Later, Anne’s younger sister Barbara (comically played by Hitchcock’s daughter Pat Hitchcock), who also wears glasses, becomes an important character as Bruno is mesmerized by her likeness to the deceased Miriam, as a mock strangulation game at a dinner party goes wrong.

The concluding carnival scene is high-intensity and contains impressive special effects for 1951.

The spinning out-of-control carousel, and panicked riders, with the cat and mouse chase scene leading to a deadly climax, is an amazing end to the film.

Strangers On A Train (1951) is one of Hitchcock’s best classic thrill films.

This Gun For Hire-1942

This Gun For Hire-1942

Director Frank Tuttle

Starring Veronica Lake, Robert Preston, Alan Ladd

Scott’s Review #285

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Reviewed November 3, 2015

Grade: B

This Gun for Hire (1942) is an early film noir that influenced later films of a similar genre. Starring marque headliners of their day, Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, this film is a surprisingly violent experience for its period.

Shot in black and white, the film is wonderfully lit, adding style and substance.

The film begins with a bang, as hitman Philip Raven (Ladd) murders a chemist and blackmailer in exchange for a hefty amount of loot.

His wealthy boss double-crosses him and reports him to the Los Angeles Police Department. Detective Michael Crane takes the case aided by his sexy girlfriend and nightclub singer Ellen Graham (Lake).

Adding a wrench to the story is the tangled love affair between Ellen and Raven, the film’s main draw.

I love the black and white shooting of this film, as many were in 1942, and found this only enhances the tone given that it is of crime/hit-man variety.

The chemistry between Lake and Ladd smolders and Lake is great as a femme fatale with long blonde locks and a sultry pout.

She is the inspiration for the character conceived for L.A. Confidential as Kim Basinger portrays a Veronica Lake look-alike. Ladd is brooding in intensity as the hit-man with the damaged childhood and ultimately sympathetic personality.

The setting of San Francisco and L.A. is wonderfully perfect and adds depth as the warm and sunny locales are mixed in with murder, corruption, and shenanigans. Who wouldn’t make comparisons to Chinatown (1974)??

A flaw I found in the film and which I found it difficult to buy into is the implausibility of Ellen falling in love with Raven as he tries to murder her-unsuccessfully so. This point seems plot-driven and a way to incorporate a mainstream love story amid the thrilling film noir.

Surely, she would find satisfaction in a romantic sense with her detective boyfriend since the duo has no conspicuous problems, the love between her and Raven is all the more inexplicable. Still- sparks do indeed fly on-screen.

An action-packed crime affair, This Gun for Hire laid a crisp blueprint for film noir and hitmen, action-type films for decades to come and I admire it for this reason.

Notorious-1946

Notorious-1946

Director Alfred Hitchcock

Starring Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman

Scott’s Review #265

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Reviewed August 11, 2015

Grade: A

Notorious is a classic Alfred Hitchcock film from 1946, a period that preceded his golden age of 1950s and 1960s brilliant works, but is a marvel all the same.

Perhaps not as wonderful as future works, but that is like comparing prime rib to filet mignon. Shot in black and white, the subject matter is familiar to Hitchcock fans- political espionage.

The film contains elements common with Hitchcock’s films- romance with suspenseful plot.

Starring two greats of the time (and Hitchcock stalwarts), Carey Grant and Ingrid Bergman, one is immediately enthralled by the chemistry between the characters they play- T.R. Devlin and Alicia Huberman. Devlin, a government agent, recruits Alicia, per his bosses, to spy on a Nazi sympathizer, Alex Sebastian (Claude Raines), who is affiliated with her father.

Her father, having been convicted and sentenced to prison, has committed suicide. Alicia’s allegiance is questioned as she goes to drastic measures to prove her loyalty and complete the hated assignment.

The film is set between Miami and the gorgeous Rio De Janeiro, where much of the action is set at Alex’s mansion.

A blueprint for his later works, Hitchcock experiments with creative camera shots and angles- specifically the wide and high shot overlooking an enormous ballroom. I also love the airplane scene- subtly, Hitchcock treats the audience to background views of Rio, from the view of the airplane, as Devlin and Alicia have a conversation.

The plane is slowly descending for landing, which allows for a slow, gorgeous glimpse of the countryside and landscape in the background.

Subtleties like these that may go unnoticed make Hitchcock such a brilliant director.

The character of Alicia is worth a study. Well known for his lady issues, did Hitchcock hint at her being an oversexed, boozy, nymphomaniac?

I did not think the character was written sympathetically, though to be fair she is headstrong and loyal in the face of adversity.

She parties hard, drives at 65 miles per hour while intoxicated, and falls into bed with more than one man. It is also implied that she has a history of being promiscuous.

Made in 1946, this must have been controversial during that period. The sexual revolution was still decades away.

Notorious also features one of the most sinister female characters in Hitchcock history in the likes of Madame Sebastian (Leopoldine Konstantin). The woman is evil personified and her actions are reprehensible. She is arguably the mastermind behind all of the dirty deeds as well as a fan of slow, painful death by poisoning.

My favorite scene is without a doubt the wine cellar scene. To me, it epitomizes good, old-fashioned suspense and edge-of-your-seat entertainment.

A cat-and-mouse game involving a secret rendezvous, a smashed bottle, a key, champagne, and the great reveal enraptures this scene, which goes on for quite some time and is the climax.

Perhaps Notorious is not quite as great a film as Vertigo (1958), Psycho (1960), or The Birds (1963), but is a top-notch adventure/thriller in its own right, that ought to be watched and given its due respect.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actor- Claude Rains, Best Original Screenplay