Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Another year, another list of the 10 classic movies I saw for the first time this year which were great, enjoyable, or interesting, with the dates of the month in which I reviewed them here:

FOLLOW ME QUIETLY (1949; rev. 11/09): Creepy police thriller with William Lundigan tracking down a serial killer called The Judge; short and low-budget but with atmosphere to beat the band.

THE HEART OF THE MATTER (1953; rev. 4/09): Intelligent, well-acted adaptation of a Grahame Green novel about an unhappy British policeman in colonial Africa who finds his world coming apart.

THE KILLERS (1964; rev. 11/09): Remake of a classic 1946 film noir; this one is less atmospheric but more brutal and violent, and acted very well by John Cassavetes, Angie Dickinson, and Lee Marvin.

MURDER IN THE RED BARN (1935; rev. 1/09): Old fashioned, over-the-top melodrama with thunder and dark houses and twirling mustaches.

LA RONDE (1950; rev. 9/09): Frothy, sexy, episodic French concoction about a group of people involved in a circular chain of love affairs.

SEARCH FOR BEAUTY (1934; rev. 5/09): Fun, risque pre-Code comedy about a couple of scammers setting up a health spa and getting their comeuppance at the hands of two Olympic athletes; notable for its flashes of near-nudity (both male and female).

SHACK OUT ON 101 (1955; rev. 8/09): Dirty commie spies who use a grungy seaside diner as a place to pass secrets are hunted down by a college professor--or is he one of them? Lee Marvin gives a great B-film performance as the chief bad guy.

TENSION (1949; rev. 12/09): A wonderful low-key noir thriller with all the right elements: an urban setting, nighttime action, a conflicted hero, a femme fatale, moral gray areas, betrayal, and cops. Richard Basehart is good as the hero but Audrey Totter is fabulous as the bad gal.

TWO THOUSAND WOMEN (1944; rev. 3/09): A wartime thriller with a different setting, an old hotel in France being used by the Germans as an interment camp for women; not terribly exciting but engrossing, with a great Hitchcock moment during a concert scene near the climax.

UNCLE SILAS (1947; rev. 10/09): Grand Gothic melodrama of a young girl and her guardian, an uncle who seems at first pleasant if eccentric but soon reveals himself to be a villain who will do anything to get his hands on her inheritance; one of the best film adaptations of a Gothic novel.

I also enjoyed other noir/crime films such as THE BIG HEAT (this was a good Lee Marvin year for me) and THE PHENIX CITY STORY; Douglas Fairbanks Sr.'s wonderfully surreal short THE MYSTERY OF THE LEAPING FISH; the antic British comedy THE WRONG BOX; the near-screwball THE YOUNG IN HEART; the bizarre anti-war musical OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR; the fun B-mystery THE CIRCUS QUEEN MURDER; and the 60's-influenced re-telling of the life of St. Francis BROTHER SUN SISTER MOON.

Sometimes it seems like they're scraping the bottom of the barrel for DVD sets, but this year, I loved the pre-Code sets from Warners (the 3rd Forbidden Hollywood) and Universal (which contains SEARCH FOR BEAUTY), the Douglas Fairbanks "Modern Musketeer" box, and boxed sets of Hammer films, Joan Crawford films, and B-screwball films. Boxed sets have become the savior of many little movies that ordinarily would never get released on DVD, except they happen to belong to a genre (film noir sets are especially common) or fit a theme (studios, stars).

Monday, December 28, 2009

PIER 5, HAVANA (1959)

This B-film, which tries to conjure up good feelings by referencing Casablanca and The Third Man, is worth watching as a novelty on two fronts: 1) it's one of the last American films shot at least partly on location in Cuba; 2) it's got a pro-Castro plotline. Just after the Cuban revolution, when Castro's forces drove Batista from power, American Cameron Mitchell, who runs a Miami airstrip, goes to Cuba to find his old buddy Hank who's gone missing. Because Hank had become a heavy drinker, no one seems terribly concerned about his disappearance. Even Hank's estranged wife, Allison Hayes, an old flame of Mitchell's, seems to have forgotten all about Hank and is now being romanced by plantation owner Eduardo Noriega. Mitchell works with the local cops but also strikes out on his own, crossing paths with some brutal thugs who work for Otto Waldis, Hank's former boss. Hank's decomposing body is found—it's assumed he got drunk and took a fatal fall in pouring rain—but guess who stumbles into Hayes' apartment? Hank (Logan Field), on the run from the same thugs who are after Mitchell. It turns out that Waldis is smuggling bomb fuses (in boxes marked "chocolate") to pro-Batista forces preparing to bomb Havana. Yes, the folks backing Castro are the good guys here, but who can they trust, and will they be able to stop the bombing?

This is a decent hard-boiled thriller which is helped immensely by the location shooting. Mitchell is par for the course for as the rough-around-the-edges hero, but Hayes (one of those women—like Julie Newmar—who is always described as "statuesque") is fun to watch, even if she's not much of an actor; she looks good standing around and glaring at people. Waldis looks like a disgruntled Edmund Gwenn (Santa in Miracle on 34th Street). Field, as the missing buddy, gets a good scene or two in near the end, and Michael Granger is fine as the cop. At 67 minutes, it doesn't wear out its welcome. [TCM]

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Kay Francis and Patric Knowles are in love, but he’s married to Frieda Inescort, an invalid (though as far as I could see, her only problem is a mild limp) who can’t have children. Francis goes to Italy to get advice from her father, who promptly drops dead. When she returns to England, Roland Young, a family friend, figures out that she is pregnant by Knowles, and it is arranged for Francis to have the child and give it to Knowles and his wife to raise as their own. Afterward, Francis goes to America to start a new life and marries George Brent, whom she meets on the ship over. A couple years later, when a friend of hers has a baby, Francis falls into a funk over her "lost" child but eventually, Young arranges a meeting in which Francis gets to see what a good life her child has and what a good mother Inescort is. This is a routine soap opera, notable only because, in the Production Code era, it allows Knowles and Francis to engage in extramarital sex and both have relatively happy outcomes. In fact, in the end, everyone behaves in a most civilized fashion, even Inescort, who in another film might be a demonized figure. The other interesting point is the setting-up of Young and Helen Flint, as a doctor, as a supporting, asexual, comic relief couple analogous to Edward Everett Horton and Helen Broderick in an Astaire/Rogers film. Also with Henry Stephenson as Knowles’ titled father and Halliwell Hobbes as Francis’ father. [TCM]

Thursday, December 24, 2009


My annual search for a halfway-decent made-for-TV Christmas movie almost came a cropper this year. Hallmark and Lifetime and ABC Family were full of them this month, but virtually all sounded exactly the same: a couple fall in love at Christmas. I found an interesting variation on DVD in a small indie movie called NOELLE, which I have reviewed elsewhere, but as it wasn't made for TV, it just wouldn't suffice here. There was great promise in a Lifetime movie called 12 MEN OF CHRISTMAS with the ultra-fabulous Kristin Chenoweth and the always-welcome Josh Hopkins (Swingtown, Cougar Town--the fact that this wasn't called Christmastown should have been a warning) but their combined talents could not save this dreadful romantic comedy which had almost nothing to do the holidays. In a small Montana town, city girl Chenoweth gets the hunky men of the local mountain rescue service to pose almost-nude for a fund-raising calendar, and eventually falls for rugged loner Hopkins. Don and I noticed that every time the plot seemed headed for any dramatic tension at all, it veered quickly away. The two actors tried, but the script was dreadful and the direction practically non-existent.

This Christmas Eve morning as I was about to give up, Lifetime gave me a little stocking-stuffer gift, WILL YOU MERRY ME?, a cute culture-clash comedy which actually premiered last year. Rebecca, a Jewish girl from L.A., and Henry, a Protestent boy from Wisconsin, meet cute in New York City while apartment hunting, move in together, and fall in love. On their 6-month "anniversary," he proposes to her, almost on a whim, and she says yes. This means heading off to his small town to spend the holidays with his folks, and having her folks fly in for a day before they go skiing in Aspen to meet the future in-laws. Of course, the culture clash is represented by the tired old Christmas vs. Hanukkah plotline, but it's treated very lightly here. His mom loves Christmas and stuffs the house with decorations and knick-knacks, while his dad turns the home's exterior into one of those ostentatious flashing suburban nightmares. As a nod to her folks, they put a fiddler on the roof (literally) next to Santa, and make half of their Christmas tree into a "Hanukkah Bush." Of course, her parents wind up stranded for a couple of days and they all have to celebrate Christmas Eve and the first night of Hanukkah together, not to mention that Henry has agreed to appear in a Christmas Eve pageant with his childhood sweetheart. Meanwhile, a second clash has emerged: Rebecca and Henry really don't know much about each other; as they realize that, they begin to have second thoughts about getting married. Can the parents band together to save their kids' relationship? Of course they can!

The plot traffics in all kinds of cliches but the movie manages to overcome most of them due to some clever dialogue and decent acting by some old pros (Cynthia Stevenson as Henry's mom, and the wonderful Wendie Malick, above right, as Rebecca's mom). The romantic pair, Tommy Lioutas and Vikki Krinsky (pictured at the top), are Canadian TV actors I'd never heard of, but they generate good chemistry and are mostly believable. There are some bizarre plot twists (a reindeer gets hit by a car, someone falls out of a window) and an amusing but very minor running gag involves Henry's (unseen) brother whom everyone has accepted as gay except the parents. I enjoyed this much more than I thought I would, maybe because it's Christmas Eve morning. It's no timeless gem, but it's harmless and elicits some nice chuckles. (And if you've followed my December thread over the years, yes, Lioutas, at left, is blandly handsome.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


This film's prologue shows us a bunch of schoolboys getting enrolled in a tontine, an odd lottery-type arrangement in which they all have money invested for them, and the last one left alive gets all the money. In a quick montage, we see them all as adults, one by one, dropping dead in bizarre accidents, until elderly brothers John Mills and Ralph Richardson are the last survivors. The perpetually ill Mills (who isn’t really quite as sick as everyone assumes) invites his estranged brother to visit him, intending to kill him and make it look like an accident so he will get the money. But during a train wreck, Richardson vanishes, leading his greedy nephews (Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) to assume he’s dead, a fact they try to hide, hoping that Mills will drop dead soon and the two of them can claim the money in Richardson’s name. Throw into the mix Mills’ nice-guy grandson (Michael Caine), a comically addled butler (Wilfrid Lawson), a lovely young woman (Nanette Newman, pictured below with Mills) who is so highly-strung, she shrieks at the drop of a hat, and a coffin containing a body that everyone assumes is Richardson's, and a great deal of humor, both verbal and slapstick, ensues, climaxing in a hysterical funeral procession.

This black comedy, based on a Robert Louis Stevenson novel, starts a little slowly but picks up steam and winds up being one fun roller-coaster ride. All the performances are wonderful, including Peter Sellers in what amounts to a cameo as a cat-loving alcoholic doctor, but the gem here is Lawson, an actor I’d never seen before, as the butler. His career was in decline because of a drinking problem (in fact, he would die of a heart attack just months after the release of this film), but he’s quite funny here. One of the best moments is when Cook, a collector of eggs, struts about in his house saying, “Listen to me, all you eggs!” A little-known comedy classic which deserves a DVD release. [TCM]

Monday, December 21, 2009


Barbara Stanwyck is a small-town librarian who arrives to work late one day, vents about wanting to burn the town down, quits her job, and uses her savings to take a vacation to Cuba (and all this in the first five minutes!). On the ship, she meets a charming drunk (Adolphe Menjou) and they hit it off, but he keeps his past mysterious. Back home, she gets a job as a newspaper clipping librarian and discovers that Menjou is a politician, married to an invalid who was crippled in a car accident for which he was responsible. Stanwyck also soon realizes she’s pregnant. A couple years pass, during which time Menjou and Stanwyck have begun an on-the-sly relationship, but when newspaper editor Ralph Bellamy (who for reasons we never learn is on a vendetta against Menjou) runs across the two of them and their baby on a picnic, they pretend that the baby is Menjou’s adopted baby and that Stanwyck is the governess. Stanwyck agrees to give the baby up for Menjou and his wife to adopt and she gets a job as a lovelorn columnist with Bellamy. Eventually she marries Bellamy, but when he finds out the truth about Stanwyck and Menjou, who is running for governor, the melodramatic shit hits the fan. This is a pre-Code film, so the final payoff is rather unexpected, but still this soapy movie is a little tough to sit through. Bellamy’s character is the most interesting one here, but the fact that we never learn why he hates Menjou so much is a real fault in the storytelling. Menjou and Stanwyck don’t have a lot of chemistry, and there’s not an interesting supporting cast to liven things up. Dorothy Peterson as the crippled wife never seems very sickly—she gets around OK with a cane. This early Frank Capra movie doesn’t have many of the later hallmarks of his style, but for pre-Code buffs, it’s moderately interesting viewing. [TCM]

Thursday, December 17, 2009


In 19th century Paris, the never-fully-named Madame of the title (Danielle Darrieux) is married to a well-off general (Charles Boyer) but, due to what we assume are gambling debts he doesn’t know about, she sells an expensive set of earrings that he gave her as a wedding present, then tells him that they were lost or stolen at the opera. The jeweler she sold them to, upset at the publicity given the theft, contacts the general who buys them back and gives them to his mistress, who is leaving for Constantinople. She ends up pawning them to pay off *her* gambling debts, and a baron (Vittorio De Sica), heading to Paris, buys them. The baron and Madame meet by accident and fall into a passionate affair, but when the baron gives her the earrings as a gift, events spiral downward and the film changes from a light comedy of manners to a romantic tragedy.

This highly-regarded film by Max Ophuls has long been on my list of must-see films, and I’m happy to report that it didn’t disappoint. The plot points of the elegantly structured narrative are all triggered by the telling of “white lies” (or lies of omission) or the keeping of secrets, and for a while it’s fun to see how the events snowball, how people (especially Madame) mask their feelings and try to follow or wriggle around the rules of society. It’s all well plotted and well acted, but the film is a classic due to its direction and cinematography. The sets and costumes are lovely, the imagery is rich, and the camerawork is dazzling. The most astonishing sequence is a series of swirling shots which follow Madame and the baron across a number of dance floors as they fall in love. In the last half-hour, the tone goes from playful to tragic, and in a way that I don’t find completely convincing--the novella the film is based on apparently has a somewhat less bleak ending--but it does lead up to a nice final shot of poetic justice. The Criterion DVD is, of course, gorgeous. [DVD]

Monday, December 14, 2009


In 1910 Hong Kong, the Red Dragon Tong is a group of Chinese gangsters who extort money from merchants, deal in drugs and prostitution, and have the populace living in fear. Their mark is the mutilation of the hands of people who cross them. Even the British tend to overlook their shipping losses to them (as one of the District Commissioners is in the pay of the the Tong). But they go too far when, while searching for an incriminating list of Tong members that was being smuggled to a resistance group called The Liberators, they kill the daughter of a sea captain (Geoffrey Toone) who vows to get revenge against the Tong’s leader. Toone gets help from the leader of The Liberators (who spends most of the movie in disguise as a beggar) and a Eurasian girl who has spent much of her life in bondage to the gangsters. But can they prevail against the small army of opium-addled assassins who are unleashed against the enemies of the Tong?

This is one of Hammer’s B-thrillers (as opposed to the horror films that made them famous), and something of a throwback to the "Yellow Peril" crime movies of the 30's. Most of the Asian characters are played by Anglo actors, including the Tong leader, Christopher Lee, in make-up that looks like a dry run for his Fu Manchu movies a few years later. Actually, Lee doesn’t have much screen time, but his presence dominates the film. Toone (pictured above) makes an effective dime-novel hero, even undergoing a bare-chested "bone-scraping" torture scene, though Yvonne Monlaur as the half-caste sex slave sidekick is fairly wooden. Overall, paced a bit sluggishly but a passable popcorn melodrama. [DVD]

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Another interesting Douglas Fairbanks film from the silent era. In this one, he plays Daniel Boone Brown, a man who, without realizing it, is the subject of an experiment by Dr. Metz, a somewhat deranged psychiatrist: the doc is trying to manipulate Brown's life by instilling fears, superstitions, and bad behaviors in him, apparently hoping to drive him to suicide, just to see if he can. Brown's servant is in on it, and the film begins with the servant encouraging Fairbanks to eat heavy spicy foods (onions, lobster, Welsh rarebit) at midnight just before bed. The movie's tour de force sequence follows: first we see the food (portrayed by people in outfits reminiscent of the old Fruit of the Loom ads) tumbling about in his stomach, and then Brown dreams that the food is chasing him across a landscape; he runs into a house and, like Fred Astaire many years later in ROYAL WEDDING, walks up the walls and along the ceiling, with the food clustered below on the floor trying to grab him (pictured to the left). When he wakes up, he's two hours late for work; his stockbroker uncle has had enough and forces him to take a week off without pay. Brown meets Lucette (Kathleen Clifford), a girl from Oklahoma trying to make it in the big city; she's as superstitious as he and they bond over a Ouija board, eventually becoming engaged. But Brown winds up unwittingly involved in a scheme by his uncle and a hometown boyfriend of Lucette's to cheat her father out of some valuable land. The rest of the melodramatic plot is predictable (Brown and Lucette work out their problems together) with a couple of odd quirks thrown in--particularly the fate of Dr. Metz, which is right out of THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, which came out a year later. There is another comically surreal moment, set inside Brown's head, in which personified figures of Reason and Sense of Humor battle Jealousy and Despair, and the wedding scene comes at the end of a climactic storm and flood sequence, which is quite well done for the time, despite some obvious use of miniatures. Basically, this is a romantic comedy with some satire of psychology used as a hook on which to hang some bizarre situations and comic scenes. Fairbanks, who was in his mid-30's here, is quite athletic (and gets to do some fun stunts) but looks at least 40, so it's a bit of a stretch to imagine him as a rudderless young man. Otherwise, this is great fun. [DVD--on the Flicker Alley "Modern Musketeer" boxed set]

Friday, December 11, 2009


This notorious silent short (25 minutes) about a cocaine-addled detective is much discussed among film buffs but hard to see, so it was a joy to discover it on a boxed DVD set of Douglas Fairbanks movies, and even better to find that the film is not a disappointment, as so many long-lost cult items are. Fairbanks (Senior, father of the sound-era actor), with weird hair and a shaggy false mustache, is Coke Enneyday, a Sherlock Holmes figure. There is a giant dial on his wall divided into four parts: Eat, Drink, Sleep, Dope. He sits nodding at a desk until he takes out a syringe and shoots cocaine into his hand, then he gets a goofy smile on his face and starts bouncing happily in his chair. Occasionally, he dips his hand into a huge canister (helpfully labeled "Cocaine") and takes gigantic outrageous snorts, tossing white powder everywhere. When he gets up and turns the dial to Drink, his assistant makes him strong cocktails. But mostly, he Dopes, constantly stabbing his hand with a needle and looking slaphappy. He is asked to investigate the case of a stranger in town who seems to have money to burn but no visible means of support. It turns out the guy is the head of a smuggling ring, bringing opium into the country using a beachside flotation-device rental store as a front (the Leaping Fish of the title are the floats). When Fairbanks discovers the opium, he is positively giddy with delight as he samples some. The detective also has to rescue a young woman, identified in an intertitle as "Inane, the little fish-blower of Short Beach"--she inflates the Leaping Fish. Things come to a climax at the Hop Sum laundry in Chinatown where Fairbanks gets the gang members high on opium; they proceed to prance around with Fairbanks before falling to the floor in a stupor. At the end, there's one last very amusing and self-referential surprise.

Some folks have identified this as a pro-drug movie, which is just as ridiculous as saying that W.C. Fields movies in which the main character is frequently drunk are pro-alcoholism. Like a Fields movie, it's a farce, pure and simple, with no socially redeeming message*, and that's the problem for some viewers--we're so used to condemnation of drug use being an automatic part of any story that involves drugs that we don't know how to respond when rampant drug use is used strictly for laughs. I think even nine years into the 21st century, this would be taboo in a mainstream movie. Here, there is something liberating about seeing this likable character so wiped out on every drug he can his hands on, who still gets the girl and takes down the bad guy (and even steals some of the bad guy's dope). Fairbanks is hysterically funny; imagine Chaplin's Tramp totally zoned out and you'll get some picture of the figure he cuts here. With each stab of the syringe, Fairbanks bobbles his head blissfully, plays with his hair, and twirls his mustache. He spends most of the movie in a checkered outfit, riding around in a checkerboard jalopy, and more or less accidentally getting the best of the villains. I quite enjoyed this short film and highly recommend it. Available on the 5-disc Modern Musketeer set from Flicker Alley, and also on a single disc from Kino of a later Fairbanks movie called The Gaucho. [DVD]

* I'm not naive enough to imply that farces or shorts or W.C. Fields movies can't be read as having "messages," or that they don't have social or political worldviews inherent in their narratives (Fields might be seen as Huck Finn, escaping the tyranny of women, work, and laws by lighting out for the territory; i.e., getting good and drunk and staying that way as long as possible). No movie can be completely divorced from worldviews, but that doesn't mean that a coherent social message is always present.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


In 1638, Louis XIII is given an heir by Queen Anne, but moments after his birth the Queen delivers a twin boy. Since there can only be one future Louis XIV, the second boy's existence is kept secret and he is shipped off to Gascony to be raised by the King's loyal and largely retired Musketeers, led by D'Artagnan. The wicked Fouquet raises the heir to be a ruthless bastard, and years later, the Musketeers (including the grown-up twin, named Phillipe) are arrested as tax rebels, an incident which provides the movie's first rousing swashbuckling scene. At Louis' court, the King decides to use Phillipe as his double, not realizing that he is his brother. Phillipe makes nice with Maria Theresa of Spain, Louis' arranged fiancée, and they fall in love, which is nice for Louis who can remain with his mistress. Louis is less happy when Phillipe, as the King, runs into some desperately hungry peasants and promises to help them, and also orders the Musketeers freed. Louis wants to have Phillipe killed, but when the truth about their blood tie is revealed, he instead imprisons Phillipe in the Bastille in an iron mask, so his resemblance to the King will not be known. Will the Musketeers be able to save Phillipe before his beard grows so long that it will strangle him inside his mask?

I found this to be more fun than any "Three Musketeers" film I've seen yet. Directed by James Whale, this was done as an "independent," non-studio film, meaning the budget may have been a bit leaner than the norm for this kind of action film, and indeed the swashbuckling scenes are few and far between, with the political and romantic angles of the King's marriage taking up more screen time, but when they do get around to action, it's done very well. Loius Hayward does a nice job as the twins, giving his two roles two different personalities without going campily overboard. Joseph Schildkraut is appropriately slimy as Fouquet and Joan Bennett is fine as the confused love interest who is alternately repelled by Louis and attracted by Phillipe, not knowing about the ruse. Warren William makes a good aging D'Artagnan though the other Musketeers (including Alan Hale) don't wind up with much to do. Peter Cushing and Dwight Frye have small roles. Good fun, and I might even hunt down the DiCaprio remake. [TCM]

Friday, December 04, 2009

TENSION (1949)

An unsung gem of prime film noir. Richard Basehart is a mild-mannered, glasses-wearing, night-shift pharmacist; Audrey Totter is his icy blonde tramp of a wife who mistreats him and flirts shamelessly with other men. Basehart has been saving money to buy a perfect little suburban house, but when he drives her out to see it, she refuses to get out of the car, and even blows the car horn to drown out his pleading. Soon she's run off with Lloyd Gough, whom she refers to as a "big man"; Basehart goes out to Gough's beach house and gets into fisticuffs with Gough (which Totter watches with a mix of disgust and sexual excitement in her eyes). After getting beaten up, the meek pharmacist concocts a plan: he gets contact lenses, leases an apartment, sets up a new weekend identity, and plots to kill Gough. He tries, but can’t bring himself to go through with it. Somebody does, however, and soon the cops are hot on the trail of his alter ego.

Most of the elements of classic noir are here: an urban setting, lots of nighttime scenes, a conflicted protagonist, a femme fatale, moral gray areas, betrayal, and cops. Basehart, whom I'd never seen in anything aside from his 60's TV show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, is good, quite believable both as the nerdish nice guy and the would-be killer. He's actually kind of nerdy-cute in glasses (Gough calls him a "four-eyed punk"), though how he wound up with Totter in the first place is never explained. Cyd Charisse is a young woman who Basehart meets in his new identity; as usual in a dramatic part—no dancing here—she is adequate and no more. Barry Sullivan is fine as the cop who narrates the story, but the real star here is Totter, looking like a mash-up of the sexiest parts of Carolyn Jones and Gloria Grahame, who glowers and pouts and struts with the best of the noir villainesses. In an interesting twist, it's implied that she and Sullivan have a past: when they first meet, they seem to recognize each other, and he says to her, "I’ve got a file on you that goes back father than you'd like to remember and up to when you wish you could forget." Despite that, they do a little hot canoodling, though mostly he does it because he suspects she might be the killer and he's trying get her to slip up. Outlandishly sexy music plays whenever Totter enters the scene—it's effective the first time around, though it had me chuckling during a second viewing. This movie is not exactly a polished masterpiece, but it is great fun, and is available as part of the Film Noir Classic Collection Volume 4 from Warner Bros. [DVD]

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


With the collapse of its traditional farming and manufacturing economy, Phenix City, Alabama (pronounced like Phoenix) has been overrun by vice; a song performed in one its nightclubs lauds the city’s "fancy women, slot machines, and booze." Anyone trying to fight the corrupt City Hall is doomed to defeat; nevertheless, a group of concerned citizens keep trying, and this year they want lawyer Albert Patterson to get involved. He won't, for two reasons 1) the reigning czar of the town’s seedier elements, Rhett Tanner, is an old friend of his; 2) he believes the citizens’ group is guilty of vigilantism. Eventually, however, Patterson’s son John, just back home from the Korean War, gets involved on the side of the citizens. When the young daughter of one of the crusaders is kidnapped, killed, and dumped in the street, Albert is motivated to run for Attorney General on an anti-vice platform. He wins, but before he can be sworn in, he is assassinated by Tanner's thugs. Now John Patterson gets serious, calling the state militia in to restore law and order.

This is often labeled as "film noir," but it's really a documentary-style crime drama. Based on a true story (and filmed on location in Phenix City a year after the events portrayed), the film is so anxious to set up its credentials, it opens with an awkward 10-minute newsreel segment in which real-life reporter Clete Roberts sets up the background and interviews a couple of the real people involved in the events. While moderately interesting, this section goes on too long, working against the building of dramatic tension. Luckily, once the movie gets going, it's quite watchable. John McIntire (as the father) and Edward Andrews (as Tanner) are both effectively low-key, with Richard Kiley (as the son, pictured above with McIntire) able to push his performance a bit in the other direction. The dumping of the little girl is a truly brutal and startling moment; James Edwards gives a good performance as the girl's father. Kathryn Grant (later married to Bing Crosby) isn't given much to do as Kiley's wife, though she does have a shrilly hysterical scene after the death of the girl. Not film noir, but still worth a view, largely as a document of its time; nowadays, this would be a TV-movie. [TCM]