The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

An ongoing survey of the Criterion Forum membership to create lists of the best films of each decade and genre.
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domino harvey
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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#676 Post by domino harvey » Tue Nov 24, 2015 12:21 am

Thanks to YnEoS for noticing a tallying discrepancy: I inadvertently gave two of Riffraff's votes to Rififi, so both have been adjusted accordingly in the new tally

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#677 Post by dustybooks » Sat Dec 26, 2015 4:08 pm

domino harvey wrote:I Want to Live! (Robert Wise 1958) I'm working through my remaining unseen works cited in Mark Osteen's Nightmare Alley before reading and kept putting this one off, as it looked from the outside to be another example of the medicine cinema of the late 50s I described in my last Wise thumbnail. But, to my great delight, I loved this capital punishment diatribe. After four unsuccessful noms, Susan Hayward finally won her Oscar and it was well-merited (while Googling this film I horrifyingly found many commentators claiming she deserved it more for I'll Cry Tomorrow, proving that literally everyone is wrong on the internet), as this is a nicely brassy and unsympathetic portrayal of a constant fuckup who finds herself railroaded into a murder charge. Though the real life inspiration was, by Hayward's own admission, probably guilty, her on-screen counterpart is innocent, and this lends a nice sense of injustice to fuel the obvious disgust the film has for the death penalty (as seen beautifully in its documentary-style attention to detail in the last thirty minutes).
I just saw this last night and it really is quite extraordinary. Having forgotten it was classified as noir, I too was expecting Oscar bait (indeed, I watched it as part of a personal Oscars-related project I've had going on for a while) and instead was stunned by its effortless shift from gritty, stylized underworld melodrama to harrowing, sensitive screed against the death penalty. I didn't find Barbara unsympathetic at all, but greatly enjoyed Hayward's unapologetic sniping and lack of polite filtering, which I'm sure is a big factor in what's helped this age so gracefully. I like but don't outright love a few of Robert Wise's other films as director; this is the first one I've seen that's deeply impressed me. And the cinematography is indeed remarkable -- Lionel Lindon also shot The Manchurian Candidate; that's one of my favorite movies but I don't think of it as being remotely this handsome.

(By the way, seeing this and Papillon in a two-day period made me wonder if a prison movies mini-list project would be feasible.)

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#678 Post by domino harvey » Sat Jan 02, 2016 5:32 pm

Recent noir viewings:

Amnesiac (Michael Polish 2015) Indie stalwart Polish and his new regular squeeze/star Kate Bosworth team up again for this stylish yet excessively protracted exercise in minimalism. Wes Bentley wakes up to discover himself convalescing in a home he doesn’t recognize, looked after by a wife he can’t remember. But since she looks like Bosworth, he’s not in a huge rush to question this development! The period setting of the film is indiscriminately enforced and I’m not sure why Polish makes such pains to place Bosworth and Bentley within the 1950s household and fashion while casually undermining all of this with interruptions of the police officer’s desktop terminal &c. Bosworth has an entertaining runner of providing inane factoids while doing devilish things, and the film is undeniably good-looking (Polish knows his way around a minuscule budget), but the story is better fit for a 25 minute anthology horror show from the 80s, not an 80+ minute feature, and the movie can’t sustain what little narrative there is here. I still kinda liked it despite its faults, but I can’t really recommend anyone go out of their way to see it.

the Beat Generation (Charles F Haas 1959) Coming well beyond the heyday of the genre and straddling the line of its death, this is a shaken-up jumble of ideas and concepts, with no identifiable audience or purpose. But some of the goings-on here are in such bad taste that I half admired the film’s go for broke gusto. The story of… well, let’s see: there’s the adventures of the serial rapist, the Aspirin Kid; a third act extended diatribe against and Biblical smackdown of abortion; phoney-baloney explorations of misogyny; and, of course, extended periods of mocking “beat” poetry and “happenings.” I don’t count myself among the fans of the Beats, so I was receptive to the silliness of these gentle parodies, but at some point I stopped being able to discern from the intentionally awful Beat players and the real-life Beats who cameoed with sincerity in the film! It’s hard to imagine youths of the day being interested in the adult crises aspects of the plot, or for the mature audience members wanting to see a movie with long bongo-tapping daddy-os and hep janes getting next leveled, maan. What a weird movie! Recommended.

Big House USA (Howard W Koch 1955) Also a mess, but not nearly as satisfying as the Beat Generation’s cocktail of insanity. A mix of docunoir, prison movie, kidnapping melodrama, and general TV-ready blocking and construction. There’s some great noir actors in this, including Ralph Meeker, William Talman, and Broderick Crawford, but they’re all in it so little that I suspect most of them were only hired for two or three days’ work and the film was then constructed around them, even though they’re ostensibly the protagonists! The film contains one mildly shocking moment of accidental violence early on, but otherwise this is pained paint by numbers stuff.

Cause For Alarm! (Tay Garnett 1951) Not sure how this one ended up charting on the main list, but after watching this and M this round, I’ve once again now seen all of the films on the main list and Also Rans. This is okay, and transposing the domino effect of bad ideas and mistakes Loretta Young makes to suburbia at least proffers some passing novelty for the audience, but this one was probably a little too ridiculous (and its conclusion entirely too convenient) to really work.

the Convincer (Jill Sprecher 2012) Just once I’d love one of these con man movies to end not with the grand reveal of all the wildly outrageous obfuscation and double-dealing that went on behind the scenes of everything we’ve been shown in the film, but with everything being as it seems. That would truly be a greater surprise than anything “revealed” in the finale to this mediocre, but not terrible, stab at Fargo-lite territory. Like Cause For Alarm!, the plot hinges on what should be a relatively easy task— steal a valuable and unguarded violin from a senile old man— that becomes as Herculean a journey as is possible. Greg Kinnear gives one of his better performances of late, and Billy Crudup steals the film as a short-tempered security installer. Alan Arkin’s comic bewildered old man schtick wears pretty thin here, however. The film was recut (with fifteen minutes removed) and rescored and released as Thin Ice, but both versions are on the Blu-ray.

the House on Carroll Street (Peter Yates 1988) Old fashioned Commie/Nazi (sure, both, why not) spy plot in yet another 80s noir throwback (and I was not surprised to see our old friend Robert Benton listed among the producers) as HUAC target Kelly McGillis sticks her nose in the covert plot to bring Nazi doctors to America under false pretenses. This is all pretty lightweight stuff, but passingly entertaining.

M (Joseph Losey 1951) Remaking the Fritz Lang classic was a thankless assignment and Losey could have easily rested on his laurels since no one would have reasonably expected this to be a good idea, but the end result actually turned out pretty great! David Wayne is spot-on as the child murderer (a tossed off line of dialogue assures us that none of the victims have been “violated,” though as one of the angry mob adds, what does that help if they’re still dead?), and his long-take monologue is excellent. But he’s surrounded by a lot of greatness here, and the film moves swiftly and darkly through many of the same plot ticks of the original. I know some consider this an equal to or even superior work to Lang’s, and… I agree!

the Man Who Wasn’t There (Coen Brothers 2001) The Coen Brothers are already rudderless enough in more constrictive narratives, so setting them adrift in an “existential noir” is not the best idea out of the gate. The movie’s construction mirrors the llackadaisical demeanor of Billy Bob Thornton’s protagonist, but this isn’t particularly clever or worth making everything move at half-speed for two hours. Like most Coen movies, it’s too cute and superior to its characters and the plot, even though legitimate noirs with similar trajectories found plenty of room for playfulness and stylistic experimentation while remaining thoroughly genre works. This is noir as art house dress up, because everyone involved think they’re better than the noir films they’re co-opting.

No Man’s Woman (Franklin Adreon 1955) Marie Windsor is the titular bad dame who contrary to the title actually is several men’s— she won’t grant her estranged husband a divorce without a payout of all of his money, sleeps with an art critic to get her name in the paper, and callously steals her assistant’s beau by breaking their date with work and then taking her place! Sadly, the mildly diverting badness of Windsor eventually gives way to a hoary whodunnit, and I pretty much tuned out the rest of this forgettable entry.

Sympathy for Mr Vengeance (Park Chan-wook 2002) The director is clearly talented and has a lot of fun showing off here, but I thought most of this exercise was in bad taste and not nearly fun enough on my end to justify the excesses. Not especially looking forward to continuing with his “Vengeance Trilogy” after this…

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#679 Post by domino harvey » Wed Jan 13, 2016 8:32 pm

domino harvey wrote:TOP MODERN NOIRS (1970 - PRESENT)

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01 Blue Velvet (David Lynch 1986)
02 Chinatown (Roman Polanski 1974)
03 Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese 1976)
04 Mullholland Dr (David Lynch 2001)
05 Fargo (Coen Brothers 1996)
05 the Long Goodbye (Robert Altman 1973)
07 LA Confidential (Curtis Hanson 1997)
08 Blade Runner (Ridley Scott 1982)
09 Memento (Christopher Nolan 2000)
10 Blood Simple (Coen Brothers 1984)
11 Le cercle rouge (Jean-Pierre Melville 1970)
12 Red Rock West (John Dahl 1993)
13 Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino 1994)
Okay, so I realized I had initially made a mistake in tabulating this list, since I accidentally let Point Blank in (thinking it was a vote for Point Break) and the voter casting the ballot must have anticipated I wouldn't allow this since they offered up an 11th place alternate, Pulp Fiction, which now makes the (slightly altered, in terms of placements) list and brings us up to an appropriately unlucky 13 films!

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#680 Post by domino harvey » Sat Feb 20, 2016 12:44 pm

Recent noir viewings:

Amateur (Hal Hartley 1994) A more convincing use of Hartley’s usual players and concerns than the previous Simple Men, this is a convoluted but entertaining mess, with a great score interspersed with an endless stream of Matador Records artists in one of the better snapshots of the mid 90s indie scene. As with something like Fay Grim, anyone trying to take the film seriously will be sorely disappointed, but as a flat lark, it works.

An Inspector Calls (Guy Hamilton 1954) I know it has a solid reputation and fans, but the basic premise and structure of this film didn’t work for me at all, with the ending being one of those cute cheap ploys to prod audiences to Think Seriously.

Behind Locked Doors (Budd Boetticher 1948) Grade Z noir about a private eye who goes undercover at a mental hospital to track down a gangster hiding somewhere on-premises. Features an improbable murder weapon in the form of the wrestler from the Ed Wood movies who is kept alone in a cell and when the baddies want to kill someone, they just dump the poor sap in and ding a bell to make the guy think he’s in the ring again. Russ Tamblyn and Kathleen Freeman show up in early roles, but I don’t think this film could be said to have put them in the spotlight.

Beyond the Reach (Jean-Baptiste Leonetti 2015) Michael Douglas is a rich asshole who accidentally kills someone on a hunting expedition and then proceeds to hunt down his guide before he can turn him in. The class consciousness here is ludicrous, and I kept thinking while watching that this is the wrong way to make a conservative movie (Douglas is the evil liberal, the young teen guide is “just folks” simple and honest) in contrast to the previous year’s "right" way, American Sniper. The ending is pure 90s straight-to-HBO thriller.

the Boston Strangler (Richard Fleischer 1968) A feature length exploration of split screen editing that plays out like an extended version of a TV detective drama’s opening credits, this film anticipates later (and more effective) editing exercises like the Tracey Fragments, even if the base material here is basic procedural stuff. I imagine those enamored with Zodiac’s flat approach would find a lot to like here as well, though the real reason to watch this has nothing to do with its content.

the Captive City (Robert Wise 1952) A decent if minor noir tale of a city under siege by corrupt gangsters and the foolish newspaper editor who sticks his neck out to catch them. The film desperately wants to be a John Huston or Sam Fuller movie, but all the extreme closeups and Bergman-anticipating framings can’t help the thin material.

Chase a Crooked Shadow (Michael Anderson 1958) I don’t know what’s sillier: this film’s plot-- Anne Baxter’s wealthy heiress is made to believe by the entire world that a living conman is her dead brother-- or that it was already done in My Name in Julia Ross. I must admit, while I thought this was a pretty stupid movie, the ending caught me off guard and was just clever enough to make me feel I hadn’t wasted my time. But not enough to recommend it.

Christmas Eve (Edwin L Marin 1947) There are real stars in this poverty row mess like Randolph Scott and Joan Blondell, though I don’t know what bets they all lost to be here. A schizo mashup of a handful of genres, the film plays like a series of anthology TV episodes for a series you’d never want to watch again.

the Clouded Yellow (Ralph Thomas 1950) Jean Simmons is gaslighted by nefarious family members while Trevor Howard catalogs butterflies.

the Driver (Walter Hill 1978) I was stunned by this one, especially since I haven’t had a positive experience with many of Hill’s other films. But this is a great study in style and tropes and would absolutely have made my modern noir list had I seen it in time. Anything good that worked in Drive was done better here, and the film is a brilliant exercise in sustained simplicity. Highly recommended.

Eight Heads in a Duffle Bag (Tom Schulman 1997) There will never be a worse post-Tarantino sweepstakes entry than Mad Dog Time, but this gives that nadir some healthy competition. A comedy about things that aren’t funny, Joe Pesci is a mob enforcer tasked with delivering the titular object to his boss, only to have the package get switched at the airport with a WASPy tourist, who then proceeds to inadvertently convince his girlfriend’s family that he’s a serial killer. Oh, and along the way Pesci kidnaps David Spade and Todd Louiso (Not from the State, apparently!) and threatens to kill them over and over and over as they search morgues for corpses resembling the missing heads. Are you laughing yet?

Focus (Glenn Ficarra and John Requa 2015) About as believable and intelligent as your average CBS procedural, this silly con man flick is admittedly entertaining in its own slick fashion, even if nothing that happens belongs in any realm of the possible. The film pretty much exists just to show Will Smith and Margot Robbie looking at each other, but I did appreciate one minor novel twist in the usual con man flick equation
SpoilerShow
Instead of underestimating one’s mark or opponent, Smith instead far overestimates Robbie’s prowess and reach in the finale, which is allowed to be clever for all of two minutes before the movie ruins it by showing Smith and Gerald McRaney were fifteen thousand times more prepared and clever than anyone in history, jarringly bringing us right back to familiar territory
Footsteps in the Fog (Arthur Lubin 1955) Another great color noir to add to the shortlist, this is a wonderfully mean-spirited and cynical tale of chambermaid Jean Simmons who suspects her employer Stewart Granger of killing his wife, proves it, and then uses this to leverage herself into a better position and romantic entanglement. Granger’s murderous impulse is not to be quelled though, and things get complicated when he savagely beats to death a woman he believes to be Simmons, only to discover it was instead the wife of a local constable. I admired the film’s dark and frank subject matter and its unapologetic tone, and the ending comeuppance is wonderfully perverse. Highly recommended.

the Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (Richard Fleischer 1955) Deeply unpleasant historical drama masquerading as a standard-issue prestige picture. Farley Granger steals the movie as a petulant and wealthy brat who is so fixated on his perceived inadequacy to Ray Milland’s architect that he marries Milland’s lover Joan Collins only to endlessly interrogate her on Milland. It’s an interesting vision of marital Hell, and the film shows no light at the end of the tunnel in its injustices. Recommended.

Kansas City (Robert Altman 1996) Altman’s sparring twin tales of Dermot Mulroney’s loser stickup artist who picks the wrong victim in robbing local gangster Harry Belafonte’s client and Mulroney’s wife Blondie, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh in a conscious imitation of Jean Harlow, who kidnaps a local politician’s wife in order to finagle a release of her husband. Belafonte is an actor who has never done much for me, but he does his best work in this film, and anything that works here usually involves him. Belafonte’s great monologue on white culture is almost worth suffering through the rest of this film, which is unfocused and often ludicrous in its plot machinations. The impact and import of the jazz performances here was and is overstated, and I defy anyone to justify the actions of Miranda Richardson’s character in the finale based on everything else we’ve seen in the film.

the Long Night (Anatole Litvak 1947) Unnecessary but worthwhile remake of Le jour se leve, more or less C+Ped here in typical Hollywood fashion. But Henry Fonda and Barbara Bel Geddes make a good pairing, and could there be a better actor from this era than Vincent Price to play the lech (except maybe Raymond Burr a few years later)? The film retains a stylish visual import of its own, riffing on the original with framings that are often slightly improved on the source

Image

No Good Deed (Bob Rafelson 2002) Despite the talent behind the screen and stars Samuel L Jackson and Stellan Skarsgard I’d never even heard of this, but it ended up being the best of Rafelson’s numerous neonoirs. This Dashiell Hammett adaptation finds mild-mannered GTA cop Samuel L Jackson coerced into searching for a runaway, only to be sidelined into a strange cabal of criminals orchestrating a terrible heist. The film’s presentation of the assorted losers working in tandem to pull off this bank job is offputting at first, but they remain pulp-based and call to mind some of the great dumb cons of countless classic noirs. I’m less enamored with the romantic flirtation that exists between the captive Jackson and Milla Jovovich, though it does payoff in the finale with a nicely moral fatalism. Recommended.

Seven Thieves (Henry Hathaway 1960) This, on the other hand, is a great example of how not to make a heist film. Henry doth not hath a way of salvaging lame trifles like this.

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#681 Post by mizo » Sat Feb 20, 2016 2:00 pm

domino harvey wrote:Todd Louiso from the State
Unless I'm missing a joke here, Todd Louiso wasn't on The State. You're thinking of Todd Holoubek, I imagine (who never had a career in movies outside of bit parts in a State-related thing or two).

And thanks for the write-ups, of course. 8-[

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#682 Post by domino harvey » Sat Feb 20, 2016 2:02 pm

I swear to God I always thought those two were the same person. This was probably not helped by Todd Holoubek almost never being on screen on the State. Interesting!

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#683 Post by swo17 » Sat Feb 20, 2016 2:35 pm

I cosign your capsule on The Driver--glad my orphan has found some love!

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#684 Post by thirtyframesasecond » Sat Feb 20, 2016 4:48 pm

I've not seen the film of An Inspector Calls, but the Priestley play is a quite devastating commentary on Edwardian hypocrisy.

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#685 Post by domino harvey » Mon Jun 06, 2016 3:06 pm

Recent viewings:

Compulsion (Richard Fleischer 1959) I know this has its fans but hoooo boy did I hate this, mainly due to the inescapably awful, hammy performances of the two leads, especially Bradford Dillman’s villainous lickspittle. Unbelievably, the central duo plus Orson Welles as their attorney won the Best Actor award at Cannes, proving ridiculous Cannes awards are not a new phenomenon! Why would anyone watch this when they could just watch Rope instead?

Dead Ringer (Paul Henreid 1964) Lowly barkeep Bette Davis decides to off her estranged, well-off twin sister and assume her role in this entertaining bit of EC Comics-aping fun from actor-turned-director Henreid (of noir staple the Scar). While it’s nowhere near as vicious as its obvious inspiration (or, since this is a remake of a Mexican film, that film’s inspiration), there’s still a lot of fun to be had in watching Davis (poorly) navigate someone else’s life. Plus, who hasn’t wanted to see Peter Lawford get violently attacked by a doberman? Like a lot of noir films, this one runs out of energy 2/3 of the way through, but it’s a lot of fun in the windup. Recommended.

the Detective (Gordon Douglas 1968) Mishmash of a half-dozen different cop narratives, a few of which stick, with Frank Sinatra playing the titular good cop in a compromised city. I understand Sinatra’s on-screen acceptance of homosexuality (or at least not demonizing it to the extent of Robert Duvall’s baddie cop) was fairly groundbreaking for the time and I admire its progressiveness, even if it does strike me as a bit halfhearted. But the film never gels all of its assorted parts into anything other than a potpourri of other films you might easily confuse this for in memory.

Devil in a Blue Dress (Carl Franklin 1995) A frustrating failure. There’s so much good here in how the typical noir tropes are upended and transferred to different codes of behavior and conduct when our noir protagonist is a black man (I especially loved how Denzel Washington had to maneuver his confrontation with the crooked police in such a way that he gains the upper hand without being “disrespectful” to the white man), but Franklin is not a natural filmmaker and the editing choices are horrid, 90s Lindt truffles commercial-quality. And the central mystery is so painfully in the Pinky mold from the outset that its reveal is anything but a surprise, and the narrative is nowhere near as interesting as it should be. But the novel touch of the race angle is so good and effective that I can understand why some people would make excuses for the other aspects, even if I can’t quite do the same.

$ (Richard Brooks 1971) Frothy bit of nothing from Hollywood stalwart Brooks concerning bank security expert Warren Beatty and floozie Goldie Hawn’s elaborate scheme to steal guilt-free only from the security deposit boxes of criminals. Like all heisty films, the fun is in the set up and reveal of the plan (this one is, well, less ingenious than most), and the film ends with the most unexpectedly long chase scene this side of Sex and the Single Girl (I did not check the time to confirm but I would not be surprised if a full fourth of the two hour running time was devoted to the final footchase). The movie’s a little too mean-spirited in its violence to earn the light touch it tries to further in its comedy, but I’ve seen far, far worse from Hollywood in this period.

the Garment Jungle (Vincent Sherman and Robert Aldrich 1957) Unions good, sweat shop owners bad. Got it? If not, the film will beat you over the head with it. Luckily, for at least the first two thirds, it’s an effective work of agitprop, with Lee J Cobb (of that other, more notable Union movie) starring as a shopowner who refuses to let his seamstresses unionize, employing mobster Richard Boone to take care of it for him with violence if necessary. There’s a lot of time wasted on the deadwood son of Cobb and doomed union firebrand Robert Loggia’s Italian wife, but when the film gets in our face with its social messaging, I at least admired its gusto if nothing else. There’s also a wonderful set reveal moment early on in which we see the glamorous changing room of the in-store models is separated by a chickenwire door from the lowly sweatshop workers— it’s a smart visual cue far more effective than anything else here in showing the disconnect between the classes.

the Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun (Joann Sfar 2015) A 93 minute argument in favor of Freya Mavor being astonishingly beautiful, this remake (the original is unseen by me) is such a transparently trifling riff on the international cinema scene of the early 70s that style and aesthetics are required to go, as Pavement once put it, miles and miles. I already agreed with the film’s thesis re: Mavor before it even started, but there are worse ways to pass the time than what gets cooked up here. I was thankful that the narrative, in which a young woman makes a journey through several small towns she’s never visited only to be told by all the locals that she was just there the night before, didn’t resolve itself in a cheap answer (ie no, it isn’t all a dream), even if the eventual solution is quite ludicrous. Ultimately an empty film, but one I’d admittedly watch again.

Moontide (Archie Mayo 1942) Fox tries and fails to do something with Jean Gabin in this silly but mildly diverting tale of an alcoholic bait salesman who may or may not have killed someone while on a drunken bender. Notable perhaps only for the scene in which Thomas Mitchell snaps a wet towel at a nude Claude Rains.

True Story (Rupert Goold 2015) Lowkey but effective real-life story of a discredited journalist, Jonah Hill, who latches onto the phony innocence claims of a death row inmate he has befriended, James Franco. Despite the two stars, the film plays it straight and I appreciated its small stakes aims and successes. Felicity Jones is third billed as Hill’s wife (uh huh, sure), who spends 95% of the film quietly disapproving of Hill’s friendship with Franco and is wasted to such an extent that the mystery of why she even bothered to accept such a nothing part is left unanswered until her Big Scene near the end in which she confronts Franco and gives a stunning monologue completely at-odds to everything else in the film in bombast and impact. Jones' erudite smackdown is a stunner and the movie's worth recommending for this moment alone. As a whole the film’s still pretty good, though.

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#686 Post by colinr0380 » Sat Aug 13, 2016 9:43 am

domino harvey wrote:the Boston Strangler (Richard Fleischer 1968) A feature length exploration of split screen editing that plays out like an extended version of a TV detective drama’s opening credits, this film anticipates later (and more effective) editing exercises like the Tracey Fragments, even if the base material here is basic procedural stuff. I imagine those enamored with Zodiac’s flat approach would find a lot to like here as well, though the real reason to watch this has nothing to do with its content.
I rewatched this last night after having not seen it in a couple of decades and still think it holds up pretty well. I'm not sure its up there with M, though it feels pretty obviously in the same vein in the way that the film becomes less about the killer (at least until the 'interrogation' scenes at the end of both films which involves the killer re-playing the thought process of their crimes for their audience) and more about how the society reacts and responds to it, from street level to governmental level. In some ways it also deals with the generalised paranoia, or even mob mentality (though not as explicitly as Summer of Sam did decades later, where this was the main theme) of giving everyone licence to inform the police about their local deviants based on the slightest suspicion in the hope that not only will they catch the strangler, but also might get a chance to settle a couple of scores in the process!

The scene with the gay man is interesting, if slightly problematic here in the way that the heavily implied to be in a lesbian tryst landladies report their tenant for having just put up a framed picture of a black woman after a black woman was murdered, and for owning certain works of literature (which allows the film to explain the Marquis de Sade and the Thuggee cult to the officers, and the audience!). Then we get Henry Fonda's character visiting the suspect in a gay bar where there's some quite interesting back and forth (I'm paraphrasing but its the part with "You came to see how the other half lives", with Fonda responding: "Let's just say I'm slumming it" that immediately gets called out with "I didn't expect you to behave that way" with Fonda then apologising), though I found the end of that scene problematic in suggesting that the gay man and his lesbian landlady were in a relationship, and the break up of that was the reason for her accusation. But it apparently makes sense because "I was the woman, and she was the man"! I'm not entirely sure that's how homosexuality works!

And of course none of this is a mystery as even if the viewer wasn't already aware of Albert DeSalvo being The Boston Strangler, the opening title states that from the start. That for me only emphasises that the first half to two thirds of the film is about the climate of fear more than catching a particular criminal. Even catching up with the murderer comes about not through investigation (or psychics, or pleas to the public) than by the simple coincidence of sharing a lift together! Then the film becomes about corroborating the suspicions as far as possible, seeemingly as much for the investigator's peace of mind as to catch or stop a criminal (which is where domino's Zodiac comparison feels important).

The use of the split screen editing is interesting. What at first feels a little gimmicky feels like it does explore new ways to tell a crime thriller story (though three times is probably two too many to repeat the 'murdered person lying in the dark waiting until somebody from the other screen opens the door and discovers them' trope. The first time it works really well though, with the wait for the normal world of the characters to collide with the body behind the door). There's the interesting way in which the split screen sequence focusing on all of the men with relevant previous sexual misdemeanour arrests getting rounded up gets paired together with the other split screen sequence focusing on the anxieties of women in the city. Both scenes work to show a sort of city-wide fast-moving transmission of information (through the news reports and telephone exchanges) and anxiety, along with the police response to that.

In both cases its almost as if people need to react in some fashion (just to show they care, even if its a kneejerk panic reaction) in response to the stranglings being a particularly heinous act. The petty criminals are rounded up in the same way that the criminal gangs were in M, though The Boston Strangler doesn't end up with the beseiged criminals taking it upon themselves to catch the killer!

I particularly liked that all of the split screen simultaneous action falls away once we get away from the wider portrait of the society and into Albert DeSalvo's case itself. Then it becomes more about DeSalvo's split personality disorder and the abstract replaying of memories of events which change as flashes of the murders he actually committed briefly show through the comforting story he has concocted to protect himself (and his family) from his darker side. And this change in the editing itself prepares for the way that we eventually leave DeSalvo isolated in his all white limbo of mental confusion, unable to see the walls of his cell clearly through the fog.

I found it a really interesting film. Tony Curtis really feels like he is channelling his inner Peter Lorre in that final 'confession' scene, both upset at his realisation and relieved to unburden himself. And it feels as if the film as a whole is trying to exploit a new frankness about sexuality, at least in the matter of fact discussion of various topics if not the portrayal (though the scene involving the assault of the sole survivor of the strangler sort of anticipates the more explicit approach to violence Hitchcock would take in Frenzy a few years later), and that reminded me of some of the frank discussions that occurred around the central crime in Anatomy of a Murder.

EDIT: And as with seeing Leslie Nielsen in his 'early, serious' films, there's an extra frisson to be had in watching the film today and seeing George Kennedy playing a police inspector role very similar to the role he'd play in the Naked Gun films! Only of course instead of being a straight man in a goofy world, here he's legitimately incensed at having to stand over yet another brutalised corpse, or confused by the slightly distasteful introduction of a psychic into the proceedings! (Come to think of it, perhaps its more that the tone of the film changed rather than Kennedy changing his performance as such in the later parody films! Either way it works!)
Last edited by colinr0380 on Mon Aug 15, 2016 1:22 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#687 Post by domino harvey » Sun Aug 14, 2016 11:22 am

Great thoughts as usual, Colin!

Recent viewings:

Between Midnight and Dawn (Gordon Douglas 1950) Solid if unexceptional police beat noir, with partners Edmond O’Brien and Mark Stevens giving the least subtle of gay vibes as two inseparable flatfoots who do literally everything together— dating, working, rooming (I wouldn’t be surprised if their bathroom had two toilets installed), and so on. Their quixotic staredown of a cartoonish local thug meets predictable ends, though I enjoyed the absurdity of the baddie threatening a cadre of cops by dangling a little girl out of a window a la Michael Jackson.

Charley Varrick (Don Siegel 1973) Walter Matthau robs a bank and accidentally leaves with three-quarters of a million dollars’ of the mob’s money. Mistakes were made, &c. Matthau is good here playing against type as he tries to figure out a way to give the mob back their money without dying in the process. Much of the running time is devoted to Joe Don Baker’s fixer, Molly (as in the Set-Up or Prime Cut, the more effeminate or feminine a tough guy’s name, the scarier he must be), whose churlishness is sometimes entertaining, sometimes overdone. The finale to this is wonderfully clever, and how Matthau manipulates one of the characters against the other is genius. Recommended.

Deadline USA (Richard Brooks 1952) Smart and fast-paced newspaperman hagiography with Humphrey Bogart playing the usual lovable hardnose fuckup at everything but his job (the film is quite Hawksian in this regard). The best moments come early, when there’s no counting clock or pressing drama and all of the newspaper staff gather to hold a wake to their soon to be shuttered paper. I’m not entirely sure I buy this one as a noir, but it’s a solid film regardless. Recommended.

Hidden Fear (Andre de Toth 1957) Unwatchable Danish-set international production with John Payne on the hunt after a gaggle of interchangeable counterfeiters lead by Alexander Knox. The plot is somehow both confusing and predictable, and there is not a single memorable moment in the whole mess.

the Man I Love (Raoul Walsh 1947) The easiest way to spot a b-pic from the 30s and 40s is to look at how many plot threads and minor contract players the studio has managed to shove into one film. Yet somehow this mess was a big budget studio picture, though you can't tell by what's on-screen. This movie is so overstuffed with characters you don’t care about doing assorted dumb plot contrivance things that it’s impossible to ever give it the requisite rope it needs to succeed.

Rollercoaster (James Goldstone 1977) I admittedly went into this with low expectations but this is something of a minor masterpiece, with George Segal restructuring the film around him to fit his comic sensibilities not unlike Charles Grodin in 11 Harrowhouse. Segal’s perf here is why you hire talented name actors, pay them well, and then trust them to rise above the level of their material. Segal gives what is legitimately one of the best and most unheralded perfs I can think of, certainly as far as quasi-disaster movies are concerned. And he’s not the only component part that works here. This tale of a mad rollercoaster bomber could so easily be utterly ridiculous or artless, but the filmmakers and cast decide to make the film better than anyone needed it to be, and there are so many wonderful little touches that make viewing easily rewarding. Within the first ten minutes alone we get a hilarious goof on all those treacly stock scenes of introducing a new character by showing Segal and family driving to their new home in familiar blocking and set-up, only to have the pastoral imagery hilariously interrupted by our protagonist screeching his way out of a harried collision! And the film will continue to exercise respect for the audience, even as it gets more ridiculous. One of the most pleasant surprises in recent memory. Highly recommended.

Shield for Murder (Edmond O’Brien and Howard W Koch 1954) Scrappily-made (there is a noticeable boom mic shadow within the first minute) but supremely effective portrayal of a crooked detective played to sweaty perfection by co-director O’Brien, who is introduced in perfect noir fashion: he leads a bookie into an alley, shoots him in the back execution-style, lifts a wad of money off him, then shoots a couple more times in the air while shouting “Stop, police!” The movie pulls no punches with O’Brien, who is fiercely watchable doing a variation of other angry cop noir protagonists like those found in On Dangerous Ground and Where the Sidewalk Ends (only here there can be no redemption), and his avalanching wave of bad decisions and increasingly objectionable murders (by the finale he’s literally just shooting fellow uniformed cops willy-nilly) is a joy to watch unfold. The film also has a strange and wonderfully unnecessary sequence involving O’Brien getting picked up by a platinum-haired Caroyln Jones in a seedy bar— it is a reminder of how lovely little grace notes like this are what often make a good film great. Highly recommended.

the Taking of Pelham One Two Three (Joseph Sargent 1974) Ostensibly a mostly real-time hijacking thriller set aboard the titular NYC subway train, the actual function of this film is to paint a gloriously rich and full portrait of New York City’s varied citizens, and there are so many memorable peaks and character bits here that it utterly shames 99% of all other action films that aren’t nearly as generous or imaginative to fill their similarly structured movies with this level of interest and attention. This is clever entertainment from start to finish. Highly recommended.

Term Life (Peter Billingsley 2016) Astonishingly cliched and trite tale of Vince Vaughn’s heist mastermind who finds himself framed by dirty cops (led by Bill Paxton— where’s he been?) and on the run from a Mexican cartel boss, all while shepherding his teenage daughter Hailee Steinfeld away from danger. As is usually the case, if there’s a name-brand cast and it went straight to VOD, there’s probably a reason. The majority of the plot is dependent on Steinfeld doing the absolute stupidest things possible in a given situation, far beyond the realms of the usual bad screenplay crutches into a new and previously undiscovered world of narrative ineptness. Call me naive but I really thought everyone stopped making movies like this once HBO took its swivel towards respectability.

Walk a Crooked Mile (Gordon Douglas 1948) Early crack at the anti-commie red-baiting noir, with Dennis O’Keefe facing off against villains that would have been Nazis just a few years prior with absolutely no changes to the script. A decent procedural, of some interest for being one of the first films to really tackle the growing hysteria that would develop into the Cold War, but otherwise unexceptional as a noir.

Walk East on Beacon! (Alfred Werker 1952) Underwritten by the FBI, with no attempt to mask or hide its federal bonafides (the film’s script is partially credited to J Edgar Hoover!), this lifeless procedural shows the strain of some rather toothless bloodletting by the feds in order to secure their endorsement/cooperation. This would be less of a problem if it made for a better film, but it didn’t! Typical commie spy ring muckraking stuff, with the Reds once again built up as so well-organized that it has the unintended effect of being more impressive than insidious.

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#688 Post by knives » Sun Aug 14, 2016 9:03 pm

I adore Charley Varrick which in its plot and some of the themes strike me as a jumping off point for No Country for Old Men which of course ratchets things up to cosmic Krasznahorkian levels.

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#689 Post by Feego » Tue Sep 27, 2016 4:11 pm

Has anyone by some chance seen the 1992 remake of Ulmer's Detour? It appears to be a largely shot-by-shot remake starring Tom Neal, Jr., son of the original film's star (by eerie coincidence, both father and son died at the age of 58).

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#690 Post by domino harvey » Mon Jan 23, 2017 6:16 pm

Recent viewings:

Eyewitness (Peter Yates 1981) Janitor William Hurt encounters a murder victim on the job and uses his discovery to maneuver a relationship with junior reporter Sigourney Weaver. The basic premise of this film is already rickety and once we are asked to believe this romance is anything but creepy (Hurt lays on his borderline stalker “charm” early and often in the courtship), the film then tops itself with its wholly unlikely murderer.

Fallen Angels: Red Wind (Agnieszka Holland 1995) Danny Glover is Phillip Marlowe in what sounds like stunt casting but isn’t, as this is a straight and mediocre adaptation of the source material. Though nothing here is bad per se, and I enjoyed Miguel Sandoval’s wry performance as “the spic,” the returns on the material here are pretty slim. Like nearly all of these Fallen Angels installments, the results struggle to reconcile reverence and relevance.

Gangster Squad (Ruben Fleischer 2013) Transposing an action film to 1949 LA is a novel idea, even if the actual film itself is as riddled with cliches as bullets in the poor masonry of the city of angels by the end of the movie’s violent spree. This is the kind of movie that introduces a shoeshine boy with spunk and the moment the kid opens his mouth you know he’s going to die in a Meaningful Way (and if you think that’s a spoiler, I want to welcome you to our planet, alien who’s never seen a movie before). The film is reasonably entertaining, but so flagrantly propped up with endless familiar and trite notes that it's all for naught.

the Girl on the Train (Tate Taylor 2016) 2016’s Dark Places, an inexplicably bad film based on a popular airport novel that by all evidence was doomed from conception. Emily Blunt plays the blackout-prone alkie who foists herself into investigating the disappearance of a woman she romanticizes every day from the window of her commuter train as it passes by her house. The film is told in a highly fragmented style that at first promises some relevancy to the scattershot memory of the protagonist but quickly becomes a crutch by which the film can transparently start to conceal vital information from the audience for no other reason than so we can get one of those hoary last minute twists and reveals of the True Villain that is right out of a bad early 90s HBO thriller. The film’s contempt for the audience gets ratcheted up to a million in the ending, when
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Emily Blunt is so clearly being set up to take the fall for Theroux and Bennett’s murders by incriminating herself in all aspects of her behavior and by the manipulative actions of Theroux (though naturally he wasn’t planning to die in the process). When the film chickens out and has the wife back her play, I realized the film was in the unenviable position of having two possible directions to tie a bow on this mess and both sucked— though the one we get sucks more, because those threads become gaping plot contrivances of dead-ends rather than gaping plot contrivances of unfairness.
the Laughing Policeman (Stuart Rosenberg 1973) I enjoyed the other Matthau image reinventions from the early seventies, but this one falls flat. Yet another cop tale cashing in post-French Connection, this one has a weird but compelling violent crime setting off Matthau’s borderline catatonic cop on the hunt for the unknown assailant who wiped out his partner and a bus full of innocents. There are a lot of problems with the film, namely that once we know who did it, there’s no way to believe that they would do it (and even less believability can be meted out to their actions in the finale). The film ladles on the local color of San Francisco “weirdos,” but in a gawking, freak show fashion that is primarily unpleasant.

Lucky Number Slevin (Paul McGaugan 2006) Bad Quentin Tarantino ripoffs never died, they just washed themselves in the blood of the Boondock Saints and kept right on rollin’. Mistaken identity leads to “outrageous” comic scenarios and forced assassination gigs as Josh Hartnett finds himself tossed between two rival gangsters. Lucy Liu plays a screenwriter’s manifestation of the ideal woman: she just pops into your apartment uninvited to literally borrow a cup of sugar (totes random!), checks our your dick, and then spends the rest of the movie trying to ride said dick without ever expressing any personality or interests outside of an inordinate amount of time spent fawning over you. The dialog in this film sounds like it was crafted by someone who held their breath too long as a child. By the time Bruce Willis refers to a man’s dreams as “the stuff of pipes,” you’ll be crying out for the movie to instead stuff its pipe. Hey, that’s awful enough to be a line from Lucky Number Slevin!

Mirage (Edward Dmytryk 1965) A great opening set in a New York office building during a blackout gives way to your standard issue amnesiac noir, one produced a good fifteen-plus years too late. The solution to who Gregory Peck is and why everyone wants to kill him is pretty silly, but the film has some fun teasing it out, and the answer plays mostly fair with what we’ve seen as the pieces fall into place. That said, I don’t think this one ever quite works and comes together into more than its scattered parts. Beginner gumshoe Walter Matthau steals the film and the movie unwisely sidelines him far too early in a glaring mistake any studio head should have prevented beforehand.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller 2014) Much of the fun of the original film was in its newness and bold stylistic choices. These favors have limited draw in a retread, and so all we’re left with are the stories. And that’s bad news for everyone, as this hodgepodge of pulp hyperbole isn’t all too fresh even apart from its visual Xeroxes from the first pic. I did enjoy the payoff to the Joseph Gordon Levitt storyline, where in true noir fashion a victory of principle is short lived indeed, and Josh Brolin is a good fit for this sort of amped-up grizzliness— his titular storyline is the most fully fleshed-out section of this patchwork. But hoo boy, Jessica Alba and Mickey Rourke’s standalone bookend segments are pure garbage. That said, I think both of these films serve as effective reminders of the dirty dregs of men’s lit that informed many of the noir classics we know and love. By pushing these prurient interests to their (seeming, but give it a couple years and I’m sure there’ll be new lows) extreme, these films give us the breathlessly gory and sexually-charged macho tales lurid detective magazines only hinted at decades prior.

Thrillkill (Anthony D’Andrea 1984) A computer game programmer steals money from banks and is murdered in return. Her sister is then menaced by literally everyone she comes into contact with, each working for their own reasons, in various ploys to get access to the stolen money. This Canadian TV movie isn’t good, but I found myself impressed at just how many untrustworthy and scheming players the film managed to throw at the protagonist.

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#691 Post by domino harvey » Thu May 18, 2017 1:22 am

swo17 wrote:Props where they're due: I only checked out The Web because domino raved about it earlier in the thread.
Fun fact I've learned in the meantime: Michael Gordon, the director of this and Pillow Talk among others, is Joseph Gordon-Levitt's grandfather!

As if that wasn't enough excitement for one update, here's the first hint that I may be running out quality unseen noirs. Behold, a rather underwhelming slate of recent viewings:

Affair in Trinidad (Vincent Sherman 1952) I don’t even like Glenn Ford in movies that are good, but boy I don’t know that I ever hated him as much as i do here as the total jerk brother of Rita Hayworth’s late husband who wants answers about what happened to his dead brother, dammit! A stupid spy plot left to ripen and rot on a studio shelf in the wake of the war does no one any favors. Also, poor Hayworth is given two atrocious dance numbers here that are just cruel.

Alias Nick Beal (John Farrow 1949) It takes audacity to make a film noir starring the Devil. It takes genius to cast Ray Milland as Old Scratch. Milland’s casting is dead-on, and while he’s not someone I would ever have placed in the role, the moment he shows up and embodies Satan, it’s clear he’s a perfect fit. I’ll go one further: I think Milland gives the definitive portrait of Satan on film. Charming yet terse, seductive yet elusive, and never without the air of constant threat hanging about him. The plot here is one of those hoary morality plays in which a good man bends and bends in increments until it’s clear he’s formed a circle of self-furthering bad ideas. It is of no consequence. I admired the film’s little touches all the same, like how the action plays with Milland’s ability to know human nature so well that he can eerily predict every characters’ next move— it’s a nice twist on the standard noir problem of the inescapable past, as here even the future is haunting us! Recommended.

the Big Bounce (Alex March 1969) I haven’t had the let’s say pleasure of seeing Leigh Taylor-Young and Ryan O’Neal in their roles in the TV soap adaptation of Peyton Place, but watching them pretend to be adults in this is oddly fascinating. By the end of it only Taylor-Young’s fille fatale is actually copped as being a teen, but both may as well be fifteen. Turns out Brick was beaten to the punch decades earlier by this silly bit of nothing in which O’Neal acts like a jerk and thinks it makes him either tough or mysterious, and despite being beautiful and rarely-clothed, Taylor-Young gives the least-sexy performance imaginable by embodying a child’s parody of eroticism in every scene. The two get entwined in a stupid scheme that barely registers amidst all the playacting being sold as performing here. The film is too easy-going to ever buy into its shifts into seriousness and vice versa. Aside from the perverse wrongness of the leads, there is little else outside of Van Heflin’s Amazing Technicolor Dreamkitchen to recommend here.

the Black Hand (Richard Thorpe 1950) Heavy-handed social problem picture about Gene Kelly’s vendetta against local mafia in the early 1900s. Self-important and unbearable, with a protracted sense of pacing and frequent pauses for annoying speeches and finger-wagging.

Le faux pas (Antoine d'Ormesson 1965) Wealthy wife’s husband accidentally falls from cliff soon after she publicly threatens to kill him. Complications ensue. Uninspired French take on the standard psychology fear-mongering often present in this genre, and one made with a secondhand-embarrassing display of amateurish filmmaking. As a bonus, it also features one of the worst scores I’ve ever heard.

Man in the Dark (Lew Landers 1953) Bargain basement noir notable solely for having some lame 3-D moments. Edmond O’Brien is a thief who undergoes brain surgery to lose his criminal instinct and loses his memory in the process. He then gets picked up by his old gang who want to know where their pilfered loot is, to predictable results. Mercifully short at 67 minutes long, its sole saving grace. Columbia had a few bright spots but on the whole, man, when a noir stars with their logo, I generally know I’m in for it.

Marlowe (Paul Bogart 1969) James Garner is Marlowe in the land of hippies and gangsters and starlets, oh my. Garner plays the role like he’s in a sitcom, which occasionally works for the part but he lacks the patheticism and charm of the best embodiers of the role. The mystery here is typically convoluted Chandler, no more, no less. On the bright side, Rita Moreno (who has some incredible wigs in this film) does a ridiculous climactic striptease in full-on pasties and g-string. So, if that’s on your bucket list, here you go.

Naked Alibi (Jerry Hopper 1954) Violent cop Sterling Hayden becomes obsessed with the idea that an innocent baker is responsible for a series of police murders, gets fired for brutality, and starts stalking the baker, convinced of his guilt. Of the Where the Sidewalk Ends / On Dangerous Ground mold, only dumber. Hayden gets a lot of mileage out of giving squinty looks at things here, and Gloria Grahame enters the picture about halfway in so as to be smacked around every five minutes or so. There are too many ludicrous plot holes to keep track of, but the biggest has to be:
SpoilerShow
For a cop who is brilliant enough to see through the baker’s scam, Hayden sure does manage to fall into every trap set for him by criminals in the film!

Romeo is Bleeding (Peter Medak 1993) Annoyingly-structured standard issue noir redux about how it turns out selling police secrets to the mob is a bad thing. Gary Oldman goes way, way, waaaaay over the top here as the crooked cop— so, also nothing new there either. Lena Olin (both in character and perf) isn’t half as captivating as the film mistakenly thinks she is. At some point early on the unlikely contrivances and joyless pulp complications of the film’s narrative became grating, and the film just kept right on chugging along without changing course.

the Spider (Robert D Webb 1945) Richard Conte must have done something to piss off Fox to be thrown into this lousy private eye programmer alongside Mantan Moreland and a slew of never-weres. 100% worthless detective fluff, the script for this was probably rejected for a Charlie Chan pic and thrown into production regardless.

23 Paces to Baker Street (Henry Hathaway 1956) Middling wannabe Hitchcock mystery with Mrs Johnson’s blind boy Van trying to unravel the clues in an overheard conversation that he’s sure point to a crime. The film rarely uses Johnson’s blindness in any clever fashion, and takes half-interested detours far too often as Johnson and Vera Miles work to solve the case. We all got the blind person in peril noir we deserved here a decade later in Wait Until Dark, so why would you ever watch this when you could watch that instead?

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#692 Post by ando » Sun May 21, 2017 12:34 am

domino harvey wrote: the Mob (Robert Parrish 1951) Fun noir about undercover cop Broderick Crawford infiltrating a crooked union and the gangsters who run it. The film is at its most entertaining when Crawford is given license to act like a complete jerk so as to attract the attention of the heavies. Ignoring all manners and decorum, Crawford's boorish antics are a hoot and I regretted that we soon had to have him uphold the law rather than continue being a dick to even those he befriends. There's some nice crackling dialogue here and there and the film boasts an interesting finale involving some antiquated period tracing techniques that are of course quickly circumvented by external forces.
Thanks. The dialogue is a lot of fun. Not a very imaginative title. But I guess In Like Flynn would have been worse.
YT Streamer.

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#693 Post by matrixschmatrix » Wed Jul 05, 2017 2:43 am

Black Widow

(I realize it's weird to drop into a list I didn't participate in but I do want to talk about this movie.) I honestly kind of enjoyed this, due I think mostly to a kind of ambling amiability about most of it, but: how do you make a murder mystery this badly? Like:
SpoilerShow
So, first of all, you don't even know it's a murder mystery until like two thirds of the way in- long after they've made the general outline of the solution to the mystery fairly clear- but the setup is all weird nonsense, too. Van Heflin gets set up by a gold digger, whose strategy is... to be very intense about her writing career, an apparently genuine one, to get him to invite her platonically out to dinner. Only, later, we find out she was already in love with someone else, so presumably she wasn't actually trying to get together with Van Heflin- which is good, because talking to her appears to make him rather sleepy. Somehow, though, her cunning 'talk to him for five minutes at a party' plan works, and they strike up a friendship. He, a married man in the 50s with his wife away on a trip, then offers her the run of his apartment, and gives her a key, because she years for a tony place in which to write. He bribes a housemaid to stay quiet about it. All of this is totally innocent, and the gold digger's plan appears to turn upon him being up for this. Also, he casually drops that his wife had cheated on him a few years previously, but everything is fine now.

Honestly, Van Heflin sells this pretty well, but it's the craziest fucking thing I ever saw. Never mind how bizarre the actual solution to the mystery is- Ginger Rogers, whose husband the girl was ACTUALLY in love with, murders her... and then hangs her in the bathroom, and draws a little doodle as a suicide note. The little doodles have been established, but how the hell did Rogers know that? How did she know to quote a line from Salome the girl was obsessed with? The twist, as I said, is guessable from fairly early on- we see the girl talking to her future lover and reading that he's unhappy in his marriage, and the idea that they've gotten together is pretty natural (why else would the scene be there?) though the man comes off entirely as a mopey, sexless doormat, so effectively it is a movie in which the ending is both predictable and nonsensical. That's quite a hat trick.
Nunnally Johnson's winking reference to The Woman in the Window- a better script of his- is fun, though I kind of wish more had been made of it.

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#694 Post by domino harvey » Thu Jul 20, 2017 3:12 pm

Recent viewings:

Apology for Murder (Sam Newfield 1945) A reporter romances a married woman and helps off her husband, then gets assigned to cover the story of his death. I didn’t know of this PRC cheapie’s litigious history while watching, but it is so baldly modeled on Xeroxing Double Indemnity that it did not surprise me afterwards to learn its original title was Single Indemnity (which is hilarious). As someone who questions the strengths of Wilder’s film in the face of overwhelming disagreement, it no doubt matters very little that I liked this a lot, and enjoyed its zero-frills carpetbagging.

Backlash (Eugene Forde 1947) Criminal attorney tries to frame his wife for his own un-murder, fails. Stupid programmer. Whatever. Next!

Bewitched (Arch Oboler 1945) Move over the Dark Past, turns out there’s an even more ridiculous treatment of psychology in noir. Phyllis Thaxter, who I recently praised elsewhere for her perf in the Breaking Point, is woefully ill-equipped to play dual personalities in this misguided mistake of a movie. The film has a lot going wrong for it, including Thaxter playing “evil” as synonymous with “five year old upset at the grocery store when told they can’t have candy,” but the closing narration contains one of the most beautifully dumb things I’ve ever heard: (This is a real quote, I went back to make sure I captured it accurately for posterity) “In a war-torn world, her happiness may seem of small importance, and yet it is of importance, for each person in this world is one of us.”

Circumstantial Evidence (John Larkin 1945) Oh brother. Unlikable father scuffles with unlikable baker in front of unlikable onlookers, who later seal his fate in court when the baker dies in this unlikable movie. Lloyd Nolan does his best as the guy who does his best to clear the accused of murder, which in this film involves holding a mock reenactment of the murder for the governor using the governor’s son, who is for some reason totally okay with this and spoiler alert grants a last minute stay of execution due to the brand new discovery that eyewitness testimony can be unreliable.
domino harvey wrote: Stupid programmer. Whatever. Next!
Cry Wolf (Peter Godfrey 1947) Barbara Stanwyck comes to claim what’s hers after learning her secret husband Richard Basehart has died. Errol Flynn’s keeper of the family accounts is naturally suspicious, and behaves accordingly in this creaky mystery in which yet again a big estate hides big secrets. This film has exactly one thing going for it, and that’s its absurd twist. It gets minor points awarded for the audacity of the last ten minutes, but it’s not enough to save the film.

Mickey One (Arthur Penn 1965) Warren Beatty’s emcee is on the run from the mob, so he decides to hang out in Chicago. K. Empty, scattershot, and ultimately worthless stabs at style cobbled together from better directors and better films into a pretentious mess. I see the words “New Wave influenced” lobbed at this regularly, but representatives of the New Wave movements (of any country) of this era should sue for defamation of character. I rather see what this film inspired: Mad Dog Time, a worthy successor to the flippant nothingness at-large here.

Moss Rose (Gregory Ratoff 1947) Chorus girl Peggy Cummins catches gentleman Victor Mature fleeing a crime scene and blackmails him into inviting her onto his luxurious estate in this intriguing period noir that seems more concerned with social mobility and matters of class than gothic vamping (to its benefit). Cummins was given the role by Fox after unceremoniously being fired from Forever Amber and, well, I think she ended up with the better movie. Cummins is no Joan Fontaine in Rebecca, but she gets in some good lines like, upon arriving on the estate, “Everything looks so lovely, you’d expect to see a calendar pasted beneath it.” That line also shows how the set-up of the film could almost be a screwball comedy with little changed, but the tone is more bemused solemnity. I can’t believe Fox sat on this so long that it ended up in their godawful burned-on-demand DVD-R line, this should have been one of their inaugural titles for their fantastic, long-dead Noir line. Maybe some day one of these studio reclamation labels will run out of more visible titles and rescue this for Blu-ray. Highly recommended.

Nobody Lives Forever (Jean Negulesco 1946) Conman John Garfield tries to hook wealthy widow Geraldine Fitzgerald, gets hooked by love instead. Though there are a few characters too many here, the film offers an often intriguing look at the assorted hierarchies of con artists within their community, from top chiselers like Garfield to washed-up old timers like Walter Brennan to low-level lackeys like tramps and elevator boys, and I enjoyed seeing everyone’s interactions within the substrata more than the more familiar noir narrative here.

Quicksand (Irving Pichel 1950) One of the better noir set-ups I’ve seen: auto mechanic Mickey Rooney “borrows” $20 from his register for a hot date and in the process sets up a series of ill-fated “fixes” to previous mistakes that snowballs into murder. In comparison to the ridiculous the Steel Trap (discussed below), I loved how the initial motivation here is so effective in being relatable: this is a scenario any audience can place themselves into (“I’ll just do this one little wrong thing, correct it tomorrow, and no one will be the wiser”) and thus the nightmare of it going wrong and spiraling out to Hell is all the more palpable. The ludicrous way each “fix” drags Rooney further and further away from salvation is perversely watchable, even though this film is all but rendered impotent by the nature of the ending we get here after everything that came before. Recommended, but don’t steal $20 to buy your copy.

Red Light (Roy Del Ruth 1949) George Raft is a bad, bad actor. This film sometimes seems to meet us halfway on this, and builds him up to be quite unlikable as a man looking to avenge his brother’s dead by tracking down a missing Gideon Bible (which requires hiring Virginia Mayo for no other reason than that the film needed a starlet in it). Raymond Burr is good as he often is as the heavy, and there are a couple of novel flourishes here and there, but Raft just tears the good will down left and right with his stiff intonations and miscued reactions. Still, the movie uses this to great advantage at least once, when we’re treated to a maudlin and endless flashback in which a handicapped character we just met and will not meet again yammers endlessly about his thwarted suicide thanks to the intervention of God. Afterwards, as the music still swells with epic notes of grandeur, Raft single-mindedly barks out: “Fine. But where’s the Bible?!”

Remains to be Seen (Don Weis 1953) Cute nth riff on the Thin Man (which even gets name-checked early on in a knowing nod) as hotel manager Van Johnson strikes up a romance with June Allyson, the niece of a recently murdered man. Complications ensue in screwball fashion as the killer sets their sight on Allyson. Johnson and Allyson have great chemistry and while the plot itself is typical hokum, there’s a welcome playfulness to the arch tone the film has about death and murder, and the film overall feels quite modern as a result. Not especially funny, but charming enough with a few adorable moments between the stars to sweeten the pot.

Shadow on the Wall (Pat Jackson 1950) Ann Sothern plays against type as a woman who kills her cheating sister and frames her brother in law Zachary Scott for the murder. Only one hitch: her young niece saw the whole thing and has retreated into psychic shock. Caring doc Nancy Davis spends the rest of the film trying to probe the tyke’s subconscious for answers in yet another of the noirs exploiting psychological advances for melodrama. This one is more positive in its attitude than most, but the real pleasures in the film come from Sothern’s gradual descent from guilt to child killing!

the Steel Trap (Andrew Stone 1952) Joseph Cotten’s bank manager decides to rob the vault on a Friday afternoon, reasoning that the bank won’t notice til Monday morning, giving him time to slip down to extradition-free Brazil with his unaware wife Teresa Wright. Consummate indie filmmaker Stone makes a dreadful noir here that ladles on artificial tension so heavily that it’s suffocating, not exciting. Cotten’s entire plan is so stupid, and so ill-formed, that we never root for him to pull this off because at every step of the way he makes dumb choices and paints the world’s biggest target on himself that screams, “I’m a criminal!” There are a few little mercies throughout that work, like a customs official just giving up on grilling Cotten and letting him go despite flashing red signs of guilt, later reasoning with a colleague as Cotten jets away with his suitcase full of money, “You get a pat on the back if you’re right and a lawsuit if you’re wrong.” Would have much rather followed that guy’s exploits for eighty-five minutes. Shadow of a Doubtful You’d Ever Want to See This.

the Unholy Wife (John Farrow 1957) Diana Dors and Rod Steiger’s ever-present overacting are present in this mediocre color noir in which the unhappy wife of a vineyard owner frames her husband for murder by confessing to murder in court (it’s complicated). Steiger is so awful in this movie that it’s sometimes physically difficult to watch his performance, and when it’s discovered that he only married Dors not because she looks like Dors but because he wanted her kid, well, uh… Also, the same goody two-shoes actor who played the padre in Red Light is a sanctimonious priest again in this mess! The film unwisely cops a variation on the finale from Leave Her to Heaven and I just have to say to the Unholy Wife: I've seen Leave Her to Heaven. I’ve studied Leave Her to Heaven. Leave Her to Heaven is a good friend of mine. The Unholy Wife, you’re no Leave Her to Heaven.

the Woman in White (Peter Godfrey 1948) Two Eleanor Parkers and one Sydney Greenstreet alone elevate this gothic mystery, and the “trio” put in fine perfs here as the villainous Greenstreet terrorizes everyone with unflappable good will as he maneuvers forest waifs, unwilling asylum charges, and varying marital cash-grabs. My favorite line, after Alexis Smith finds Greenstreet hiding in her locked bedroom, watching her disrobe: “Locked doors are but the ribbon on a gift to me.” This is good fun in the period noir key of Dragonwyck / the Spiral Staircase and despite some occasionally clunky editing the film gets a solid Recommendation.

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HJackson
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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#695 Post by HJackson » Tue Oct 03, 2017 9:57 am

Loved Dial 1119 - one of those lean little gems that the genre is full of. Particularly liked that...
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the hardass cop turns out to be 100% correct. Not making a comment on the politics of this re: mental health, but it's just a fun wrinkle in the storytelling that I found quite refreshing. Brings to mind Riot in Cell Block 11 where the politician tells the warden to quell the riot right away or it will spread - and it does! He doesn't get much credit for his prophecy in that one though, from what I remember.

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domino harvey
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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#696 Post by domino harvey » Wed Dec 27, 2017 1:52 am

It's the holiday season, which means I need to counteract cheer and good will. Recent viewings:

Blink (Michael Apted 1994) Madeleine Stowe’s blind violinist regains her sight thanks to organ donation just in time to be eyewitness to a murder. Unfortunately, Stowe’s regained sight causes her to delay and misprocess images as her mind struggles to learn how to edit the new stimuli (so she’ll mis-ID the killer in a lineup because she’s seeing his image from earlier transposed on an innocent, and so on). This is a ridiculous but clever premise, and the film has fun with it, but the film often devotes more time to futile characterization than the novelty of its hook, to its detriment. Still, the film is handsomely made and not any sillier or serious than it needs to be, which helps. I watched a lot of lousy modern noirs this round and Blink was the last I sat through, so maybe I was just starved for a moderately good one, but I was still surprised at how much I enjoyed this (ie at all).

Body Language (George Case 1995) Tom Berenger is a criminal attorney who has never seen a movie and so he jumps right into the arms of a scheming stripper trying to off her lottery-winning white trash hubby Robert Patrick. Gee, how can this possibly turn out poorly? I know “You had it coming” is a noir protagonist hallmark, but forget being a lawyer, Berenger’s character seems too stupid to credibly be capable of buttoning his own shirts.

China Moon (John Bailey 1994) Filmed in 1991 and shelved for three years, this familiar neo-noir finds detective Ed Harris covering up a murder for his lover Madeleine Stowe, to predictable ends. I liked the first half of this more than the second, especially when it looked like the premise was solely going to be the Good Cop using his knowledge of police tactics to ensure his honest girlfriend walks. But then the twists come, and there’s so few characters here that it takes all of no guesses to figure out who’s pulling the strings. Watchable, but negligible.

Criminal (Gregory Jacobs 2004) Longtime Soderbergh collaborator Jacobs does a serviceable job on this 24 hour portrait of the burgeoning business relationship between conmen John C Reilly and Diego Luna. The problem with a con man film like this is that these movies always insist on shoehorning in a last-minute reveal that everything we saw was just a different Big Con, and so the whole movie is one long waiting game for the filmmakers to drop a twist everyone already knows is coming before the film even begins. Soderbergh co-scripted under the name Sam Lowry, so maybe this slight film has some interest to fellow Soderbergh completists (though not so much for this one).

Hell on Frisco Bay (Frank Tuttle 1955) *no

Holiday in Spain AKA Scent of Mystery (Jack Cardiff 1960) Cinerama oddity starring Denholm Elliott as a vacationing mystery writer who enlists the help of cabbie Peter Lorre to track down a woman he believes to be in danger. The film was originally presented in “Smell-O-Vision” (and not in Cinerama), which only makes this weird thing retroactively weirder while watching— it mostly lacks the unnecessary POV shots of grandeur and there’s no scratch n sniff cards in Screen Archives’ Blu-ray release ala Polyester. And of course the film itself is a piece of shit. There is a suitably huge cameo in the film that you can probably guess by looking at the credited talent.

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (Guy Ritchie 1998) Assorted British underworld thugs maneuver amongst themselves in this stylish but hollow exercise in colorful obfuscation. I’ll give Ritchie credit for presenting a wide assortment of lowlifes in an energetic fashion, but all the flash in the world can’t conceal the emptiness of all of the posturings offered by the film. Granted, the movie is entertaining and fun in its fashion, but there is no residual after-effect of any kind.

Love at Large (Alan Parker 1990) Weird pisstake with Tom Berenger doing a bizarre vocal inflection as the grizzled private eye who goes spying on Ted Levine’s bigamist by accident. I have no idea what the film is trying to do, but it ended up mildly winning me over by virtue of its singular strangeness of purpose (or lack thereof).

Mulholland Falls (Lee Tamahori 1996) Nick Nolte leads up a group of rule-breaking 50s LA cops in this mess that’s somehow far worse than their later representation in Gangster Squad. The film hinges on a murder mystery that is so glaringly obvious that I “solved” it the literal moment it was introduced— you would think between four experienced cops there would be one willing to do their job for thirty seconds and figure out how Jennifer Connelly died. Connelly is in pre-A Beautiful Mind “pretty face” mode here, and consistently naked, so it’s not exactly a challenging role even when she’s alive in flashbacks. There’s a few unexpected cameos from the likes of Bruce Dern and Rob Lowe, but ultimately this is a movie about unlikable characters being dumb. Chazz Palminteri is the only one who comes out of this unscathed, primarily because he is the beneficiary of some transparent script doctor additions of comic relief scenes. Whoever touched this one up didn’t even try to match the idiocy of the rest of the script, but something is better than nothing.

No Orchids For Miss Blandish (St John Legh Clowes 1948) An heiress is kidnapped by, well, a lot of people over the course of this James Hadley Chase adaptation. This is an odd film— a British production and starring British actors with “American” accents, it’s set in New York and everyone does their best to make this seem like a stateside noir, only naughtier. And while there is a noticeable flaunting of things that would never fly in a Hollywood production (My favorite being when a loose woman invites a man into her bed as an afterthought), the film highlights the problem with adapting pulp literature too literally: there is just too much here. Too many double-crosses, too much toxic cynicism, and waaay too many deaths. Those items may sound like standard issue noir materials, but this adaptation is a good example of the genius of Hollywood’s Code. A Hollywood version would have cut the number of deaths by half, given us a likable doomed protagonist, and had some decent contract stars meted out in parts best suited for them— and the film would be all the better for it. This World, Then the Fireworks shows what a faithful pulp fiction adaptation really looks like, and as I said when I first wrote about that film, the world doesn’t need another— especially not one as poorly-acted and unimaginatively staged as this.

the Scarf (Ewald Andre Dupont 1951) John Ireland’s convicted murderer escapes from the loony bin and holes up with a lonely farmer who lets the lad stay on his land out of amusement more than anything else. There is some better than expected patter early on between the two men, and I liked how Mercedes McCambridge’s relationship with Ireland evolves out of her interest in his lack of interest, but this one really falters in the last act. The finale here makes the extended diagnosis ending of Psycho look punchy in retrospect.

Singapore (John Brahm 1947) Fred MacMurray travels back to the titular locale after the war in order to retrieve some stashed pearls and find his long-lost love Ava Gardner. Complications ensue. Flavorless programmer and instantly forgettable.

So Evil My Love (Lewis Allen 1948) Enjoyable little period noir with one solid idea in gender-reversing the traditional noir tropes: here Ray Milland is the charming homme fatale, leading poor missionary widow Ann Todd to engage in the incremental steps of criminality. I was surprised at how far this one ended up going in its finale, and the button with Leo G Carroll is one of the more absurd, “Oh yeah, we have to punish this character” moments in studio-era output. Recommended.

Suicide Kings (Peter O’Fallon 1998) A bunch of Ivy League brats kidnap aging don Christopher Walken in a confusing scheme to leverage his ransom for the ransom of one of the boys’ girlfriend. This is one of the many interchangeable post-Tarantino sweepstakes flicks, and it is awful. Nothing about this film makes sense on a plot level, and the pisspoor dialogue and running gags given to Denis Leary are lousy. Walken sleepwalks through this and comes out unscathed. No one else is as lucky.

Wicker Park (Paul McGuigan 2004) Josh Hartnett loses and maybe finds his one true love, and picks up a stalker who confusingly bears the name of the missing girl and lives in her apartment in the meantime. I haven’t seen the French original of this, but I doubt the implausibility here could survive any other film all that much better than here. The film has some too-slick visuals that are at least imaginative (and never more so than when Rose Byrne drops trou), and I liked how a stalking scene was set to a múm song of all things, but this is ultimately a film too enamored with its ostensible antagonist to let them do anything even remotely dramatic when cornered. How could a film with a premise this silly not at least take the narrative to its logical extreme and ruin everyone’s life?

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#697 Post by Lemmy Caution » Thu Dec 28, 2017 7:47 am

I've been watching an assortment of random noirs by simply searching for 1947 film noirs on youtube. Then on to 1948, etc. The picture quality varies a fair amount, as do the films. I was intrigued to watch Lucille Ball star in Lured (1948?) in which she begins working undercover for Scotland Yard trying to track down a serial killer who preys on young woman who answer personal ads. It's more of a studio rather than gritty noir. Overlong and the resolution is rather easy to guess (and I rarely make any guess attempts). But it's also quite watchable with good quirky British secondary characters. Lucille Ball both gets to be a sort of wise-cracking tough dame -- she starts off as a jaded taxi dancer -- but also a beauty who men fall for readily.

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domino harvey
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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#698 Post by domino harvey » Mon May 14, 2018 1:07 am

Recent viewings:

Another Man’s Poison (Irving Rapper 1951) Deliciously twisted chamber piece noir almost entirely set in one of those interchangeable Ole England backlot manors. If the first ten minutes of this don’t make you giddily excited at how perverse the set-up is, I don’t think you’ll ever get much out of this genre. I don’t even want to spoil it, it’s so ridiculously over-stacked. Needless to say, Bette Davis and Garry Merrill constantly try to one-up each other in awfulness in a twisted Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? mode of (faux-) domestic terror, and in the end, there are no “winners.” Highly recommended.

the Brothers Bloom (Rian Johnson 2009) As I’ve said already, con man movies like this quickly become a chore if they’re not written by David Mamet, because we already know there will be some big twist at the end that negates everything, so investment never happens. This one seems to think the solution is to keep playing at the same annoying game of “Is it or isn’t it?” in a loop. The movie has style, but in an annoying fashion, and the Wes Anderson ripoff cries that greeted this film are only too accurate. I did enjoy that Johnson invoked the liner notes for Pavement albums in his on-screen supered text though.

Fallen Angels: A Dime a Dance (Peter Bogdanovich 1995) Taxi dancer Jennifer Grey is next on the list for a dancing serial killer and detective Eric Stoltz is on the case. Stoltz is awful here, but Grey puts in fine work as the kind of female protagonist Bogdanovich is always drawn to, which is why I assume he chose this script to film, because little else here shows markers of his usual material. A lowkey long take dance sequence shows Bogdanovich trying to stay awake, but otherwise this, like 90% of the series, isn’t very good.

Fallen Angels: the Black Bargain (Keith Gordon 1995) Stylish take on Cornell Woolrich’s short story about Miguel Ferrer’s waning mob boss holing up in a hotel. The movie disregards the plot in favor of weirdo aesthetic choices painfully in the Twin Peaks mode, but it mostly works out okay for the material (though there’s a ghost cameo here that is a complete waste of time for an already slim episode). Starts promisingly but never really builds on that good will to arrive anywhere.

Fallen Angels: Good Housekeeping (Michael Lehman 1995) One of the best casts from this series gets assembled here, as 50s housewife Dana Delaney is menaced by a group of thugs who are convinced her absent husband is a former criminal who did them wrong. William Petersen and Benecio del Toro give fascinatingly awful performances as the blind ringleader (replete with waving a cane around for no reason) and the, uh, well, I don’t know what del Toro’s trying to do with his voice here. And later Marcia Gay Harden shows up too, so there’s two future Oscar winners in this thing.
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Delaney is fine and resourceful, but I couldn’t help but think the actual twist, which is painfully obvious, was a lot less interesting than if this suddenly deadly housewife was in on her husband’s secret all along.
the Hot Spot (Dennis Hopper 1990) Texas-set noir with Don Johnson’s drifter getting roped into various affairs, criminal and otherwise, in a small town. Johnson’s a good fit for the noir protagonist role, as is Virginia Madsen as the oversexed wife of Johnson’s boss. This isn’t any more accomplished than your average Fallen Angel episode, but it delivers solid, if by the numbers, noir trappings in a pleasant-enough fashion.

the Killer Is Loose (Budd Boetticher 1956) Mild-mannered Wendell Corey vows to get vengeance on Joseph Cotten’s cop after Cotten Inadvertently kills Corey’s wife. There was a period of a couple years where Cotten tried as an actor, but he’s well into his paycheck cashing mode of calling it in here— he can’t even be bothered to be bothered by his accidental murder of an innocent woman! Corey is okay as the titular character, who seems so unassuming that his eventual murders do retain some semblance of surprise when they actually materialize— I especially liked how the film shows one killing by bursting a bottle of milk. But man alive Rhonda Fleming’s character is so, so, so, SO intolerably stupid in this film that it renders all mild good will useless as she completely ruins the third act with illogical and anticlimactic actions. I do wonder if this is one of the first films to
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disguise the antagonist using transvestism. I can think of several notable examples after this, like Psycho obviously and a legendary Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, but none before in non-comedies.
La French (Cédric Jimenez 2015) By the numbers true life story of the heroin trade from the French Connection transposed to France. Jean Dujardin is fine in a non-comic lead role, but the film confusingly casts Gilles Lellouche as the antagonist and gives both similar-looking men the same hairstyle and facial hair, leading to at least half a dozen times where I got mixed up for several seconds trying to sort which character we were with now. The movie has occasional novelties— Dujardin is convinced a suspect is hiding something, so he brings in the original architect of the man’s house to determine if anything has changed since it was built in order to find hidden evidence, a clever moment far removed from much of the stupidity on display— but on the whole it’s far too familiar.

La tourneuse de pages (Denis Dercourt 2006) A poorly made Chabrol-style slow burn thriller that nonetheless succeeds on the virtue of its simple and beautiful pettiness. Déborah François is the titular page turner who seeks vengeance against a famous pianist who years ago “ruined” her piano exam by inadvertently distracting her. François proceeds to bide her time for years before ingratiating herself into the woman’s life and successfully sabotaging every single aspect of her personal and professional life in retribution. While enjoyable, this could so easily have been great in the hands of a director who didn’t exhibit the most amateur hour filmmaking instincts, though perhaps the slim and predictable (though satisfying) narrative would be better suited to short film, as its stretched pretty thin here.

Mini’s First Time (Nick Guthe 2006) Nikki Reed from Thirteen one-ups that movie in faux naughtiness as the high school temptress who becomes an escort (uh huh), only to discover on her first trick ever that the john is her stepfather Alec Baldwin. Complications ensue when she fucks him anyways and the two decide to get mom out of the picture. Seemingly filmed on leftover Veronica Mars sets, this is a remarkably bad film that somehow has star power enough to float Baldwin, Luke Wilson, and Jeff Goldblum (who entertains himself by ad-libbing all of his dialogue). Of course, Goldblum was also in Mad Dog Time, so perhaps this film too was someone’s gambling debt leveraging piece.

Ne le dis à personne (Guillaume Canet 2006) A doctor’s wife is allegedly murdered by a serial killer, only for suspicion to fall on him years later. Complications ensue when the husband is emailed by someone claiming to be his deceased wife. This is a terrifically stylish and well-done mainstream thriller that all of America would have loved to the tune of $100 million dollar box office returns if it was somehow in English. Watching a movie like this, that isn’t art house fare in the slightest yet delivers great audience pleasing twists and relatable characters, is frustrating, because it’s the kind of picture that could so easily convert so many people who claim to not like foreign films if they’d just somehow see it. I’m honestly shocked no American studio has attempted a shot for shot remake. Highly recommended.

Stretch (Joe Carnahan 2014) Limo driver Patrick Wilson must secure $6,000 for his bookie by midnight or be offed. This proves slightly difficult once another ticking clock within this one comes into play and Wilson must jet across town into increasingly unlikely action scenarios. I think Carnahan has good instincts with his bombastic style here, but it’s at the mercy of a puerile comic voice that drowns these smart calls out— I’d see another Carnahan film, but only one he didn’t write.

We Own the Night (James Gray 2007) Joaquin Phoenix is the nightclub manager black sheep in a family of cops who finds himself forced to turn lawful in response to a threat to his kin. I was shocked to learn this wasn’t critically well received, but I guess its aesthetic excesses weren’t enough for those who can’t look past the narrative contrivances and cliches. But too bad for those not on board, because this movie has some great showstopping set pieces, particularly the rain-soaked car chase, which is one of the best action sequences I’ve ever seen in terms of how instead of making it exciting, Gray highlights the stress and anxiety of being caught in a situation made all too glamorous by other, less films. It’s a virtuoso masterpiece in its stylish simplicity. The rest of the movie’s pretty good too, though. Phoenix turns in reliably solid work, but Wahlberg is surprisingly more of a supporting player here, which is just as well, as his character is not particularly interesting. Recommended.

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#699 Post by zedz » Mon May 14, 2018 10:09 pm

domino harvey wrote:Ne le dis à personne (Guillaume Canet 2006) A doctor’s wife is allegedly murdered by a serial killer, only for suspicion to fall on him years later. Complications ensue when the husband is emailed by someone claiming to be his deceased wife. This is a terrifically stylish and well-done mainstream thriller that all of America would have loved to the tune of $100 million dollar box office returns if it was somehow in English. Watching a movie like this, that isn’t art house fare in the slightest yet delivers great audience pleasing twists and relatable characters, is frustrating, because it’s the kind of picture that could so easily convert so many people who claim to not like foreign films if they’d just somehow see it. I’m honestly shocked no American studio has attempted a shot for shot remake. Highly recommended.
This reminded me of another very commercial recent French neo-noir that I assumed would immediately resurface in Xeroxed American form: Nuit Blanche by Frederic Jardin (2011). It's a claustrophobic thriller taking place largely in real time in a single location (a labyrinthine nightclub). The pressure-cooker plot is so hyper-hectic it's almost ridiculous, but the filmmaking is deft enough to keep you in the moment throughout. Seemed like a complete natural for a straight English-language re-versioning, but that never seemed to surface. Checking imdb, I see it was finally remade in the US last year as Sleepless, but not before a Tamil remake was unleashed!

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#700 Post by domino harvey » Fri Jul 27, 2018 3:30 pm

Image

Recent noir viewings— all French edition!

Barocco (André Téchiné 1976)

Gérard Depardieu’s boxer is paid by a newspaper to slander a politician, so the politician then pays off the boxer to not slander him, and then a third party kills Depardieu in front of his girlfriend, Isabelle Adjani, who tries to figure out what to do with both parties’ money. The assassin is confusingly also played by Depardieu, and just what the hell is going on gets stretched way too thin here despite the stylish nature of the film. I thought the conceit of having the same actor play both victim and killer was too distracting, especially since the film doesn’t have anything to say about this double casting. Beyond this, it’s all pretty rote noir riffing. Everyone involved has done better work elsewhere, don’t bother here.

Garde à vue (Claude Miller 1981)
Lino Ventura’s police detective interrogates Michel Serrault’s dapper attorney on New Years Eve, suspecting him of being responsible for the rape and murder of two eight year old girls. The film unfolds over the night and early morning as Ventura becomes increasingly certain of his guilt and tries to get Serrault to crack. It’s not hard to see where a film like this is going, but there’s a major shift in the last fifteen minutes or so that feels too jolting and unearned. I admired the film for the lean nature of its narrative (it runs well under an hour and a half), but I think a corner was cut here that needed to be retained. Serrault has the showier role, but I thought Ventura’s established screen persona did a lot of heavy lifting here and he’s spot-on in a role he’s played a million times before. Haven’t seen the remake with Gene Hackman, but I can’t imagine Morgan Freeman getting the mileage Ventura does out of this kind of character. The movie’s set-bound staginess makes this seem like a play adaptation, but it’s apparently not. I can’t quite recommend it, but it was entertaining, well-made, and short, even if it is all a bit familiar.

Les Ripoux (Claude Zidi 1984)
Corrupt cop Philippe Noiret receives a straight-arrow new partner and gradually indoctrinates him into his crooked ways in this amusing buddy comedy. Far from the critiques of later movies like Training Day, the film audaciously sides with Noiret and indulges and explains away all his indiscretions and illegal acts. Make no mistake, Noiret is a complete piece of shit, but gleefully so, and with such a modulated series of self-imposed rules and policies that there’s something admirable about his elaborate briberies and skimming. I admired the film for not excusing Noiret, and I think it’s easy to underrate how much the actor brings to a character like this, which is about the most Noiret-y role imaginable— he helps make the potentially unpalatable quite drolly charming by virtue of being Philippe Noiret. The movie falters a bit in the last act, but the rest is so strong that it’s forgivable. Of all the French movies that Hollywood tried to remake, I’m shocked they never tried to tackle this, and now it’s too late, as no one would stand for a comedy this accommodating to crooked cops. Recommended.

Les salauds vont en enfer (Robert Hossein 1955)

Well, that’s quite a title (Roughly Bastards Go to Hell), and for a while the film delivers the right level of bombast to sustain it. Two cellmates are ratted out to the entire prison as being possible snitches and for the length of the film both deny it while accusing the other of having to be the rat. Eventually they realize that having the entire joint hating them can only end badly, so they kill a couple guards and escape. Once the pair leaves the prison the film’s manic energy slows down and we get a much less interesting (and far more familiar) noir story of two men fighting over a beautiful woman. While I don’t think much of the back half of this film, Marina Vlady’s entrance in this movie is so ridiculous that it’s almost worth recommending. There are worse autuers to crib from than Sam Fuller, but even an actual Fuller film can get pretty tedious, and a blurry Xerox like this highlights the bad as much as the good in such an over the top kinetic approach.

Mortelle randonnee (Claude Miller 1983)
MIchel Serrault’s private eye tracks, covers up for, and eventually kills for Isabelle Adjani’s murderous chameleon under the auspices that she is his own long-lost daughter. I found this tedious (I was not surprised to hear the US distributor cut out thirty minutes) and grew less interested the more it became likely that Serrault was having a mental breakdown and going insane, but it has such a specific tone and approach that I could see it being very popular with a more receptive audience member. Just not me.

On ne meurt que deux fois (Jacques Deray 1985)

Michel Serrault’s police inspector investigates the case of a dead pianist by taking over the man’s life, including his mistress Charlotte Rampling. This is a convoluted detective movie where none of the pleasures come from whodunnit but rather from appreciating Serrault’s droll perf as the unflappable flic. I’ve come to appreciate Serrault’s on-screen presence with all these Cesar movies I’m marathoning, and he’s infinitely better than his material here. Hard to pick a favorite moment but I liked how he intimidated a barman (played by Jean-Pierre Bacri in an early role) by spitting pistachio shells into his face and then the film goes on to show that the two actually become friends afterwards! More little touches like that and less “erotic” nonsense and this would be a good film with a good performance, instead of just the latter. Passable entertainment, and not worth a recommendation, but Serrault will make it worthwhile if you do end up watching.

Pile ou face (Robert Enrico 1980)
Michel Sarrault’s shrewish wife takes a fall out their high rise dining room window and everyone but police inspector Philippe Noiret is convinced it was an accident. Why Noiret dogs Serrault so relentlessly and yet in such a weirdly friendly fashion is eventually revealed in a too-cute twist that is diluted by coming at the end of a confused and busy film, with too much time spent devoted to a b-story involving powerful people getting in Noiret’s way on a different case. The character of the world weary detective is so old hat that even a talent like Noiret can’t bring much to the table (I think it’s quite possible Albert Finney in Wolfen was the last actor to find a new note to ring on this bell).

Ripoux contre Ripoux (Claude Zidi 1990)

This followup to Les Ripoux pretends that the last ten minutes of the first film didn’t happen, and at first it seems like the usual garden variety sequel, cashing in on retreads of jokes from the first installment. But then we get the twist: the main pair get fired and are replaced by a pair of even more crooked cops, and they must then work with their former shakedowns to take down the new, worse bad flics. The overall joke is the same here as before, but I liked how the sequel underlined that not only are Noiret and his partner still crooked, but every time they try to do the right thing, it ends up hurting them! Not quite as much fun as the first film, but still entertaining.

36 Quai des Orfèvres (Olivier Marchal 2004)

Garden variety crooked cop versus crooked cop thriller in which Daniel Auteuil’s slightly less bent flic seeks revenge against Gérard Depardieu’s slightly more bent flic for, among other things, the death of his partner and the death of his wife. This movie has every cliche you could think of for a cop movie— it literally opens with a retirement party for the soon to be dead partner! The film is slickly made, but I found the film asking me to consider Auteuil in the right when he keeps making dumb choices was a leap of faith I never could muster. I ended up siding with Depardieu, which this film at least allows to be honest with himself and his actions, even though this undermines the investment (if any) in the Auteuil storyline. Well made and watchable, but too familiar and messy with half-realized ideas best explored elsewhere.

Toi… le venin (Robert Hossein 1958)
Director/star Hossein is picked up by a mysterious unseen blonde woman while walking along the highway, has sex with her, and is then dumped. He tracks her down and figures out she must either be one of two sisters, one of whom is crippled in a wheelchair (Marina Vlady again). Exactly zero points awarded for figuring this one out about five steps early. I thought this fared slightly better than the other Hossein film I watched this round, but Hossein is still not much of a director, and the amateur hour visual bridges in this movie are so poorly done that they’re kinda endearing.

Believe it or not, even after this round, I still have more Michel Serrault-starring noirs to watch!

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