17 posts categorized "Noir"

April 23, 2022

THE THIRD MAN — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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ColeSmithey.comCarol Reed’s British noir suspense thriller, based on Graham Greene’s screenplay, is set in post war Vienna — a bombed-out shell of a city divided into American, Russian, French, and British zones.

This is one tricky place to navigate, especially if you’re a newly arrived stranger. Vienna is a splintered microcosm of Europe, a once lavish place being ravaged of its most prized possessions by comers of all stripes.

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Joseph Cotton’s dapper Holly Martins arrives in Vienna with the promise of a job from his old college pal Harry Lime (played by Orson Welles). However, Lime’s funeral is the only welcoming Holly gets in his new Eastern European home. Holly’s experience as a pulp novelist gives him a nose for intrigue. His friend’s supposed accidental death after being hit by a truck raises burning questions that Holly investigates in a Vienna seething with corruption, much of which comes from its active black market.

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No one can be trusted. Could Harry have been involved in black market dirty-dealings? A porter tells Holly of a “third man” at the scene of Harry’s death. Perhaps Harry’s girlfriend Anna (Alida Valli) has some answers.

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Reed’s ace cinematographer Robert Krasker uses an expressive toolbox of visual devices — from harsh noir lightening to severe Dutch angles — to create an otherworldly atmosphere of foreign conspiracy, suspense, and lurking menace. The film’s dark mood is supported by Anton Karas’s intricate but elegant musical motif that recurs throughout the picture.

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A porter (played by Paul Hoerbiger) tells Holly of a "third man" that helped carry Lime's body away from the accident site, only to turn up murdered the next day. Holly eventually discovers the truth about his old friend's nefarious underworld activities. Holly finally meets with Harry Vienna’s famed Farris Wheel in one of cinema's most beloved scenes, during which Orson Welles delivers a truly cynical monologue that was at least partially improvised. Effortlessly wielding subtext and theme lines as if they were darts, Welles play the villain, speaking from the depths of capitalist greed that would consume the globe long before the end of the century. 

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"The Third Man" has one of the greatest chase sequences ever filmed — and it doesn’t involve cars. The sequence, set in an underground sewer, is still taught in many film classes as a textbook example of what constitutes an impressive chase scene. Even better than its centerpiece sequence of high-tension escape, is the film’s final scene between Holly and Anna. Never before or since has a snub resonated so much, or hurt so bad. 

5 Stars

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

August 10, 2014

MEET JOHN DOE — CLASSIC FILM PICK

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your generosity keeps the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

 

 

MEET JOHN DOEWikipedia lists “Meet John Doe” as an “American comedy film.” How wrong they are. Frank Capra’s trenchant 1941 social satire of right-wing manipulation of American society, was released just prior to America’s involvement in World War II, at a time when the country’s anxious social climate was exacerbated by harsh economic circumstances following the Great Depression. The script is based on a story by war photographer and newspaper journalist Robert Presnell Sr.

Although the doors closed on the Group Theater’s socially conscious plays during the same year, the theater company’s influence for creating “forceful” socially provocative works is clearly on display in “Meet John Doe.”

Cooper

The film still retains its resonance as a lively commentary against political and corporate corruption in a capitalist system that is nothing more than another form of fascism. In hindsight, aspects of “Spartacus” and “Ace in the Hole” seem derived from “John Doe’s” socially driven plot. The film is a singular example of mainstream leftist cinema at its best.

Times are tough. Newspaper writer Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) is one of many staff members getting the axe. A single mother of two, Ann pleads for her job before sitting down to write her final column — one she intends to provoke the kind of “fireworks” her editor is looking for to boost newspaper sales. Ann writes an editorial letter under the nom de plume of “John Doe,” protesting society’s corrupt methods that exploit American citizens from cradle to grave.

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Ann’s “John Doe” promises to commit suicide on Christmas Eve by jumping from the top of the City Hall tower as "his" final act of protest against an impossible system that enslaves its populace. Ann’s phony letter strikes a nerve with the masses. To insure her continued employment, she hatches a plan for the paper to hire a “common man” to accept responsibility for writing the letter, namely a real-life John Doe. Fifty dollars is all it takes.

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With his movie-star jawline, Gary Cooper underplays the downtrodden character of John Willoughby, a former minor league baseball pitcher in need of elbow surgery before he can return to his chosen profession. For the last few years, John has ridden the rails with his harmonica-playing hobo companion “The Colonel” (Walter Brennan).

Although a supporting character, The Colonel is a key figure because he speaks the author’s theme lines regarding the true nature of freedom. He sees through the insidious rat race that money demands of its servants, and refuses to participate. He’s an outlier with reason and a purpose. You’d be hard-pressed to find such an ideally composed socialist character in any other film. And this is coming from Frank Capra, the man who made “It’s A Wonderful Life,” and produced US military propaganda movies. Go get ‘em cowboy.  

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Newspaper publisher and right-wing political upstart D.B. Norton (Edward Arnold) plays two ends against the middle by funding the formation of hundreds of “John Doe” clubs across the country. Norton’s underhanded but obvious intent is to repurpose the club’s members as voters who will pave his way to the White House. Providing “John Doe” club members with the utopia they demand is the opposite of what Norton intends to deliver.

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Barbara Stanwyck’s unreliable character Ann is revealed to be a canny opportunist with a bag of self-serving (read “survivalist”) tricks. Fainting works when sobbing doesn’t do the job.

“Meet John Doe” ends on an uncertain note. John Willoughby is left just as confused as he was when first he came to audition for the role of working-class-hero. Nothing has changed, except that John Willoughby is called something different.

Not Rated. 122 mins.

5 Stars

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

April 27, 2014

D.O.A. — CLASSIC FILM PICK

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your generosity keeps the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

 

D.O.A.Cinema doesn't get much more tightly wound than the anxious premise for Rudolph Maté’s film noir standard-bearer. A mussed-up man stumbles into a Los Angeles police precinct and tells the chief he wants to “report a murder”: his own.

What follows is the poor guy’s explanation of the previous day’s events, which will leave him a corpse by the end of movie. “D.O.A.’s” flashback storyline was a bold innovation when it came out in 1950, one of the 20th century’s most seminal years for world cinema. “All About Eve,” “Gun Crazy,” “Rashomon,” “Los Olvidados” and “Sunset Boulevard” were all released the same year.

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Rudolph Maté was a renowned cinematographer of Polish descent whose work on “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1927) and “Gilda” (1946) established his first-class reputation. For “D.O.A.” Maté made clever use of locations in San Francisco and Los Angeles to add to the story’s potent sense of urgency. Scenes of his lead character running through crowded sidewalks were shot guerrilla-style without permits. His memorable use of interiors in the now-famous Bradbury building in Los Angeles illustrates Maté’s ingenious ability to instill noir’s shadowy elements from Art Deco designs.

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Frank Bigelow (Edmond O’Brien) runs his own business as a small-time accountant in the desert town of Banning, California. Mr. Bigelow carries on an affair with his emotionally suffocating secretary Paula (Pamela Britton), a blonde with more sense than he gives her credit for. A weeklong vacation in San Francisco promises to give Frank a chance to sew a few wild oats — with Paula’s bluffing permission — if he is to give any serious consideration to a romantic future with her.

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In a tip to the atomic age, during Frank’s first night in Frisco, a mysterious man slips him a radioactive mickey at a “jive” bar that features fiery jazz music played by an all-black band for a crowd of rowdy white “jive-crazy” fans. Maté’s depiction of San Francisco’s delirious jazz scene provided cinema’s first look at what would be termed the Beat Generation by the end of the decade.

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Diagnosed the next day as only having “a day or two days — a week at the most” to live, Frank goes on an all-out rampage to track down the man who “murdered” him and carry out his revenge.

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A high-concept movie before there was such a thing, “D.O.A.” foreshadowed the poisoning of (possibly) Yasser Arafat and (definitely) Alexander Litvinenko — via polonium-210 — by a half-century.

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Although the movie stumbles through a checklist of well-worn film noir clichés like fumbling for change at the bottom of an ill-kept purse, its poison MacGuffin keeps the audience on tenterhooks right up to the final frame when the police captain stamps “D.O.A.” on a missing person’s report. Like any great film, “D.O.A.” keeps its promise.

Not Rated. 83 mins.

4 StarsCozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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