13 posts categorized "Noir"

April 27, 2014

D.O.A. — CLASSIC FILM PICK

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 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. (A-) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)

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February 11, 2012

OUT OF THE PAST — CLASSIC FILM PICK


Out of the pastOne of the best-loved '40s-era contributions to the film noir genre, director Jacques Tourneur’s "Out of the Past" (1947) is a definitive model. Notable for its convoluted time-shifting storyline, the film plays with its audience like a cat toying with a dumbfounded mouse. Robert Mitchum understates his private detective character Jeff Bailey with his classic laconic but lazy romanticism, which beams defenselessly from his bedroom eyes.

Robert Mitchum’s sedate antihero is so resigned to his fate you can’t help but hang on to his every word. Mitchum is supremely cast opposite Jane Greer — “the woman with the Mona Lisa smile”—playing femme fatale Kathie Moffat. Before the plot twists are over Jeff Bailey must contend with Kathie’s doppelgänger Meta Carson (played by the sultry Rhonda Fleming) who is every bit as dangerous--although nowhere near as passionately overwhelming--as Kathie. Jeff also keeps Ann Miller (Virginia Huston), a doting small-town girl, in the wings. Ann promises a future of stability if only Jeff can finish his business with Lake Tahoe-dwelling mobster Whit Sterling (exquisitely played by Kirk Douglas in his second film role). Ann serves as an essential foil for Jeff’s long stretches of exposition during the film’s first half.

Cteq_Out-Of-The-Past.colesmithey.com

Screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring punches up the juicy dialogue with snappy one-liners that seem scripted in stone. “All women are wonders, because they reduce all men to the obvious,” is how one doomed gentleman verbally describes his dead-end passion for a woman of irreducible character on the last night of his life. During a crucial exchange in Acapulco, Jeff goads Whit and his sidekick Joe (Paul Valentine) into leaving his hotel room by telling Whit, “Let’s go down to the bar. We can cool off while we try to impress each other." Talk about smooth.

Out-of-the-past

While living off Whit’s $5000 retainer, Jeff has been searching for Kathie in Acapulco. As expected, Jeff has fallen for the dame accused of stealing forty large from Whit. Kathie knows just how to play Jeff, who for his part proves equally adept at deceiving Whit. Jeff and Kathie share a “honeymoon” period in San Francisco before one of Whit’s hired bulls tracks them down. Kathie turns out to be considerably more lethal than Jeff during a nocturnal confrontation with Whit’s hired dick. Where the murder rap will ultimately hang leaves Tourneur and his ace cinematographer Nicholas Masuraca with plenty of filmic surface to paint lush black-and-white compositions that make color film pale by comparison. Layers of complex nighttime image systems pressurize the confusing narrative into a prismatic visual maze. “Out of the Past” is all about mood, tone, suspense, and emotion. Add to that big dollops of palpable lust, greed, and powerful feminine opportunism, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for noir.

Not Rated. 97 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)


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March 02, 2011

THE KILLING — CLASSIC FILM PICK

 
 
KillingStanley Kubrick's early experiences working as a photographer for Look magazine informed his signature one-point perspective for filmic compositions. Kubrick’s shrewd technical skills with a camera were naturally suited to fulfilling the detailed demands of the noir genre, as evidenced in “The Killing,” a gutsy heist thriller with atmosphere to spare.

Based on the Lionel White novel "Clean Break," Kubrick co-wrote "The Killing" with pulp writer Jim Thompson. It was Kubrick's first feature-length film.

Interweaving a documentary editorial style, the caper storyline follows a group of tough guys who rob New Jersey's Meadowlands racetrack while the ponies run. Sterling Hayden plays the film’s criminal mastermind Johnny Clay with a ferocity that seethes with palpable heat. Hayden's burly good looks and tenacious demeanor make him an ideal anti-hero. Fresh out of prison, the financially ambitious Johnny depends on the involvement of shady racetrack teller George Peatty (Elisha Cook Jr.) to pull off the robbery. George's troubled marriage to Sherry (Marie Windsor), a domineering money-hungry adulteress, causes him to spill the beans to her about the possible riches that wait. He desperately wants to win her approval, if not her potential for showing some affection. The mean-spirited Sherry overreaches when she tries to involve her secret boyfriend in the action. Here’s a new twist on noir’s backstabbing femme fatale trope.

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Stanley Kubrick infuses a dry voice-over narration to put a clinical stamp of observation over the carefully orchestrated raid. The methodic filmmaker employs a then-groundbreaking time-flipping device to evaluate simultaneous action from different perspectives.

The filmmaker was a lifelong chess player. Loving attention is given to subtle details inside the dingy chess parlor where Johnny attracts the complicity of the Russian boxer who misdirects attention. The boxing lout is appointed to start a fight at the racetrack bar. The violent event is replayed to give context as to how the manufactured brawl masks the robbery in progress.

Social cues are everywhere. Provocative ‘50s era stand-up comic Lenny Bruce's name adorns a burlesque parlor to silently place the public environment of the story. Thoughtful touches, like the monstrous clown masks the robbers wear, later became cliché touchstones for heist movies made 30 years later.

There's a gloomy urgency in "The Killing" that speaks to unseen economic pressures roiling through the country during the mid ‘50s. The film's impressive airport location climax lends a contemporary note of realism to the action. Getting an oversized suitcase on a commercial flight was always a problem. Greed must take its toll on those dumb and daring enough to pursue it.

Thekilling

Not Rated. 85 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)


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