17 posts categorized "Noir"

October 13, 2023

THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER — SHOCKTOBER!

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THE BLOOD OF DRACULA THE BLOOD OF DRACULA



ColeSmithey.comCharles Laughton, a consummate British actor of stage and film, directed only one film during his lifetime, but he made it count. The ubiquitous novelist, screenwriter, and film critic James Agee provided the fact-based source material that Laughton sculpted into his personalized masterpiece of Gothic cinema.

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By incorporating angular set and lighting designs — inspired by such German expressionist films as “Nosferatu,” Laughton created an American Gothic style that informed generations of filmmakers in various genres. Although critics dismissed “The Night of the Hunter” at the time of its release in 1955, it eventually earned its rightful place among the best films of all time.

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Laughton took an innovative approach toward satirizing America’s Christian belief system and methods of manipulating its society. The setting is West Virginia during the Great Depression. Robert Mitchum plays serial killer Harry Powell. He marries women, kills them and steals their money. Harry dresses as a preacher. He wears a plantation necktie and wide-brim black hat. He peppers his language with biblical phrases. “L-O-V-E” is tattooed on the knuckles of Harry’s right hand. “H-A-T-E” is tattooed on the left. Reverend Harry wins friends and influences strangers with a well-practiced sermon about a battle between good and evil, now an iconic scene in cinema. Harry demonstrates the conflict by locking his fingers and twisting his hands back and forth as he displays his mastery of evangelical showmanship. Privately, Harry likes to carry on conversations with God. He believes in the Holy Ghost. Or maybe just himself.

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The movie opens with a group of children discovering the corpse of one of Harry’s female victims. The narrative cuts to Ben Harper, a family man on the run from police after carrying out a bank robbery. Approaching sirens get louder as Ben decides where to hide the money before making his son John (Billy Chapin) and younger daughter Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce) promise to never reveal the secret.

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Arrested for car theft, Harry is thrown in a cell with Ben (Peter Graves). Ben talks in his sleep. Ben’s execution coincides with Harry’s release. Harry goes straight to Ben’s weak-willed widow Willa (Shelly Winters) and insinuates himself into her heart. Marriage follows. The crux of the story coalesces around the couple’s would-be conjugal bed, where Harry makes clear that the purpose of sex is only for procreation. Laughton’s Gothic melodrama explodes. Since Willa agrees she doesn’t want more children, intercourse is off the table. Only Harry’s fire-and-brimstone speechifying will guide Willa’s psyche through prayer.

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The centerpiece of the film is a lingering underwater shot of Willa’s corpse sitting in the front seat of the Model T in which Harry buries her in a nearby river. Laughton shows the chilling scene from different angles to quell any hope that the victim might still have a breath of life left in her. The horror is real. So is the genius of this unforgettable film.

Rated PG-13. 99 mins.

5 StarsColeSmithey.com THE BLOOD OF DRACULATHE BLOOD OF DRACULAScreen Shot 2023-10-13 at 12.21.35 PM THE BLOOD OF DRACULA THE BLOOD OF DRACULACozy Cole

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April 23, 2022

THE THIRD MAN — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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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!

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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. 

Not Rated. 99 mins.

5 Stars“ColeSmithey.com“

Cozy Cole

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August 10, 2014

MEET JOHN DOE — CLASSIC FILM PICK

  ColeSmithey.com    Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

Welcome!

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ColeSmithey.comWikipedia 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.”

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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

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