15 posts categorized "Noir"

March 02, 2011



Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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ColeSmitheyStanley 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.

The Killing (1956) | The Criterion Collection

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.

Film Noir of the Week: December 2005

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.


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.

Noirvember Review: 'The Killing' | Funk's House of Geekery

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.Thekilling

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.

Not Rated. 85 mins.

5 Stars

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

November 26, 2010



Howard Hawks's 1946 adaptation of Raymond Chandler's hardboiled noir novel is about one thing and one thing only, the insanely dynamic chemistry between Bogart and Bacall.

The Big Sleep movie review & film summary (1946) | Roger Ebert

Coming off their first film together (Hawks's "To Have and Have Not") the actors carried on a quiet affair with the much older Bogart mentoring Bacall as an actor as well. Bogart plays private detective Philip Marlowe, a man whose sexual appeal to women knows no boundaries. Hawks was careful to pack every available scene with as much sexual innuendo as possible.

Style in Film: Bacall and Bogart in The Big Sleep |
A convoluted story involving the murder of a gambling debt collector sets the stage for Bogart to hold court as the coolest card in the deck regardless of who's holding the gun. Many pistols are drawn as Marlowe follows up on an apparently blackmail-related murder.

Sonia Darrin Dead: Femme Fatale in Bogart's 'The Big Sleep' Was 96 |  Hollywood Reporter

Steamy photos of a client's hot-to-trot nubile daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers) are at the heart of the blackmail, but Carmen's older sister Vivian Rutledge (Bacall) generates the heat. Her bedroom eyes weighed down with erotic desire, Bacall's Vivian is the only thing more composed than Bogart's quick-talking man's man.

Humphrey Bogart as the Private Eye | Stranger in a strange land

For all the women who throw themselves at Marlowe throughout the film, only one has a chance of sealing the deal. When the kiss between them finally arrives, Marlowe aptly treats it as business to be done away with until opportunity allows an encore of such pleasant luxury. As dead bodies pile up, so too does the romantic connection between the actors who would wed before "The Big Sleep" even opened in theaters.

The Big Sleep. 1946. Directed by Howard Hawks | MoMA
"The Big Sleep" is a triumph of style over substance. So much of its joy comes from the way Bogart and Bacall deliver Raymond Chandler's witty language that there's no point in trying to put the pieces of the elaborate crime plot together. Here, the entire story is merely a MacGuffin for the actors to riff on. And oh, what riffing they do!

The Big Sleep (1946, Howard Hawks) / Cinematography by Sidney Hickox | The  big sleep, Film stills, Old hollywood

5 Stars


Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This 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.

Cole Smithey on Patreon

June 27, 2010



In 1957 "Touch of Evil" became Orson Welles's first return to studio production work in Hollywood after a ten-year hiatus — after his notorious failed version of “Macbeth.” For “Touch of Evil,” Universal hired Welles to write, direct, and act in what they considered to be a [low budget] B-picture. Little did anyone know at the time that "Touch of Evil" would mark the end of the cinematic movement known as Film Noir, and put the cherry on Welles’s storied career as a director.

Touch of Evil Film Analysis. The film Touch of Evil uses the three… | by  riverdaleonfilm | Medium

Welles adapted "Touch of Evil" from a functional pulp novel titled "Badge of Evil" (by Robert Wade and H. Bill Miller). He crafted the source material into a bizarre anti-capitalist, anti-racist morality tale set in Mexico. Welles cast himself as Captain Quinlan, a nasty police officer with a low code of ethics. Needless to say, Welles’s performance is as gritty as anything else in the noir cannon.


By telling the linear story from three different viewpoints, Welles avoids structural clichés like flashbacks or narration. Welles was careful to give special attention to the material's obsession with vice that colors every scene. In one of the most harrowing passages in all of Film Noir, Janet Leigh is drugged and lies passed-out in a darkened hotel room where Quinlan strangles to death a Hispanic man against the brass bedpost next to where she lay. The scene resonates with noir’s tempestuous balance between sex and death.


Marlene Dietrich speaks the film's theme lines as Tana, an aging Mexican whore with a German accent. Every frame of Dietrich's non-blinking scenes spit humanist ethics against the corruption that surrounds her empathetic character. When Quinlan comes sniffing around Tana's brothel in the middle of the night, he asks her to read his fortune. Tana replies, "You haven't got any; your future's all used up. Why don't you go home?" Dietrich's come-hither look belies the somber world-weary tone of her gutsy character. The hard-boiled dialogue is all the more poignant because "Touch of Evil" also represented a finishing touch for Welles's and Dietrich's magnificent careers.

Touch of Evil (1958) | BFI

So the story goes, Orson Welles once fought in a bullring in Spain during his youth. He went on to spend his life searching for cinematic challenges that could match the power and unpredictability of an angry bull In "Touch of Evil," Welles kills the metaphorical beast, and with it the rich Film Noir genre that went before.


Rated PG-13. 95 mins.

5 Stars


Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This 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.

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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