17 posts categorized "Noir"

March 04, 2014



Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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Sunset BoulevardRevolutionary at the time of its release, Billy Wilder’s gothic tale of broken Hollywood dreams, turned traditional noir tropes on their heads in 1950. The Austria-Hungarian-born filmmaker created a drama that is droll, creepy, and brimming with insider knowledge of its already simulated milieu of has-beens and could-bees.

From its irregular wraparound storyline to its perfect juxtaposition of conventional and bizarre characters, everything about “Sunset Boulevard” oozes tabloid ink that could be mistaken for blood in the context of a black-and-white film.

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“Sunset Boulevard” is a self-reflexive Hollywood satire that takes targeted shots at the industry from various angles. To avoid censorship Wilder meted out pages of the script three at a time to Paramount. He knew he was pushing limits.

Screen Shot 2022-05-29 at 11.17.40 AM

Having lived in the Los Angeles neighborhood of the film’s title during the ’30s and ‘40s, co-writer/director Billy Wilder was intimately familiar with the area’s residents. Some, like the film’s insane antagonist, were retired film stars of the silent era who saw their fortunes slip away under the advent of sound to movies.

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Nora Desmond (played by Gloria Swanson with exquisitely camp intensity) is one such bird. Since starring in silent pictures under Cecil B. DeMille, the aging Hollywood queen of the silver screen has become a recluse. Nora lives alone in a rundown Boulevard mansion with her faithful chauffeur Max (Erich von Stroheim). As the story unfolds, the more intimate nature of Max’s relationship to Nora is revealed.

Sunset Boulevard

The home’s unkempt swimming pool provides a watery grave for William Holden’s Joe Gillis, the unsuccessful screenwriter who posthumously narrates the events of the story leading up to his death.

Beaten down and broke, Joe is an everyman character who stumbles through his days writing scripts that don’t sell. He plans to throw in the towel, and return to his job as a copy editor in Dayton, Ohio. A pair of repo men chases Joe in his oversized convertible. A blown tire sends Joe escaping into Nora Desmond’s disused driveway. Nora mistakes Joe for a casket deliveryman. That the awaited chest is intended for the midnight burial of her recently deceased chimpanzee speaks to Nora’s strained mental state. She’s attempted suicide on more than one occasion. All of the home’s interior doorknobs have been removed. Little does Nora Desmond realize that the biggest role of her life is that of a bloodthirsty vampire.

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Upon discovering that Joe is a screenwriter, Nora shows him a script she’s been working on that she believes will restart her film career. Seizing the opportunity before him, Joe becomes Nora’s kept man. She buys him fancy clothes, deluding herself that the two share a genuine romantic connection. Meanwhile, Joe slips out at night to collaborate on a script of his own with Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson), a studio script reader and a more romantically suitable object of desire.


The deranged Nora Desmond and her house of horrors come complete with a tuxedoed butler to serve as her Igor-styled assistant. Cobwebs and overgrow shrubbery influence the story as told by a dead man. Billy Wilder’s deft weaving of gothic elements, not the least of which is Nora’s decrepit mansion, casts a spell from which Joe is unable to break free. He, like the audience, is stuck in a frightful place awaiting an equally terrible fate.

Not Rated. 110 mins.

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

February 11, 2012



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


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.

Out of the Past | George Eastman Museum

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.


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.


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.

Out of the Past | Film | The Guardian

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.

Out of the Past (1947) | Alex on Film

Not Rated. 97 mins.


Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

March 02, 2011



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

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“ColeSmithey.com“

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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