Saturday, December 26, 2009

Target #66: Fallen Angel (1945, Otto Preminger)

Directed by: Otto Preminger
Written by: Marty Holland (novel), Harry Kleiner (writing)
Starring: Dana Andrews, Alice Faye, Linda Darnell, Charles Bickford, Anne Revere, John Carradine

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!!

With Laura (1944) and Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950), director Otto Preminger and actor Dana Andrews collaborated to produce two of the great American film noirs. Fallen Angel (1945) also features this winning combination, but unfortunately lacks something more crucial: conviction. Eric Stanton (Andrews) is the perfect noir anti-hero, an unabashed shyster with a knack for opportunism. After stranding himself in a small American town with a dollar in his pocket, Stanton falls for Stella (Linda Darnell), a vivacious young waitress who'll "befriend" any man who can offer her financial security. Stanton claims that he wants to marry Stella, but he's obviously driven by lust, and his hunger leads him to seek money through dubious means – in this case, by wooing and marrying the spinsterish June (Alice Faye). Where Preminger fumbles is in his unwillingness to punish Stanton. Instead, the irresponsibly- flirtatious Stella is murdered, and our hero's innocence – never really doubted by the audience – distracts from the character's own moral crimes.















The film, at least, is thick with atmosphere. The small-town setting creates a distinct sense of claustrophobia, as though one can't run far enough to escape the watchful eyes of the local residents. Dana Andrews, as always, is excellent in the lead role. Linda Darnell exudes a trashy but undeniably voluptuous sensuality; she's a more openly sexual character than Gene Tierney's Laura, and perhaps more along the lines of Tierney in The Shanghai Gesture (1941) or Jean Peters in Pickup on South Street (1953). The characters played by Alice Faye and Anne Revere are underdeveloped and mostly uninteresting; their innocent, righteous personalities feel as though they should have no place in the film noir style. Charles Bickford, however, is very entertaining as a cocky and sadistic retired detective charged with solving Stella's murder. For the sizzling chemistry of Andrews and Darnell, Fallen Angel is a worthy enough noir thriller, but the director and star have done better, both together and with others.
6.5/10

Currently my #10 film of 1945:
1) The Lost Weekend (Billy Wilder) *
2) Spellbound (Alfred Hitchcock) *
3) Brief Encounter (David Lean)
4) 'I Know Where I'm Going!' (Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger)
5) Perfect Strangers (Alexander Korda)
6) Leave Her to Heaven (John M. Stahl) *
7) Scarlet Street (Fritz Lang) *
8) And Then There Were None (René Clair)
9) Roma, città aperta {Rome, Open City} (Roberto Rossellini)
10) Fallen Angel (Otto Preminger) *

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Friday, December 4, 2009

British Noir: Brighton Rock (1947, John Boulting)

Directed by: John Boulting

Written by: Graham Greene (novel & screenplay), Terrence Ratigan (writer)

In John Boulting's adaptation of a Graham Greene novel, Richard Attenborough plays small-time gang-leader Pinkie Brown, a young man with a rough temper and a paranoid mean-streak. After he murders a police informer, Pinkie happens upon a young waitress (Carol Marsh) who could shatter his alibi if she wanted to. Unable to silence her without risking arrest, Pinkie instead tries to seduce the girl, who naively falls head over heels for the man who'd like to put a bullet in her.

Greene's trademark wryness is present in a tense opening act that sees a desperate newspaper employee (hired as Kolley Kibber, a variation of the Lobby Lud character) pursued through the streets of Brighton. Rarely have bustling crowds of people felt so ominous: how can this man hope to escape detection if, in a sardonic twist, an entire readership is looking out for him? Pinkie eventually murders the man during a carnival horror ride, escaping into the throngs of oblivious day-trippers. The man in which such a heinous crime is swallowed by the clamour of everyday life recalls Dassins The Naked City (1948) and that wonderful reverse dolly shot in Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972).
















This sequence is one of several – including the climax upon a foggy ocean pier – whose sheer atmosphere is intense enough to rival the very best noir efforts of Jules Dassin {Night and the City (1950)} and Carol Reed {Odd Man Out (1947); The Third Man (1949)}. Unfortunately, unlike these better films, Brighton Rock (1947) lacks a consistent tone. Director Robert Boulton is skillful at building a strong atmosphere, but intermittent interruptions from Hermione Baddeley's brassy amateur sleuth (accompanied by her own jaunty theme tune) shift the mood from that of a grim British noir to a frivolous Miss Marple outing.

Though Richard Attenborough is a small, unintimidating actor, he somehow uses his slight stature to his advantage. Like a wily mutt, his Pinkie Brown has a ferocious bark, and a bite to match. In stories of this sort, it is typical for the villain to be softened, if only slightly, by the affections of a pretty lady. Nothing of the sort happens here. Pinkie, whose sexual urges are seemingly exhausted in his lust for power, woos and weds waitress Rose purely as an exercise in self-preservation. The young woman's devotion to such a cold-blooded crook is pathetic and heartbreaking, a tragic metaphor for thousands of women trapped in loveless and abusive marital unions.
7/10

Currently my #10 film of 1947:
1) Odd Man Out (Carol Reed) *
2) The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
3) Monsieur Verdoux (Charles Chaplin)
4) Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur) *
5) Dark Passage (Delmer Daves) *
6) The Lady from Shanghai (Orson Welles) *
7) They Won’t Believe Me (Irving Pichel) *
8) The Web (Michael Gordon) *
9) The Fugitive (John Ford, Emilio Fernández)
10) Brighton Rock (John Boulting) *

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Bonus Noir: The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947, Felix E. Feist)

Directed by: Felix E. Feist
Written by: Robert C. DuSoe (novel), Felix E. Feist (writer)
Starring: Lawrence Tierney, Ted North, Nan Leslie, Betty Lawford, Andrew Tombes, Harry Shannon, Glen Vernon


WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!! [Paragraph 2 only]

By all accounts, Lawrence Tierney was one mean customer. He got his break in Hollywood playing the titular gangster in Dillinger (1945), and its success saw him typecast as the ultimate bad-guy. In Felix Feist's The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947), Tierney gives a powerhouse performance as Steve Morgan, a scheming fugitive who hitches a ride with law-abiding salesman Jimmy Ferguson (Ted North). As a short, sharp low-budget thriller, the film has plenty to recommend, any weaknesses early on compensated for by a mounting air of tension that you could cut with a knife. Steve Morgan is a riveting character from the moment he appears on screen. For one, he's not afraid to speak his mind, even insulting the appearance of the gas station attendant's (Glen Vernon) baby daughter. When Morgan propositions a virginal runaway (Nan Leslie), his flattering advances sound more like threats than complements. Only fellow hitchhiker Agnes Smith (Betty Lawford) can rival his hardness, a callous tramp looking out for herself.















Given the B-movie budget, the other performances as about as good as one could expect. Ted North is almost too amiable as the main character, constantly appearing smitten by the mere thought of his pretty wife. Betty Lawford is good, playing her role precisely as Claire Trevor might have – incidentally, Tierney would co-star with Trevor that same year in Born to Kill (1947). Harry Shannon's San Diego police chief inhabits the quaint universe of B-movie law enforcement, playing poker between phonecalls and recruiting an enthusiastic boy-scout gas station attendant to come along for the ride. These idiosyncracies come with the territory, I suppose – very few low-budget noirs are without the occasional weak performance or dubious plot turn. More damning is that Steve Morgan is denied an ending that befits his mighty presence, the film cutting to the next scene without allowing his fate to sink in. At least the meagre finances allow greater freedom for risk-taking: certainly, no big-budget studio picture would have delegated the young, innocent beauty to lie face-down in a lagoon.
7/10

Currently my #10 film of 1947:
1) Odd Man Out (Carol Reed)
2) The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
3) Monsieur Verdoux (Charles Chaplin)
4) Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur)
5) Dark Passage (Delmer Daves)
6) The Lady from Shanghai (Orson Welles)
7) They Won’t Believe Me (Irving Pichel)
8) The Web (Michael Gordon)
9) The Fugitive (John Ford, Emilio Fernández)
10) The Devil Thumbs a Ride (Felix E. Feist)

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Post-Noir: Farewell, My Lovely (1975, Dick Richards)

Directed by: Dick Richards

Written by: Raymond Chandler (novel), David Zelag Goodman (screenplay)
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Charlotte Rampling, Sylvia Miles, Harry Dean Stanton, Jack O'Halloran, Sylvester Stallone

The work of Raymond Chandler experienced a resurgence in the 1970s, thanks to Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973) and Roman Polanski's very Chandler-ish Chinatown (1974). The waning career of Robert Mitchum was also revived by two Chandler adaptations, Farewell, My Lovely (1975) {previously filmed by Edward Dmytryk as Murder, My Sweet (1944)} and The Big Sleep (1978) {previously filmed by Howard Hawks}. Though outside the traditionally-accepted film noir period (approx. 1940-1958), the 1970s provided an ideal climate for a resurgence of the style. The demise of the Production Code in the 1960s had allowed filmmakers the freedom to explore more explicit themes, usually implying an increase in language, violence and nudity. Chandler's novels – which typically dabbled in themes of prostitution, homosexuality and pornography – could now be adapted faithfully without the threat of censorship, though fortunately, in the case of this particular film, director Dick Richards doesn't overdo the sleaze. The source material is one of the few Marlowe novels I haven't read, but Farewell, My Lovely nevertheless seems a loyal interpretation of the author's style.

Philip Marlowe is the sort of role that Robert Mitchum would have nailed in the 1950s, when he always seemed to feel old and weary without actually looking it. Nevertheless – though he lacks the cocky vigour of Dick Powell, or the invincibility of Humphrey Bogart – the aging Mitchum does communicate what is perhaps Marlowe's most defining characteristic: that of a disillusioned, world-weary private dick looking for something in this world, anything, worth fighting for. In his latest case, Marlowe is hired by fearless lug Moose Malloy (Jack O'Halloran) to find his girlfriend Velma, who vanished while Malloy was serving a prison sentence. As always, what had initially seemed a straightforward assignment soon gets Marlowe embroiled in a complex patchwork of deceits, murders and double-crossings. Crucial to the mystery is Charlotte Rampling (emulating Lauren Bacall) as the adulterous wife of an old millionaire, and Oscar-nominated Sylvia Myles as an alcoholic performance artist. Also look out for small roles from Harry Dean Stanton as Det. Rolfe, and Sylvester Stallone as a lustful thug.

Farewell, My Lovely does a fine job of translating Chandler's pessimistic vision of urban decay and human depravity. The 1940s adaptations are, of course, superbly entertaining, but most of them – particularly The Big Sleep (1946) and Lady in the Lake (1947) – are clearly filmed on a pristine studio set, somewhat offsetting the grittiness of Chandler's characters and plot. Richards' film, to his credit, is incredibly ugly. Aside from Helen Grayle, whose sprawling mansion suffers next to Buckingham Palace, most of Marlowe's witnesses live in appalling squalor; even his own office is drab and bathed in shadow. Yet, despite the unpolished milieu, Farewell, My Lovely most assuredly has a heart. Marlowe's wordless interactions with the son of a penniless musician help us see beneath the detective's front of indifference, hinting at his admiration for the honest working-class, and his fervent distaste towards the decadence of the wealthy. When offered his own wealth, Marlowe unthinkingly surrenders it to someone he deems more worthy, a touching but cheerless ending to a film steeped in the unpleasantness of human existence.
7/10

Currently my #6 film of 1975:
1) One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (Milos Forman)
2) Dersu Uzala (Akira Kurosawa)
3) Love and Death (Woody Allen)
4) Pasqualino Settebellezze {Seven Beauties} (Lina Wertmüller)
5) Jaws (Steven Spielberg)
6) Farewell, My Lovely (Dick Richards) *
7) Dog Day Afternoon (Sidney Lumet)
8) Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones)

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bonus Noir: The Man Between (1953, Carol Reed)

Directed by: Carol Reed

Written by: Walter Ebert (story), Harry Kurnitz (screenplay), Eric Linklater (screenplay) (uncredited)

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!! [Paragraph 3 only]

Following the release of his masterpiece The Third Man (1949), a refreshingly-offbeat amalgam of British noir and Ealing-style whimsy, director Carol Reed was heralded as one of the era's most promising filmmakers. Critical admirers anxiously awaited his follow-up effort, which was four years coming. Today, the consensus appears to regard The Man Between (1953) as little but a pale imitation of The Third Man. Certainly, the two films share similar scenarios, both involving a foreigner's espionage-tinged visit to a war-torn city (Vienna and Berlin, respectively) that has been divided by opposing powers. However, despite lacking Graham Greene's wry sense of humour, and particularly the boyish charisma of Orson Welles, Reed's follow-up picture is nonetheless an excellent drama, blending romance and tragedy with the director's usual flair for generating atmosphere and international intrigue. The fine chemistry between stars James Mason and Claire Bloom finds a life of its own amid the rubble-strewn ruins of a city still at war with itself.

Young British woman Susanne Mallison (Claire Bloom, whom Chaplin had discovered the previous year for Limelight (1952)) arrives in Berlin to visit her brother (Geoffrey Toone), who has married German-born Bettina (Hildegard Knef). Through her sister-in-law, Susanne is introduced to the enigmatic Ivo Kern (James Mason), a professional kidnapper with ambiguous allegiances towards both the Eastern and Western powers. Screenwriter Harry Kurnitz had a talent for illustrating characters with hidden motives and concealed secrets (see Witness for the Prosecution (1957), The Web (1947) or either of his Thin Man features), and his screenplay spends its first half ominously exploring the intentions of Bettina, whose association with Ivo implicitly suggests a family betrayal. Interestingly, the character is effectively abandoned in the film's second half, but to the film's advantage, as Susanne and Ivo are relentlessly hunted in the Eastern Bloc following a botched kidnapping. Here, Reed narrows his dramatic focus, but the doomed romance between Bloom's young idealist and Mason's war-weary criminal remains appropriately understated, inspiring empathy without stooping to melodrama.

Despite the absence of Robert Krasker, The Man Between is a beautifully shot film, with director-of-photography Desmond Dickinson capturing, not only the atmosphere, but the foreboding personality of the crumbling German capital. John Addison's musical score is haunting and graceful, certainly a far cry from Anton Karas' zither, but nonetheless effective in its own right. One thing I've noticed about every Carol Reed film I've seen (and the tally currently sits at seven) is that all the performances are perfect – not only the main and supporting stars, but everybody down to the briefest of speaking roles. James Mason sports a convincing German accent, and Claire Bloom is simply adorable in her naive innocence, with a smile that will melt your heart. A particularly important character is young Horst (Dieter Krause), whose love Ivo instinctively rejects, for such a criminal can never allow himself to form attachments to those he must inevitably abandon. Ultimately, and tragically, it is Horst's devotion that results in Ivo's death, the final proof that love and death are never far apart.
8/10

Currently my #7 film of 1953:
1) From Here To Eternity (Fred Zinnemann)
2) Stalag 17 (Billy Wilder)
3) I Confess (Alfred Hitchcock) *
4) The Titfield Thunderbolt (Charles Crichton)
5) Le salaire de la peur {The Wages of Fear} (Henri-Georges Clouzot)
6) Roman Holiday (William Wyler)
7) The Man Between (Carol Reed) *
8) The Band Wagon (Vincente Minnelli)
9) Pickup on South Street (Samuel Fuller) *
10) The War Of The Worlds (Byron Haskin)

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Target #65: Thieves' Highway (1949, Jules Dassin)

Directed by: Jules Dassin

Written by: A.I. Bezzerides (novel & screenplay)

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!! [Paragraph 3 only]

Nick Garcos (Richard Conte) returns from a round-the-world engagement to a home that, at first glance, typifies the ideal American household. His father's working-class singing voice booms across the backyard; his mother fussily busies herself with the daily chores; his girlfriend Polly (Barbara Lawrence) bursts jubilantly into the room, embracing him in a passionate, sensuous kiss. But looks can be deceiving: a well-intended gift of Chinese slippers betrays a recent family tragedy; Polly's disappointed response to another gift hints at a fractured romance, a relationship borne not from love but the love of money. The family's facade of happiness is exposed as a sham, and it's the peeling back of this superficial skin with which Jules Dassin's Thieves' Highway (1949) is concerned. A seemingly-innocuous industry, that of fresh fruit cartage and wholesale, is shown to wallow in depravity, thuggery and callous opportunism. In this way, the film might be considered a companion piece to the director's previous effort, The Naked City (1948), which similarly exposed gruelling drama within the confines of the audiences' daily lives.

Richard Conte was one of the most interesting leading men of his era. His big-shot crime boss in The Big Combo (1955) might be the decade's most charismatic villain, but he could also play the resolute hero, as in Preminger's Whirlpool (1949). To Thieves' Highway he brings a cocky self-assurance, the sort of fearless conviction that's bound to blow up in one's face eventually. Lee J. Cobb's conniving fruit wholesaler, Mike Figlia, is a small-time crook, but one who invokes the viewer's contempt through his ruthlessly-capitalist exploitation of the humble working-class American. Only the females aren't as memorably drawn: Barbara Lawrence's Polly is rather abruptly discarded as a self-seeking gold-digger, as though only to allow for a romance with possible prostitute Rica (Valentina Cortesa), who grows a heart of gold. Thieves' Highway no doubt inspired Henri-Georges Clouzot's nail-biting The Wages of Fear (1953), another classic tale of trucking peril, but unfortunately it itself lacks the French director's gritty cynicism, or at least a degree of pessimism as absolute as Clouzot's.

This slackening of tone is seen most tellingly in the film's dramatic climax, a confrontation between Garcos and Figlia. The sequence doesn't work because it's conflicted between two opposing moral viewpoints. In one sense, Dassin appears to advocate Garcos' vigilante action in subjecting Figlia to a physical beating, since he successfully reclaims his stolen payments and achieves some degree of mental closure regarding his father's crippling. However, at this moment, as Garcos collapses onto the bench in exhaustion, policemen enter the diner and arrest Figlia for his crimes – but not before one officer sternly wags his finger at Garcos for taking the law into his own hands. To have an excellent film intruded upon by such an awkward, juvenile moral lesson is bad enough, but the film could have gotten across the same message in a more powerful manner. As the police stormed into the diner, my blood had suddenly run cold with the chilling thought: what if Figlia is dead? Out of pure bloody-minded pride, a good man would have been condemned for life, the ultimate testament that vigilantism is not the answer.
7.5/10

Currently my #6 film of 1949:
1) The Third Man (Carol Reed)
2) White Heat (Raoul Walsh)
3) Kind Hearts and Coronets (Robert Hamer)
4) The Set-up (Robert Wise)
5) A Run for Your Money (Charles Frend)
6) Thieves’ Highway (Jules Dassin)
7) Nora inu {Stray Dog} (Akira Kurosawa)
8) The Big Steal (Don Siegel)
9) She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (John Ford)
10) Under Capricorn (Alfred Hitchcock)

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Target #64: Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948, Norman Foster)

Directed by: Norman Foster

Written by: Gerald Butler (novel), Walter Bernstein (adaptation), Ben Maddow (adaptation), Leonardo Bercovici (writer), Hugh Gray (additional dialogue)

With such a lurid, evocative title, I entered into Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948) with inflated expectations of a film steeped in decadence and depravity. I've often considered the classic film noir mood to be the primal juxtaposition of sex and violence, and this is exactly the stuff promised by Norman Foster's film: one envisions a man's bloodied hands, tinged from murder, and a femme fatale's gentle touch, not only embracing but encouraging her man's brutality. Alas, the true meaning of the title is less literal, and certainly less salacious, and concerns the notion of redemption through love. Burt Lancaster's traumatised war veteran, a man with stunted emotions and a short fuse, leaves behind a shady past of misdeeds he'd rather forget. His salvation comes in the form of Joan Fontaine's lonely, war-grieving nurse, who offers understanding and the hope of a better life. An admittedly conventional storyline is elevated by Foster's keen visual style, with the image of an advancing, goggle-eyed Robert Newton recalling the flamboyant eccentricity of an Orson Welles picture.
Foster's film opens in a pub, as the drunken patrons are shuffled into the street at closing time. There sits Bill Saunders (Lancaster) at the bar, lonely and brooding, so utterly distanced from society that he refuses to follow his fellow drinkers out the door. When the publican becomes forceful, Bill suddenly jerks into action, striking out with a heavy fist that leaves his aggressor dead on the floor. "Chum, you've been and gone and done it," remarks one stunned onlooker (Newton) gravely; "he's dead. You've killed him." This is what film noir is all about: that fundamental moment when there's no turning back. After a thrilling chase through the London streets (though I notice that the characters still drive left-handed vehicles), Bill finds refuge in the apartment of Jane Wharton (Fontaine), whose unexpected compassion leads him to seek a relationship with her. At this point, the film quickly and inexplicably forgets that Bill is a fugitive wanted for murder. Or, perhaps more accurately, it waits for us to forget.

Only after Bill Saunders has reestablished his place in society does his past rear its ugly head, in the form of Robert Newton's grotesquely cavalier black-market fraudster. This isn't the first time in Lancaster's career that his character's past had inescapably returned to haunt him: in Siodmak's The Killers (1946), Swede Andersen accepts his fate with a kind of subdued defeatism. However, Kiss the Blood Off My Hands is less fatalistic towards its protagonist, opting instead for an open-ended conclusion that wavers between hope and resignation. That Bill is ultimately offered a second-chance at redemption is quite appropriate, given that he is a victim, not necessarily of his own sense of greed or immorality, but of the War. His unbalanced personality, unwittingly corrupted by the twisted ethics of combat, is a testament to the psychological scars of warfare, previously explored in Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and more peripherally in George Marshall's film noir The Blue Dahlia (1946).
7/10

Currently my #10 film of 1948:
1) The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston)
2) Ladri di biciclette {The Bicycle Thief} (Vittorio De Sica)
3) Rope (Alfred Hitchcock)
4) Oliver Twist (David Lean)
5) The Red Shoes (Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger)
6) The Naked City (Jules Dassin) *
7) Macbeth (Orson Welles)
8) Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophüls)
9) Key Largo (John Huston) *
10) Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (Norman Foster) *

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Target #63: The Naked City (1948, Jules Dassin)

Directed by: Jules Dassin
Written by: Malvin Wald (story & screenplay), Albert Maltz (screenplay)
Starring: Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff, Dorothy Hart, Don Taylor, Frank Conroy, Ted de Corsia, House Jameson

Italian neorealism, which reached its zenith with Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948), was distinguished from other cinematic styles through its use of non-professional actors, loosely-plotted and realistic story lines, and unstylised on-location photography. Jules Dassin's The Naked City (1948) is a fair Hollywood attempt at blending the styles of neorealism and film noir, both of which were at the time only beginning to receive due recognition. At first glance, the two movements appear to sit at opposite ends of the stylistic and ideological spectrum: film noir typically concerns the fate of ordinary men trapped in exceptional circumstances, whereas Italian neorealism presents its characters' struggles as decidedly unremarkable, representative of the societal norm. Where these two particular films converge is in emphasising the invisibility of drama in real-life. De Sica's bicycle-seeking protagonists, dejected and beaten, disappear amid the crowds of workers. In his desperate flight from the authorities, Dassin's Willie Garzah (Ted de Corsia) carves a disruptive path through the crowds of New Yorkers, but the city schedule is interrupted only briefly.

Underpinning The Naked City is producer Mark Hellinger's narration, which serves as both a prop and a vice. Absolutely essential is the final sign-off, which remarks "there are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them." Coming only moments after a murderer falls to his death from the Williamsburg Bridge, this narration assures us, as critic Luc Sante writes in his Criterion Collection essay, "that what we briefly experienced as a cosmic struggle up above the earth was really just another statistic." In a city of eight million people, such high-drama attains only passing significance: workers file past the apartment building where a young model was brutally murdered; children play jump-rope outside the office window of a detective embroiled in a homicide case; a street-sweeper cleans up yesterday's discarded newspaper, its headline "DEXTER MURDER SOLVED!" having since given way to more pertinent news. However, Hellinger's narration, which chimes in at regular intervals, can also be intrusive, and I disliked the cheerful, cloying manner in which it interacted with the characters, as in a contemporary newsreel.

Despite revolving around a police procedural that has many of the classic dramatic ingredients – most memorably a suave jewel thief and pathological liar (Howard Duff) – it is only when detectives Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) and Halloran (Don Taylor) take to the streets that The Naked City really springs to life. Dassin filmed most of his exteriors out in the gritty urban walkways, often without the knowledge of bystanders, and the resultant atmosphere is fundamental to his storytelling style. New York simply seems so real, bustling with the minor details of activity – children playing in the streets, salesmen pushing their carts – that are impossible to duplicate on a studio backlot. However, rather than serving merely as a documentary portraiture of city life, as in Vertov's The Man with a Movie Camera (1929), the film's authentic environment instead functions to solidify the immediacy of the underlying drama. While Dassin's ability to juggle these disparate elements at times appears strained, he would perfect his method for what is, for my money, the director's masterpiece: Night and the City (1950).
7.5/10

Currently my #6 film of 1948:
1) The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston)
2) Ladri di biciclette {The Bicycle Thief} (Vittorio De Sica)
3) Rope (Alfred Hitchcock)
4) Oliver Twist (David Lean)
5) The Red Shoes (Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger)
6) The Naked City (Jules Dassin) *
7) Macbeth (Orson Welles)
8) Key Largo (John Huston) *
9) Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophüls)
10) Secret Beyond the Door… (Fritz Lang) *

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Target #62: The Thief (1952, Russell Rouse)

Directed by: Russell Rouse

Written by: Russell Rouse (writer), Clarence Greene (writer)

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!!

The Thief (1952) sets itself apart from other Cold War-era thrillers – and, indeed, from most American films released after 1930 – because it unfolds entirely without dialogue. Directed by Russell Rouse, the film uses its deliberate silence, not merely as an unusual gimmick, but as a legitimate storytelling device, to internalise the guilt, fear and frustration of its protagonist. In most films, characters get worries off their chests simply by talking to others – but to whom can Allan Fields talk? Not to his fellow Communist spies, who must never be seen in his company, and whose convictions he doesn't necessarily share. Certainly not to friends or family, whose way-of-life he is betraying to the enemy. Lonely and segregated, Fields (Ray Milland) simply goes about his painful duties, his inner torment consistently repressed behind a strained pretense of nonchalance. Only when he inadvertently murders a young FBI agent does his anguish spill forth into physical and verbal form, in a pitiful outpouring of grief and emotion.

Despite a slow first half, in which Fields' typical espionage duties are introduced via a lot of silent waiting, The Thief picks up substantially once the American authorities catch wind of his crimes. Rouse cultivates some truly thumping suspense sequences, including a magnificent stairway pursuit up the then-tallest building in the world, the Empire State. This breathless flight from the 88th floor observatory to the 102nd floor, and beyond, serves as a convenient allegory for Fields' Communist involvement. As an FBI agent rushes in pursuit, Milland's character tries repeatedly to escape through service doors on each floor, only to find them locked each time. Throughout the film, despite wishing to abandon his treasonous practices, Fields consistently finds his path to freedom blocked, his only option to continue what he's been doing, further implicating himself with each staircase he ascends. When inevitably cornered high above New York City, ironically defenseless at the pinnacle of human achievement, Fields desperately lashes out at his aggressor, and does the unthinkable.
In spite of my reservations that only a low-budget film could get away with such an anachronistic style, The Thief does, in fact, boast excellent production values. Sam Leavitt's cinematography is graceful but with an edge of documentary-realism. I particularly enjoyed the lurid confusion of Fields' nervous breakdown (perhaps a nod to Wilder's The Lost Weekend (1945)), with an increasingly-claustrophobic Milland filmed from above like an insignificant pawn, as specks of blood appear to permeate the walls. Despite his Oscar, Ray Milland is one of his generation's most underrated leading men, and he handles an exceedingly difficult role with poise and empathy: just watch Fields' pang of guilt every time he glances at the Capitol Dome, a symbol of American nationalism. Despite its sympathetic portrayal of a Commie spy, the film is nevertheless patriotic, as it must have been at this time. Indeed, Fields' ultimate decision to confess everything to the FBI comes not with the realisation that he is a bad person, but the realisation that he is a bad American.
7/10

Currently my #8 film of 1952:
1) Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly)
2) Limelight (Charles Chaplin)
3) Umberto D. (Vittorio De Sica)
4) On Dangerous Ground (Nicholas Ray, Ida Lupino) *
5) The Bad and the Beautiful (Vincente Minnelli)
6) High Noon (Fred Zinnemann)
7) Macao (Josef von Sternberg, Nicholas Ray) *
8) The Thief (Russell Rouse) *

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Monday, July 6, 2009

Target #61: The Killers (1946, Robert Siodmak)

Directed by: Robert Siodmak

Written by: Ernest Hemingway (short story), Anthony Veiller (screenplay), Richard Brooks, John Huston (uncredited)
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O'Brien, Albert Dekker, Sam Levene, Vince Barnett, Charles McGraw, William Conrad, Virginia Christine, Charles D. Brown, Jack Lambert, Donald MacBride

Some intrepid critics have categorised Citizen Kane (1941) as an early example of film noir, owing largely to its influential cinematography and flashback narrative structure. As though consciously in support of this assertion, Robert Siodmak's The Killers (1946) – expanded from a 1927 short story by Ernest Hermingway – plays out precisely like a noirish retelling of Welles' film. After enigmatic ex-boxer Swede Andersen (Burt Lancaster) is gunned down by hired assassins in a small American town, insurance investigator Jim Reardon (Edmond O'Brien) decides to piece together the man's past using fragmented testimony from those who once knew him. In doing so, he hopes to uncover the meaning behind the dead man's final words, "I did something wrong once." The life that Reardon discovers is one tinged with tragedy, regret and betrayal, revealing details of an audacious factory heist, a treacherous dame, and a double-cross to end all double-crosses. An archetypal noir, The Killers caps an excellent year for Siodmak, who also released the Freudian psycho-thriller The Dark Mirror (1946).
The Killers opens with a superbly-thrilling prologue that sees two hired thugs (William Conrad and B-noir stalwart Charles McGraw) harass the patrons at a small-town diner on their way to assassinate boxer- turned-gangster Swede Andersen. The characters' quickfire exchange of dialogue resembles something that Quentin Tarantino or the Coen brothers would have written decades later, only better, because screenwriter Anthony Veiller (with Richard Brooks and John Huston) reproduces the conversation from Hemingway's short story almost verbatim. After Andersen is unresistingly gunned down in his bed, the screenplay then expands upon the foundations laid down by the source material, using flashbacks to fill in the empty spaces at which Hemingway had only hinted. Veiller, whose work before WWII was dominated by romantic dramas, comedies and light mysteries like The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936), appears to have been hardened by his work on Frank Capra's Why We Fight propaganda series, and the dark, cynical post-War tone he brings to Swede's tragic story is an ideal representation of the noir spirit. Burt Lancaster shows promise in his screen debut, though the film's narrative structure does keep the audience distant from his character, an issue that Welles somehow avoided in Citizen Kane. As the resident femme fatale, Ava Gardner never quite inspires the collective hatred garnered by Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity (1944) or Jane Greer in Out of the Past (1947), but perhaps that speaks to her charms – that, despite her betrayal, we're still unwilling to treat her with due contempt. Good-guy Edmond O'Brien cheerfully and voyeuristically experiences the wretched life of a gangster through the intermediary flashback device – he ends the film with a cocky grin, like an audience-member emerging from a screening of the latest gangster thriller. Throughout this review, I've been making frequent allusions to Citizen Kane, but there's a very important difference between the two main characters: Charles Foster Kane had all the money in the world and got nothing out of it. Swede Andersen wasn't even that lucky; he didn't even get the money.
8/10

Currently my #4 film of 1946:
1) It’s A Wonderful Life (Frank Capra)
2) The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks) *
3) Duel in the Sun (King Vidor)
4) The Killers (Robert Siodmak) *
5) Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock) *
6) The Locket (John Brahm) *
7) Crack-Up (Irving Reis) *
8) The Dark Mirror (Robert Siodmak) *
9) The Blue Dahlia (George Marshall) *
10) Dragonwyck (Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Target #60: The Naked Kiss (1964, Samuel Fuller)

Directed by: Samuel Fuller
Written by: Samuel Fuller
Starring: Constance Towers, Anthony Eisley, Michael Dante, Virginia Grey, Patsy Kelly, Marie Devereux, Karen Conrad

In the early 1960s, few directors more enthusiastically embraced the loosening restrictions of the Production Code than Samuel Fuller. He shunned big-budget studio pictures to allow himself greater creative freedom, and the themes he tackled were often untouched, or at least poorly-explored, territory. For its first few minutes, The Naked Kiss (1964) skirts delicately around its heroine's profession, implying enough without explicitly spelling out the word "prostitute" (everyone else seems to have got it, but, stupid me, I actually did think she was a champagne saleswoman – perhaps I wasn't expecting such progressiveness). This reasonably subtle approach (by Fuller standards) suggests the sort of evasive techniques that 40s and 50s writers used to bamboozle the censors on matters of sex – take the horse-racing exchange in The Big Sleep (1946), or the curious relationship of the two murderers in Rope (1948). By the time Fuller hits full stride, however, any such delicacy is thrown out the window, and suddenly what you see is exactly what you get.

I don't want to describe this film as exploitation. It certainly is exploitative to a huge degree – Fuller, for example, wrings every ounce of empathy from the poor crippled kids – but somehow there's a sense of sincerity in how he tells the story, as though he really does believe in the possibility of redemption. Tough, independent-minded prostitute Kelly (Towers) arrives in a new town, sleeps with the police captain (Anthony Eisley), and then decides to leave her shameful past behind forever, somehow securing a job at the local children's hospital. Captain Griff is immediately suspicious of Kelly's motivations, hypocritically believing that she'll only pollute his home town, but wealthy local benefactor J.L. Grant (Michael Dante) falls in love with her. When it came to women, Fuller appears to have admired the lowly kind: Constance Towers in Shock Corridor (1963) was a stripper, Towers in The Naked Kiss was a prostitute, and Jean Peters in Pickup on South Street (1953) might as well have been one, too.

Especially in its final act, The Naked Kiss has strong elements of film noir – substituting the usual male protagonist for a woman, of course – but there's also high degrees of melodrama, exploitation, and pulpy, B-movie schlock. Fuller's ultimate message appears to be double- edged. A prominent noir motif concerns the sheer hopelessness of redemption: however hard one tries to evade their past, a man's former misdeeds will always return to haunt them. This fate does, indeed, confront Fuller's heroine, but he leaves a light at the end of the tunnel, arguably dampening the full brunt of the film's ending. Perhaps the more potently-noirish message to be gleaned from The Naked Kiss is that society is rotten: not just the mistreated prostitutes and tyrannical pimps, but the hypocritical police captain, the prejudiced townsfolk, the philanthropist with an ulterior motive in funding a children's hospital. Towers' prostitute crosses to the "respectable" side of society's fence, but finds that corruption has already pervaded to its highest levels.
7/10

Currently my #9 film of 1964:
1) Fail-Safe (Sidney Lumet)
2) Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick)
3) The Pawnbroker (Sidney Lumet)
4) Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson)
5) My Fair Lady (George Cukor)
6) Per un pugno di dollari {A Fistful of Dollars} (Sergio Leone)
7) A Hard Day’s Night (Richard Lester)
8) Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton)
9) The Naked Kiss (Samuel Fuller) *
10) Kiss Me, Stupid (Billy Wilder)

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Target #59: Among the Living (1941, Stuart Heisler)

Directed by: Stuart Heisler

Written by: Lester Cole (story, screenplay), Brian Marlow (story), Garrett Fort (writer)

Among the Living (1941) sits in the middle-ground between film noir and horror. The horror elements are obvious: the use of twins, representing the duality of man, recalls a more literal take on the themes of Stevenson's "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde." But even the "evil" twin himself is not a monster, as he is often described. Like Frankenstein's Creature, he is merely a social outcast, corrupted by the abuse of the true monsters, and who ultimately finds it impossible to assimilate into society. Like a frightened animal, Paul Raden struggles to understand the violent, cynical world in which he's been thrust, and the injustices knowingly done to him, combined with the years of abuse he endured at the hands of a dominating father, lead him to murder out of sheer terror. In many ways, Paul resembles the character of Lennie in Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men," a simpleton with a brutish strength that he can't reconcile with his own child-like desires.

Though one would stop short of calling this a film noir, there are certainly traces of the necessary elements. Most prominent is the theme of hidden family secrets, of a shameful past coming back to haunt wrongdoers, as in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946). The corruptive influence of power is also referenced – as in the latter film, the primary sinner of Among the Living (Raden, Sr., who is dead by the film's beginning) resides in a town that bears his name. The viewer can draw two conclusions: either that only through committing sin can a man attain power, or that from power itself is borne the desire to perpetrate crime, for he now has the means to conceal his misconduct. The latter is certainly true for the otherwise-respectable Dr. Saunders (Harry Carey), who – just once – compromised his professional integrity, and, twenty-five years later, finds that this one transgression has blackened his soul and destroyed his future.

John Raden (Albert Dekker) is the film's hapless protagonist, an honest guy who unwillingly stumbles upon his family's dirty secret. Via a succession of ill-fated coincidences, implying the forces of Fate that would later pervade the film noir movement, John finds himself on trial for murder, thrust protestingly into an ad hoc mob trial that recalls Peter Lorre's judgement in M (1931). Dekker is excellent in the dual-roles of John and Paul Raden, with the "bad" half always distinguishable, not just by his grizzled beard and raggedy clothing, but by the way he carries himself: slouched shoulders, arms held awkwardly, innocent and perplexed eyes upturned at the eccentricities of this unfamiliar society. Susan Hayward plays Millie, a minor femme fatale. She's an angel when you first see her, but the way she knowingly toys with Paul's naivete is quite repulsive, and her nastiness during the courtroom trial is similarly brutal. Notably, director Stuart Heisler would progress on to full-blown noir the following year with his Hammett adaptation The Glass Key (1942).
6/10

Currently my #10 film of 1941:
1) Citizen Kane (Orson Welles)
2) The Maltese Falcon (John Huston) *
3) 49th Parallel (Michael Powell)
4) The Wolf Man (George Waggner)
5) Shadow of the Thin Man (W.S. Van Dyke)
6) Swamp Water (Jean Renoir)
7) High Sierra (Raoul Walsh) *
8) The Shanghai Gesture (Josef von Sternberg) *
9) Suspicion (Alfred Hitchcock) *
10) Among the Living (Stuart Heisler) *

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Target #58: The Web (1947, Michael Gordon)

Directed by: Michael Gordon
Written by: Harry Kurnitz (story), William Bowers (screenplay), Bertram Millhauser (screenplay)
Starring: Ella Raines, Edmond O'Brien, William Bendix, Vincent Price, Maria Palmer, John Abbott, Fritz Leiber

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!! [Paragraph 2 Only]

Michael Gordon's The Web (1947) is an obscure crime thriller, but you wouldn't have guessed it from the cast list. Edmond O'Brien can always play an unconventional noir hero – not the sort who is continually in control, but one with a accidental tendency to get into more trouble than he can handle. Vincent Price originally made his name with a string of devious supporting roles in 1940s dramas, including Laura (1944) and Dragonwyck (1946). William Bendix is, of course, a staple of the film noir movement, and here he proves that his range extends beyond playing sadistic brutes and weak-willed buffoons. Femme fatale Ella Raines is less well-known than her co-stars, but, based on this film and her comedic turn in The Senator Was Indiscreet (1947), she had quite a bit of talent. It's not just the cast that is excellent, though. The screenplay by William Bowers and Bertram Millhauser (the latter of whom penned a number of Basil Rathbone's "Sherlock Holmes" mysteries) has plenty of unexpected surprises around the corner.

Bob Regan (O'Brien) is a two-bit lawyer with the bluster of a high-price attorney. In his first scene, Regan sidles through a busy reception office, offends a secretary (Raines) with some surprisingly-forward sexual banter, before busting in on millionaire businessman Andrew Colby (Price) and demanding the sum of exactly $68.72. Impressed with Regan's passion for the job, Colby hires him for a high-paying, two-week stint as a personal bodyguard. However, when Regan guns down Leopold Kroner (Fritz Leiber), a former associate of Colby's who was recently released from prison, he finds himself in hot water with detective Damico (Bendix), who scents murder. Desperate to clear his name, Regan begins to investigate Colby's shady dealings, reluctantly exploiting the affections of secretary Noel Faraday for information. Meanwhile, Vincent Price's articulate, calculating Colby plots the coup de grâce of his high-stakes crime spree, culminating in a murder frame-up that initially seems so airtight that I couldn't imagine any way for our hero to get out of it.

Though it doesn't necessarily offer any new material for the film noir lexicon, nor does The Web feel contrived. The romance between O'Brien and Raines could easily have been squandered with melodrama, but the film always keeps their relationship edgy. Noel's affections, for one, are clearly split between Regan and Colby, whose association with her visibly extends beyond the professional realm ("I recognise him when I see him"). Regan himself, while essentially good-hearted, has a clumsy crudeness about him where women are concerned, in contrast with Colby, who always knows what to say and how to say it. There's something subtly fascinating about Price's 1940s performances; it has to do with how he speaks. When his character is telling an untruth, he does so in a manner that, to us, reeks of deception, and yet we can perfectly understand why the film's characters – say, a policeman – swallow the lie whole. He toes a fine line, and still manages to suspend the audience's disbelief. Maybe that's why Price got away with starring in so many bad movies.
7/10

Currently my #8 film of 1947:
1) Odd Man Out (Carol Reed) *
2) The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
3) Monsieur Verdoux (Charles Chaplin)
4) Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur) *
5) Dark Passage (Delmer Daves) *
6) The Lady from Shanghai (Orson Welles) *
7) They Won’t Believe Me (Irving Pichel) *
8) The Web (Michael Gordon) *
9) The Fugitive (John Ford, Emilio Fernández)
10) The Woman on the Beach (Jean Renoir) *

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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Target #57: The Killer That Stalked New York (1950, Earl McEvoy)

Directed by: Earl McEvoy

Written by: Milton Lehman (Colliers Magazine article), Harry Essex (adaptation)

In April 1947, New York City faced an epidemic crisis. Eugene LaBar, a rug importer arriving from Mexico, had arrived in the city, bringing with him the deadly smallpox virus. He stumbled off a bus, complaining of fever and a headache, and soon died in a Midtown Hospital, but not before he had infected a dozen passers-by. The damage was already done; for the first time in decades, smallpox stalked the streets of New York. The city's health authorities acted quickly to isolate sufferers and contain the virus, enacting a free vaccination campaign that saw over six million New Yorkers immunised against smallpox. Thanks to their swift response, the virus was contained with minimal casualties. The outbreak, nevertheless, must have left an indelible mark, for several years later it was followed by two similarly-themed film noir thrillers in which doctors must track down a single contagious carrier in a city of millions: Elia Kazan's Panic in the Streets (1950) and Earl McEvoy's lower-budget The Killer That Stalked New York (1950).

McEvoy's film unfolds in an unglamorous docu-drama style. Reed Hadley's narration sounds as though it was plucked straight from a newsreel, reciting facts as if reading off the official police transcript. This technique does feel a little cheap at times, but fortunately the narration is largely restricted to the film's bookends, as well as providing some explanatory filler during breaks in the plot. The "killer" stalking New York, in this story, is not a rug importer from Mexico, but beautiful diamond smuggler Sheila Bennet (Evelyn Keyes), who has just arrived from Cuba. Within days, Sheila has two parties independently pursuing her: a treasury agent (Barry Kelley) looking to arrest her for smuggling crimes, and a team of doctors (led by William Bishop) who have identified her as the source of the smallpox outbreak. As in 'Panic in the Streets,' an otherwise routine manhunt is given a heightened sense of urgency, particularly when those in pursuit initially have no idea as to the identity or appearance of their suspect.

The Killer That Stalked New York, for the most part, manages to sidestep its low production budget. Aside from a select few lines of dialogue ("we have to stop it!" exclaims Dr. Wood at one point, as though coming to a difficult decision), the filmmakers and cast members allow the story to unfold in a realistic, engrossing fashion. Indeed, in this regard, the low budget quite possibly aids the film's intentions, necessitating a documentary style that adds to the immediacy of the outbreak scenario. Evelyn Keyes is excellent in the leading role, showing obstinate resilience in the face of unimaginable torment; by the film's end, she appears so brutally incapacitated by her illness that it's almost painful to look at her face. Aside from the virus, Charles Korvin is the main villain of the piece, as Sheila's greedy and adulterous husband who, rest assured, gets everything that's coming to him. And if all nurses looked like Dorothy Malone, perhaps catching smallpox wouldn't seem like such a bad break, after all.
7.5/10

Currently my #13 film of 1950:
5) Where the Sidewalk Ends (Otto Preminger) *
6) Destination Moon (Irving Pichel)
7) All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
8) The Asphalt Jungle (John Huston) *
9) Gone to Earth (Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger)
10) Panic in the Streets (Elia Kazan) *
11) Stage Fright (Alfred Hitchcock)
12) Rashômon (Akira Kurosawa)
13) The Killer That Stalked New York (Earl McEvoy) *
14) Armoured Car Robbery (Richard Fleischer) *

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Target #56: The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946, Lewis Milestone)

Directed by: Lewis Milestone
Written by: John Patrick (story), Robert Rossen (screenplay), Robert Riskin (uncredited)
Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Lizabeth Scott, Kirk Douglas, Judith Anderson, Darryl Hickman, Janis Wilson

Lewis Milestone's The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) is filled with Gothic atmosphere, the sort of hushed melodramatic whispers that follow around a household with something to hide – think Rebecca (1940) or Dragonwyck (1946). But the film never reaches its potential. Despite a running-time of nearly two hours, by the story's end, I felt as though nothing much had really happened, and that a perfectly good build-up had been smothered before reaching its climax and logical conclusion. There's no doubt that Barbara Stanwyck was cast in light of her icy Oscar-nominated performance in Double Indemnity (1944), but here it's uncertain whether her character is a tormented victim or a compassionless fiend. Such ambiguity might have been used to great effect, but here it merely suggests a confused script that can't decide whether to idolise or chastise its top-billed performer. Not to mention that Stanwyck herself doesn't appear until past the film's half- hour mark, the delay promising a colossal personality that eventually materialises only half-heartedly.

Stanwyck may be slightly disappointing, but fortunately the men are willing to hold the fort. Kirk Douglas, in his debut, does an excellent job of merging faux-authority and jittery cowardice for his role as Walter O'Neil, Martha's sycophantic District-Attorney husband. But the real surprise of the picture is Van Heflin, the last actor I would have chosen to play a noir "tough guy." As roving gambler Sam Masterson, Heflin channels the cocky vigour of Philip Marlowe, constantly stepping into trouble just for the hell of it, if only to flout the authority of those who try to rough him up. Lizabeth Scott is unfortunately weak in an undemanding romantic role. She has a bit of Lauren Bacall about her, which is regrettable because I can imagine Bacall being far better in the role {and I mustn't be the only one who saw a resemblance, because Scott was soon paired with Bogart in Dead Reckoning (1947)}. In a lengthy opening prologue, the three main characters (as teenagers) are well played by Janis Wilson, Mickey Kuhn and Darryl Hickman (from Leave Her to Heaven (1945)).

Film noirs typically unfold in the impersonal urban decadence of a large city, but here Martha Ivers' grip on a small town (appropriately named Iverstown) is used to excellent effect. Unlike Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943), in which the presence of a serial killer "pollutes" an idealistic country town from the inside, the audience realises that Iverstown may already be beyond saving. Corruption is built in the town's foundations. A self-serving District Attorney, spurred on by his dominating wife, knowingly sends an innocent man to his death, and uses hired thugs to hide his own crimes. Walter's paranoia regarding the arrival of Sam Masterson is used to good ironic effect, as he later realises that, had it not been for his impatience to get rid of him, Sam would never have uncovered their dirty secret. Martha, displaying that maddening ambiguity again, seems to be halfway between loving and hating Sam, if only because his toughness and charm reminds her of the future she might have enjoyed if she hadn't snatched that cane from the hands of her aunt.
6.5/10

Currently my #10 film of 1946:
1) It’s A Wonderful Life (Frank Capra)
2) The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks) *
3) Duel in the Sun (King Vidor)
4) Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock) *
5) The Locket (John Brahm) *
6) Crack-Up (Irving Reis) *
7) The Dark Mirror (Robert Siodmak) *
8) The Blue Dahlia (George Marshall) *
9) Dragonwyck (Joseph L. Mankiewicz) *
10) The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (Lewis Milestone) *

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