Category Archives: film noir

Fallen Angel

Got Otto Preminger’s Fallen Angel through Netflix this weekend. It’s very much a noir film. Dana Andrews is some sort of grifter who finds himself in a small town simply because he runs out of bus fare. Unfortunately for him, the diner he lands in turns out to have a classic femme fatale of a waitress (played by Linda Darnell). Darnell has a cadre of devoted gentlemen friends including Bruce Cabot, Percy Kilbride (of Ma and Pa Kettle fame), and my personal favorite, the always excellent Charles Bickford.

Darnell seems unimpressed by all her suitors. She wants a ring and nothing else will do. Dana Andrews gets the idea to marry rich Alice Faye. It all goes downhill from there.

Wonderful cast, incredible atmosphere, Fallen Angel is really worth acquiring or renting.

Meanwhile, I’m seriously thinking about adding every film I can find with Charles Bickford to my Netflix queue, because I’ve yet to see a bad performance from him.

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Tough guys

Amazon had a special on Born to Kill so I broke down and bought it. Lawrence Tierney is a psychotic tough guy who ends up killing his girlfriend and the guy she was stepping out with. Claire Trevor plays a newly minted divorcee who happens to be boarding at the house in Reno where the aforementioned victims buy it. We know she’s morally ambiguous because she can’t be bothered to report finding the bodies (she has a train to catch on her way back to hook Wealthy Husband #2). Tierney and Trevor meet and there’s an instant and fatal attraction. Add in Trevor’s wealthy sister Audrey Long and you have the makings of a nice little noir.

The DVD transfer is quite nice. The only extra of note is the commentary track, which turned out to be well worth my time. Generally speaking I haven’t enjoyed the commentaries on classic films. Either the principal actors are dead or they can’t really remember all the details. Usually, they get some film historian and the results are dull. Not so with this one. First of all, the expert, a man named Eddie Muller knows his stuff. Secondly, he’s got some great stories about his experiences with Tierney–an actor who was as tough off screen as the men he portrayed on screen.

Also finally had the chance to see all of Written on the Wind. I have seen the last half of it about a dozen times. It’s one of Douglas Sirk’s best films. Very melodramatic, but so worth watching. Based loosely on the Reynolds/Libby Holman scandal, it’s about two rather damaged wealthy siblings (Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone) and the people they love (Lauren Bacall and Rock Hudson).

Robert Stack has money to burn and falls quickly for Lauren Bacall, who falls quickly for him. He drinks an awful lot, but goes on the wagon because he’s so happy. Of course, that can’t last (or we’d have no picture). Meanwhile, Malone is running around wild, but what she really really wants is Rock Hudson, who in turn wants Lauren Bacall. It all goes sour very quickly and there’s lots and lots of drama. I have to say Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone steal the film. I’ve never been terribly impressed with Stack’s acting; normally for me it falls into the category of “pleasant.” Here, though, he portrays a positively tortured man in a rather believable manner. And Malone is just fun. She won an Oscar for her role and it was well deserved.

Interesting little film

I happened on Killer’s Kiss this weekend. It’s a very early Stanley Kubrick film, very much in the film noir school. I didn’t recognize anyone in the cast, but in a way it made it a more interesting film–no screen personae to get in the way. Boxer who’s past his prime gets involved with a dance hall “hostess.” Unfortunately, her boss (who according to IMDB was African American and who sounds like he had an interesting career) has a thing for her and doesn’t take too well to being pushed aside. Can’t say I’m the biggest Kubrick fan, but I liked this a lot. Really interesting direction.

Those wacky hypnotists

Thanks to a media store closeout sale, I was able to get a bunch of DVDs on the cheap. I finally had a chance to watch one of these, Otto Preminger’s Whirlpool. Gene Tierney plays one of the ladies who lunch. She’s ostensibly the happy, contented wife of renowned shrink, Richard Conte. Unbeknowsnt to him, she’s on the verge of a breakdown–her illness manifests itself in insomnia and kleptomania. Enter the sinister Jose Ferrer, who plays a charming quack specializing in hypnosis; he starts his “therapy” with her. Next thing Gene Tierney knows, she’s accused of murder and she’s got the late, great Charles Bickford leading the police investigation against her. The plot is on the improbable side, but the performances are solid.

Survivor!

I first saw Inferno (note: this is not the Dario Argento movie of the same name, but the Roy Ward Baker flick) during the summer of Iran-Contra. At the time I didn’t know Robert Ryan, Rhonda Fleming, or Roy Ward Baker from a hole in the wall. It was summer, around lunchtime, and I came into the middle of the film not knowing the title either (the TV insert the paper put out had it listed helpfully as “movie”). I was chagrined when the trial coverage interrupted the film.

So this is the plot essentially: an unfaithful woman and her boyfriend leave her millionaire husband in the middle of the desert with a broken leg to die. Too bad he has no intentions of obliging them. The wife is played by Rhonda Fleming. William Lundigan is the boyfriend. And the unforgettable Robert Ryan is the guy crawling out of the desert.

It took me years actually to figure out what the title was. This was in the dark ages before the Internet. Some kind soul had taken pity on me in USENET and supplied the title, but it wasn’t out on video then. Actually, it still isn’t. I got what I thought was a legit copy from a rare film supplier, but it turned out to be a bootleg. The print on my tape is horrendous. So when I finally saw this film again on Fox Movie Channel this weekend, I was pleased that their print was of better quality. Interestingly, this film was originally done in 3-D, and many consider the film to be the best use of that technology.

Inferno is a solid little film. For a movie that mostly features Robert Ryan slowly hobbling around in the desert (with voiceover no less!), it’s surprisingly engrossing. What am I saying? I spent over a decade trying to see the rest of it so that should tell you something. The three leads are well cast. While I can’t say I’m the biggest Rhonda Fleming fan, she does a good job here. Robert Ryan has a difficult task. His character is established early on as an unpleasant sort. Most of his dialogue is in the form of a voiceover. Yet, by the middle of the film, he’s become very sympathetic and you’re rooting for him. His trek in the desert is not just about his survival, but also about his growth as a person. Good stuff.

About time

I was thrilled to receive the Val Lewton box set this weekend. So far all the films I’ve seen have been lovingly remastered. Sound and picture are as clear as they should be. Extras could have been better. There’s a documentary on Lewton. A couple of the features have commentaries either from film historians or directors who were inspired by Lewton. On the other hand, most if not all of the performers and production crew who worked with Lewton have died.

You really don’t need the extras though. The films still stand on their own merits–well, mostly. Kent Smith and Jane Randolph give performances that are very much products of their times.

The other gem I was ecstatic to get my hands on was Nightmare Alley. Hitherto, previously only available, I believe, as a bootleg. Like most noir films, it’s somewhat disturbing in parts, but it’s riveting. Tyrone Power, in particular, is outstanding. I’m not a huge fan of film historian commentaries as they tend to be boring, but this DVD has two of them and it’s more like a discussion than a lecture. Good stuff.

It’s about time

Nightmare Alley is finally being released to DVD. Actually a number of very good films are finally making their way to DVD. I read an article recently which explained that the DVD market is opening up, hence the interest in putting these classics out.

Can only be a good thing for classic film fans.