Posts Tagged ‘film noir’

The Good German – Minute Movie Review

Mittwoch, Oktober 20th, 2010


In post-war Berlin to cover the Potsdam conference, American journalist George Clooney is sent on his own heroic journey when his driver is killed and old girlfriend Cate Blanchett re-emerges. Steven Sonderbergh made this film as a thriller that was meant to be an homage to film noir, down to black and white photography and the aspect ratio, but ultimately fails on both counts. Sure, the film is twisty enough for a noir classic, but it lacks the subtle charm of those films, and the story is just not all that interesting by modern standards. It’s an extremely ambitious film with many aspects to recommend it, but ultimately it fails to entertain the viewer.

Random Observations:

The Good German at the IMDb

Cate Blanchett plays a German and as such her German should be flawless, which it almost, but not quite, is. George Clooney’s German, on the other hand, is about as good as you would expect from an American living in Germany.

The film might have been a bit better without the war setting and titular good German. Then again, maybe not.

I was really impressed with how alive the film felt, even though it was completely filmed on Hollywood backlots – just like in the olden days.

Midnight (Call It Murder) – Minute Movie Review

Montag, September 13th, 2010


When watching older films, say from the 1930s, it’s easy to think that the overall quality of cinema was much higher. After all, pretty much all those films are pretty great. Of course, one often forgets that only the good films are remembered many decades later, while all the middling or downright bad fare is all but forgotten. Which would have been the rightful fate of this film, originally called Midnight, later re-released as Call It Murder, if not for the fact that Humphrey Bogart had one of his earliest (and smallest) parts in it. And while he is good, very little else is. The story is okay – the foreman of the jury who convicted a woman of murder and sentenced her to death is in trouble with his “laws are laws” approach when his own daughter kills Bogart – but the acting, the direction, the lightning, the sets – pretty much everything else is pretty bad. Add to that that the film is in the public domain and so naturally the DVD release is of terrible quality and it means that even if you love Bogart (And who doesn’t?), you would do well to just ignore the film and further labour under the delusion, that everything used to be better, especially in Hollywood.

Random Observations:

Midnight at the IMDb

Apart from Bogart, there are some second tier actors and actresses that film buffs may know, but even Margaret Wycherly or Henry O’Neill are not really noticeable. And yes, both their names are misspelled in the credits.

For the re-release, the film not only got a new title, but also changed the top billing to Bogart. Yes, everyone in Hollywood always wanted to make as much money as possible and loved a good scam. That is nothing new.

The film is based on a play that also flopped.

The film features one of my all time favourite slang words that significantly changed meaning, when one character states that another “made a boner”.

Undercurrent – Minute Movie Review

Montag, August 9th, 2010


The daughter of a chemistry professor falls madly in love with the rich business-man and moves to high society after they are married, but her husband displays some rather startling aggressiveness and especially hatred for his brother and anything connected with him that make her doubt her love and instead be drawn to the mysterious missing brother, who many believe to be dead. The film by Vincente Minnelli is beautifully photographed and has some great actors, including Katharine Hepburn and Robert Mitchum, but it just doesn’t work. None of the relationships in the film are believable and the slow pacing is unsettled by the frantic ending, although it injects some much needed life into the proceedings. It’s a good story and could have been a great film, but sadly falls short.

Random Observations:

Undercurrent at the IMDb

To celebrate Robert Mitchum’s birthday (which actually was last Friday, he would have turned 93), we are going to deviate from the regular Mon-Wed-Fri schedule and bring you a review of one of his films every day this week! (Actually, only through Friday, the internet has the weekend off.) Mitchum is one of the most underrated leading actors Hollywood ever had, a tough guy who could play anything from comedy to sensitive melodrama. His best roles include such film noir classics as Crossfire and Out of the Past, but otherwise it is high time to showcase his incredible talent and range, which we’ll do this week. Although I admit that in this film his chemistry with Katharine Hepburn is non-existent and she reportedly told him that he couldn’t act, I still hold that he was a great actor and deservedly shortly after this film moved on to lead roles.

In a delightful bit of irony, Brahms’ 3rd Symphony soars on the sound track just as the title card for Herbert Stothart’s original music appears on screen.

This was lead actor Robert Taylor’s first film after returning from the war, an episode in his life that is not visible in his acting.

It’s very odd to see Katharine Hepburn play such a boring and weak female lead – and not entirely convincing.

The Wrong Man – Minute Movie Review

Montag, August 2nd, 2010


In a turn from form, Alfred Hitchcock actually tells a true story in this film: misidentified by several eye-witnesses, musician Henry Fonda is thought to be a hold-up man that pushed over several stores and offices in his neighbourhood. His insistence that he is innocent is not believed and he has trouble confirming his alibi. In short, a rather bad situation. The film is rather slow in the first half, focusing on his initial arrest, but considerably picks up speed in the second half. It’s not as exciting as the director’s numerous fictional works, but the sheer absurdity of the story and some further plot twists stranger than fiction make the film a good cautionary tale about the reliability of eye witnesses.

Random Observations:

The Wrong Man at the IMDb

Instead of his usual cameo, Hitchcock narrated the opening.

Since this is a true story, it’s obvious that the real criminal is caught in the end. (How else would anybody believe the wrong man’s story?) Naturally, he looks nothing like Fonda.

A nice supporting turn from Vera Miles as Fonda’s wife, who slowly crumbles under the pressure.

I Confess – Minute Movie Review

Freitag, Juli 23rd, 2010


A German refugee in Canada commits murder and confesses to his priest Montgomery Clift. When it comes to light that Clift benefited from the death and he becomes a suspect, he must decide whether to follow his church’s rules and keep quiet. Alfred Hitchcock later disowned the film and said he should never have made it, but there is actually a lot to like in this psychological drama. The issue is engaging and it is pure joy to see Clift act his way through it, relying solely on facial expressions to convey his emotional turmoil. The ending had to be changed from the stage play in order to pacify the censors and thus naturally is rubbish, but apart from that, this is a very good film.

Random Observations:

I Confess at the IMDb

I’ve liked Karl Malden ever since I first saw him in Patton, but I was unimpressed by his performance here.

The film was made in more innocent times, when Catholic priests were actually still considered morally decent…

The film was shot (partly) on location in Quebec, so maybe that is why Hitchcock, who was notoriously displeased with shooting outside a studio, later dismissed it.

Since the villain is German, it follows naturally that he must have been evil and wicked and crazy. Maybe times weren’t more innocent.

This concludes week two of American Cinema of the 1950s Appreciation Month (or whatever it was called). What we have learned so far is that Hitchcock is at his best, when he trades in his thriller chops for some actual drama, and that Gene Kelly is best when he is making more jokes and dancing less.

Strangers on a Train – Minute Movie Review

Montag, Juli 19th, 2010


When tennis player Guy meets strange guy Bruno on the train, he is presented with the idea for a perfect murder: each would commit the other’s murder, thereby erasing all motive from the equation. But when Bruno actually goes through with the plan and kills Guy’s cheating wife, so that he can marry the woman he loves, things start to unravel, since Guy has no intention to commit murder. The film, based on a novel by acclaimed American crime writer Patricia Highsmith, is a prime example of why Alfred Hitchcock is called “the master of suspense”. It’s an engaging thrill ride with many twists and turns and by the time the climatic finish comes along, you’ve become heavily involved in the story. Plus, it’s a really neat idea for the perfect murder.

Random Observations:

Strangers on a Train at the IMDb

Now here is proof that 1951 produced better films than the Best Picture Oscar winner An American in Paris. After two films each, Hitchcock has taken a clear lead.

Raymond Chandler worked on the screenplay. Chandler is of course best known for creating Philip Marlowe, the greatest hard-boiled detective of all time. While the books are much better, I can also recommend the film version of The Big Sleep.

Once you have seen a few (in my case, that’s 17) of Hitchcock’s films, it becomes real fun to spot his cameos.

Can someone explain to me why actress Laura Elliott (whose birth name, incidentally, was Imogene Rogers), changed her stage name to Kasey Rogers in 1956? She played the murdered wife here in a truly memorable turn. Neither of her two husbands was called Elliott either.

Detour – Minute Movie Review

Montag, Juni 7th, 2010


A talented, but luckless piano player decides to follow his girlfriend from New York to L.A. Without money, hitch-hiking is the only option. But when one of the drivers who took him along dies on the road, he decides to assume his identity in order to escape the police who must surely think him a murderer. Too bad the girl he picks up shortly afterwards knew the man and now forces him go along with the scheme to make more money. This film introduced the concept of the B-movie film noir, presenting an intriguing idea and an amazing character in such a cheap way that it becomes almost unbearable. Shot in six days on a shoestring budget, the film ran out of money before completion, meaning that it is pieced together out of what was already shot, including an unconvincing, but production code necessitated ending. It’s a milestone in film-making and it’s an interesting idea, but the execution is so bad that it is barely watchable.

Random Observations:

Detour at the IMDb

Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, starring Tom Neal, Ann Savage and Claudia Drake, the film is made by people with some talent, but no big names.

The main character’s belief that everything will go wrong and his utter despair are among the most convincing and unnerving in film history.

In a way, this gritty story is much more true to the film noir spirit than the flashy big budget studio productions, with big name directors and stars. Nevertheless, I much prefer the latter.

Touch of Evil – Minute Movie Review

Montag, April 26th, 2010


After a rich builder is murdered in a fictional American-Mexican border town, the American police allow Mexican investigator Charlton Heston to observe the proceedings. Meanwhile, Heston’s wife Janet Leigh is used by a gangster’s brother to ruin Heston’s reputation. After that slow start, things finally start to get interesting when Orson Welles’ American cop is revealed to be a crook, but even then the story is too convoluted to ever truly draw you in. Plus, the film is clearly over-directed, turning what could have been a great film into a mediocre one.

Random Observations:

Touch of Evil at the IMDb

The review is based on the 1998 recut based on a 58 page memo Welles wrote to the studio after they decided to change his cut of the film. It has been called the director’s cut, but nobody can say for sure how close it was to Welles’ vision of the film.

Welles clearly tried to make a film as visually innovative and unique as his earlier (and much better) Citizen Kane with this, but in my opinion failed terribly. Especially annoying are the endless shots filmed upwards from the floor. Faces are more expressive when you can see more than just the chin…

The opening tracking shot is pretty impressive, though.

The Third Man – Minute Movie Review

Samstag, April 24th, 2010


After World War II, Vienna is occupied by Russian, American, British and French forces, with growing resentment by the Austrians. In that climate, Joseph Cotten comes to the city to take an old friend up on a job-offer, only to find out that said friend was killed in a car accident. Not satisfied with the police’s portrayal of his friend as a racketeer, he decides to investigate for himself, thereby uncovering some truths he had rather would have remained hidden. The Third Man is an absolute classic, a portrait of Vienna and the times, while also a suspenseful thriller. Great performances throughout make for a truly memorable film.

Random Observations:

The Third Man at the IMDb

The screenplay by Graham Greene was based on a novella he wrote earlier, but which was not published until after the film’s release. Does that make this film an adaptation?

The old landlady is played by Hedwig Bleibtreu, the great-grandaunt of popular German actor Moritz Bleibtreu. How is that for movie trivia?

Personally, I’m not a big fan of Anton Karas’ zither music used throughout the film, but one can’t deny that it is authentic and innovative.

Orson Welles played a small, but significant part, in this film. Since people like to credit Welles with just about every bit of cinematic genius possible, let me just remind them that he was nothing more than an actor here. He didn’t direct and he also he didn’t write his own dialogue (except for one improvised scene, which is good, but also factually wrong). Welles’ work is amazing, but this film was made great by Carol Reed and Graham Greene. (Oh, and Welles as an actor is pretty good, too.)

The scenes shot in the Vienna sewers might be amongst the most memorable in film history.

The title refers to a third man who witnessed the accident and who nobody but a porter thought to mention.

White Heat – Minute Movie Review

Freitag, April 23rd, 2010


Gangster James Cagney pulls a magnificent train heist. When the authorities begin to close in, he takes the rap for another, lesser crime, committed at the same time. In prison, an undercover cop tries to find out enough to get him convicted of the real crime. Meanwhile, Cagney, already a lose screw, unravels completely. The film is an entertaining take on the always similar gangster movie story. Cagney is brilliant in the lead role as the crook who adores his mother above all else, and the ending is truly memorable.

Random Observations:

White Heat at the IMDb

This film marked the return for James Cagney to the gangster film genre. But while in his last such film, The Roaring Twenties, he barely looked 30, ten years later, he had become an old man, clearly showing that he was fifty at the time.

Margaret Wycherly as Cagney’s equally criminal mother is a delight to watch.