Film Review – THE VENGEANCE OF FU MANCHU (1967)

VENGEANCE OF FU MANCHU, THE (1967, UK/Ireland/West Germany/Hong Kong) **½
Action, Crime, Horror

dist. Anglo-Amalgamated Film Distributors (UK), Warner Bros./Seven Arts (USA); pr co. Constantin Film / Shaw Brothers / Terra-Filmkunst; d. Jeremy Summers; w. Harry Alan Towers (as Peter Welbeck) (based on the characters created by Sax Rohmer); pr. Harry Alan Towers; ph. John von Kotze (Eastmancolor. 35mm. Spherical. 1.66:1); m. Malcolm Lockyer; s. “The Real Me,” “Where Are the Men,” m/l. Malcolm Lockyer and Don Black (voice performed by Samantha Jones); ed. Allan Morrison; ad. Peggy Gick, Scott MacGregor; sd. Brian Marshall (Mono); rel. May 1967 (UK), Jamuary 1968 (USA); cert: PG; r/t. 91m.

cast: Christopher Lee (Fu Manchu), Tony Ferrer (Inspector Ramos), Tsai Chin (Lin Tang), Douglas Wilmer (Nayland Smith), Wolfgang Kieling (Dr. Lieberson), Suzanne Roquette (Maria), Howard Marion-Crawford (Petrie), Noel Trevarthen (Mark Weston), Horst Frank (Rudy), Peter Carsten (Kurt), Maria Rohm (Ingrid), Mona Chong (Jasmin).

Lee’s third outing as the evil Fu Manchu sees him plot the death of his nemesis Nayland Smith (Wilmer) through the highly implausible use of a surgically created double, whilst looking to hook up with crime syndicates around the world via their go-between (Frank). This entry is not as tightly directed as the first two instalments with often static and unimaginative camerawork robbing the action scenes of much of the energy Don Sharp brought to those first two films. Lee has little to do other than give orders from his throne. However, Chin is again effective as Fu’s sadistic daughter and Wilmer and Crawford continue their “Holmes/Watson” styled relationship. The supporting cast, much of which is dubbed, is less strong and some of the acting is woeful. Despite the period setting, the female characters seem to be dressed and coiffured in 1960s salons adding an anachronistic tone and losing the period colour given to Sharp’s films. That said, there are still moments to enjoy on a basic comic strip level and it remains a notch above what the series would descend into in its the final two instalments. Filmed in Hong Kong and Ireland. Followed by THE BLOOD OF FU MANCHU (1968).

Film Review – THE FACE OF FU MANCHU (1965)

FACE OF FU MANCHU, THE (1965, UK/West Germany) ***½
Action, Crime, Drama

dist. Warner-Pathé Distributors (UK), Seven Arts Pictures (USA); pr co. Hallam Productions; d. Don Sharp; w. Harry Alan Towers (as Peter Welbeck); exec pr. Oliver A. Unger (US only); pr. Harry Alan Towers (as Peter Welbeck) (based on characters created by Sax Rohmer); ph. Ernest Steward (Technicolor. 35mm. Techniscope (uncredited). 2.35:1); m. Christopher Whelen; ed. John Trumper; ad. Frank White; cos. Dorothy Edwards; m/up. Gerry Fletcher, Anne Box; sd. Ken Cameron, Fred Hughesdon (Mono (RCA Sound Recording)); rel. 6 August 1965 (West Germany, UK), 24 October 1965 (USA); cert: PG; r/t. 96m.

cast: Christopher Lee (Fu Manchu), Nigel Green (Nayland Smith), Joachim Fuchsberger (Carl Jannsen), Karin Dor (Maria Muller), James Robertson Justice (Sir Charles), Howard Marion-Crawford (Dr. Petrie), Tsai Chin (Lin Tang), Walter Rilla (Muller), Harry Brogan (Gaskell), Francesca Tu (Lotus (as Poulet Tu)), Archie O’Sullivan (Chamberlain), Edwin Richfield (Chief Magistrate), Joe Lynch (Custodian), Peter Mosbacher (Hanumon), Ric Young (Grand Lama (as Eric Young)), Deborah DeLacey (Slave Girl), Jim Norton (Mathius), Jack O’Reilly (Constable), Peter Mayock (Soldier), Aiden Grennell (Security Guard).

Faced with a crime wave involving Orientals and drugs, Nayland Smith (Green) of Scotland Yard begins to suspect that it is masterminded by Fu Manchu (Lee), although he himself witnessed the latter’s execution in China some years previously. This highly entertaining and fast-moving adventure has a spirit of the old movie serials. Sharp keeps the plot moving and directs with an enthusiastic zeal. The cast are game too and their performances carry a conviction that elevates the material. Lee is commanding as Fu Manchu and Green authoritative as Nayland Smith. The stunt work on the many fight sequences is excellent (despite the stunt doubles being a little obvious), although you must wonder about old Fu’s recruitment programme given the ineptitude of his followers. Cold and bleak Irish locations double for Tibet and the film was successful enough to spawn several sequels. Followed by THE BRIDES OF FU MANCHU (1966), THE VENGEANCE OF FU MANCHU (1967), THE BLOOD OF FU MANCHU (1968) and THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU (1969).

Film Review – TWO-MINUTE WARNING (1976)

TWO-MINUTE WARNING (1976, USA) ***
Crime, Mystery, Thriller

dist. Universal Pictures (USA), Cinema International Corporation (CIC) (UK); pr co. Filmways Pictures / Universal Pictures; d. Larry Peerce; w. Edward Hume (based on the novel by George LaFountaine); pr. Edward S. Feldman; ph. Gerald Hirschfeld (Technicolor. Super 8 (Cineavision: 2.35, anamorphic), 35mm. Panavision (anamorphic). 2.35:1); m. Charles Fox; ed. Walter Hannemann, Eve Newman; ad. Herman A. Blumenthal; set d. John M. Dwyer; cos. Irwin Rose, Vicki Sánchez; m/up. Lon Bentley, Tony Lloyd, Connie Nichols; sd. James R. Alexander, Gordon Ecker, Robert L. Hoyt (Mono (Westrex Recording System)); sfx. Arthur Brewer; vfx. Albert Whitlock; st. Glenn R. Wilder; rel. 12 November 1976 (USA), November 1976 (UK); cert: R/15; r/t. 115m.

cast: Charlton Heston (Capt. Peter Holly), John Cassavetes (Sgt. Button), Martin Balsam (Sam McKeever), Beau Bridges (Mike Ramsay), Marilyn Hassett (Lucy), David Janssen (Steve), Jack Klugman (Sandman), Gena Rowlands (Janet), Walter Pidgeon (The Pickpocket), Brock Peters (Paul), David Groh (Al), Mitchell Ryan (The Priest), Joe Kapp (Charlie Tyler), Pamela Bellwood (Peggy Ramsay), Jon Korkes (Jeffrey), William Bryant (Lt. Calloway), Allan Miller (Mr. Green), Andy Sidaris (TV Director), Ron Sheldon (Assistant TV Director), Stanford Blum (Assistant TV Director).

Peerce directed this story of a mad sniper loose in a football stadium. The Los Angeles Police Department, led by Capt. Peter Holly (Heston), learns that a madman is planning to open fire on football fans in a packed Los Angeles Coliseum. Holly finds himself at tactical odds with SWAT commander Sgt. Button (Cassavetes) as the fans — including gambler Sandman (Klugman), a pickpocket (Pidgeon), car salesman Steve (Janssen) and his girlfriend, Janet (Rowlands) — unknowingly risk their lives while the gunman takes aim. Peerce handles the material skilfully – notably during the chaotic climax as the crowd stampede for the exits.  Heston gives a square-jawed performance as the police captain and Cassavetes is perhaps overly-cynical as the SWAT team leader. The supporting cast of potential sniper victims is strong, although the dialogue they are given to work with is formulaic. The football stadium scenes are well staged – the game footage for the full stadium shots of the L.A. Coliseum were from a Pac-8 college match. Script-wise, there are lapses in logic in the police approach to the situation and it is hard to believe that only one member of the crowd seems to have noticed what is going on. The gunman is given no back story, which to an extent makes the scenario more unsettling and is resonant today in representing a society where the gun laws result in frequent single-handed multi-victim shooting incidents. The back story element was later rectified in the 1979 TV broadcast version of the film, which included  around 40m of new scenes substituting 30m of the original material. Additional cast members for the TV version included: Rossano Brazzi, James Olson, Paul Shenar, William Prince, Joanna Pettet, and Warren Miller. Peerce wisely asked for his name to be removed from the credits of the new version.

AAN: Best Film Editing (Eve Newman, Walter Hannemann)

Film Review – THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947)

LADY FROM SHANGHAI, THE (1947, USA) ***½
Crime, Drama, Mystery

dist. Columbia Pictures; pr co. Mercury Productions; d. Orson Welles; w. Orson Welles (based on the novel “If I Die Before I Wake” by Sherwood King); exec pr. Harry Cohn (uncredited); pr. Orson Welles; assoc pr. William Castle, Richard Wilson; ph. Charles Lawton Jr. (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Heinz Roemheld; md. Morris Stoloff; ed. Viola Lawrence; ad. Sturges Carne, Stephen Goosson; set d. Wilbur Menefee, Herman N. Schoenbrun; cos. Jean Louis; m/up. Clay Campbell, Robert J. Schiffer, Helen Hunt (all uncredited); sd. Lodge Cunningham (Mono (Western Electric Recording)); sfx. Lawrence W. Butler (uncredited); rel. 24 December 1947 (France), 7 March 1948 (UK), 14 April 1948 (USA); cert: -/PG; r/t. 87m.

cast: Rita Hayworth (Elsa Bannister), Orson Welles (Michael O’Hara), Everett Sloane (Arthur Bannister), Glenn Anders (George Grisby), Ted de Corsia (Sidney Broome), Erskine Sanford (Judge), Gus Schilling (Goldie), Carl Frank (District Attorney Galloway), Louis Merrill (Jake Bjornsen), Evelyn Ellis (Bessie), Harry Shannon (Cab Driver).

Michael O’Hara (Welles), an Irish adventurer, is lured by Elsa Bannister (Hayworth), beautiful wife of a crippled but successful lawyer (Sloane), into joining the crew of her husband’s yacht bound for a cruise in the Pacific. Bannister’s partner, Grisby (Anders), joins the party and offers O’Hara five thousand dollars to help him frame a disappearance act intended to look like murder. O’Hara accepts, hoping the money will enable him to get Elsa away from her husband. As you would come to expect from Welles the director, the film is full of technical brilliance and is visually stunning. Of the memorable scenes the funhouse finale is the most iconic and has been copied numerous times since. The performances are excellent with Welles convincingly affecting an Irish accent and Hayworth at her alluring best. Sloane and Arden are both sinister and on the verge of being unhinged. The bizarre story, however, must rely on the film’s technical virtues to paper over its implausibility. The script therefore, despite its adventurous and sometimes witty approach, is the weak link that prevents the film from being an out and out classic. That does not mean there is not much to enjoy in this experimental noir, just do not expect it to hang together as a whole. Welles’ original rough cut of this picture ran 155m.

Book Review – TROUBLED BLOOD (2020) by Robert Galbraith

TROUBLED BLOOD (2018) ****
by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
Published by Sphere, 2020, 927pp
ISBN: 978-0-7515-7993-2

Blurb: Private Detective Cormoran Strike is visiting his family in Cornwall when he is approached by a woman asking for help finding her mother, Margot Bamborough – who went missing in mysterious circumstances in 1974. Strike has never tackled a cold case before, let alone one forty years old. But despite the slim chance of success, he is intrigued and takes it on; adding to the long list of cases that he and his partner in the agency, Robin Ellacott, are currently working on. And Robin herself is also juggling a messy divorce and unwanted male attention, as well as battling her own feelings about Strike. As Strike and Robin investigate Margot’s disappearance, they come up against a fiendishly complex case with leads that include tarot cards, a psychopathic serial killer and witnesses who cannot all be trusted. And they learn that even cases decades old can prove to be deadly . . .

First thing is to address the elephant in the room. This book is by some significant distance the longest crime novel I have ever read. At 927 pages it is a monster akin to all those fantasy concept books that I could never get through. Rowling seems to be taking the same route with her Strike novels that she took with the Harry Potter series, each one being longer than the last. Could the story have been told in a shorter page count? The answer is both yes and no. The fifth book in the series takes place over thirteen months and crams an awful lot in. The main focus is the cold case of the disappearance of Dr Margot Bamborough back in 1974. Was she killed by serial killer Dennis Creed, or had she run away and started a new life somewhere? Hired by Margot’s daughter, Strike and Robin work through the police case files and re-interview key witnesses and suspects. Alongside this the agency is working on other cases with their extended team including the Scot Barclay and the slimy new member Morris – the latter of whom develops a fixation on Robin. Alongside this Strike is dealing with the gradual death from cancer of his aunt Joan – his surrogate mother and his estranged father’s attempts to reconnect. Alongside this, his ex-girlfriend, Charlotte, has been committed to rehab due to her suicidal tendencies. Alongside this, Robin is in the late stages of her bitter divorce from Matthew. Get the picture? There’s an awful lot going on. To Rowling’s credit, her writing is so strong that the book remains a page-turner throughout its epic length. You definitely won’t get through it in two or three sittings. You will have to live with it for a while. Somehow that feels appropriate. There are many twists and turns along the way and the characters continue to develop – notably the relationship between Strike and Robin. There are ups and downs and plenty of dramatic tension. The mystery elements are immensely satisfying with Rowling juggling the complexities and intricacies with extreme skill. The clues are there for those clever enough to see them – I wasn’t. The book is highly enjoyable and not as heavy-going as the page count suggests, but don’t read it lying in bed at night, because if you start to doze you may accidentally knock yourself unconscious.

Film Review – ANGEL FACE (1953)

ANGEL FACE (1953, USA) ***½
Crime, Drama, Romance
dist. RKO Radio Pictures; pr co. RKO Radio Pictures; d. Otto Preminger; w. Frank S. Nugent, Oscar Millard (based on a story by Chester Erskine); exec pr. Howard Hughes (presenter); pr. Otto Preminger; ph. Harry Stradling Sr. (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Dimitri Tiomkin; ed. Frederic Knudtson; ad. Carroll Clark, Albert S. D’Agostino; set d. Jack Mills, Darrell Silvera; cos. Michael Woulfe; m/up. Mel Berns, Larry Germain; sd. Clem Portman, Earl A. Wolcott (Mono (RCA Sound System)); rel. 2 January 1953 (UK), 4 February 1953 (USA); cert: PG; r/t. 91m.

cast: Robert Mitchum (Frank Jessup), Jean Simmons (Diane Tremayne Jessup), Mona Freeman (Mary Wilton), Herbert Marshall (Mr. Charles Tremayne), Leon Ames (Fred Barrett), Barbara O’Neil (Mrs. Catherine Tremayne), Kenneth Tobey (Bill Crompton), Raymond Greenleaf (Arthur Vance), Griff Barnett (The Judge), Robert Gist (Miller), Morgan Farley (Juror), Jim Backus (District Attorney Judson).

Beautiful Diane Tremayne (Simmons) is a sophisticated, wealthy young woman capable of manipulating anyone who crosses her path. She also has a dark side she manages to conceal behind her appearance and her good manners. Soon after the untimely death of her stepmother (O’Neil), Diane pursues handsome Frank Jessup (Mitchum). Before long, she starts to win him over — but Frank quickly suspects that the manic Diane had more to do with her stepmother’s death than she lets on. This hastily filmed noir melodrama echoes the work of James M. Cain in its plot device of the beautiful and manipulative girl and the sap whose strings she pulls. The hasty production schedule (due to the impending expiration of Simmons’ contract with Howard Hughes) is occasionally evident in this otherwise top-draw drama. The plot unfolds quickly – a little too quickly at times – helping to gloss over some of the more implausible moments. Simmons and Mitchum are both excellent with Simmons playing her role with subtle ambiguity, thereby keeping us guessing as to her true motives. Mitchum is at his laconic best as the self-centred driver who cannot help himself. The staging is standard for the most part, but Preminger does extract all he can from both the cast and the story, whilst Tiomkin’s score perfectly captures the mood. The finale may ultimately be predictable, but the performances manage to keep you second-guessing yourself.

TV Review – CITY OF ANGELS: THE NOVEMBER PLAN (1976)

CITY OF ANGELS: THE NOVEMBER PLAN (1976, USA) ***
Crime, Mystery
dist. National Broadcasting Company (NBC) (USA), Cinema International Corporation (CIC) (UK); pr co. Roy Huggins-Public Arts Productions / Universal Television; d. Don Medford; w. Stephen J. Cannell (based on a story by Roy Huggins and Stephen J. Cannell); exec pr. Jo Swerling Jr.; pr. Roy Huggins; assoc pr. Dorothy J. Bailey; ph. Ric Waite (Technicolor. 35mm. Spherical. 1.33:1); m. Nelson Riddle; m sup. Hal Mooney; ed. Edwin F. England, Ronald LaVine, Larry Lester; ad. John W. Corso; set d. Jerry Adams; cos. Charles Waldo; sd. John K. Kean (Mono); rel. 3 February 1976 (USA – TV), April 1977 (UK); cert: -/PG; r/t. 3 x 47mm.

cast: Wayne Rogers (Jake Axminster), Elaine Joyce (Marsha), Philip Sterling (Michael Brimm), Clifton James (Lt. Murray Quint), Diane Ladd (Laura Taylor), Meredith Baxter (Mary Kingston (as Meredith Baxter Birney)), Laurence Luckinbill (Noel Crossman Jr.), Stephen Elliott (Harold Delaney), Jack Kruschen (Harry Kahn), Dorothy Malone (Dawn Archer), Lloyd Nolan (Gen. Smedley Butler), Robert Sampson (Wayne Fisher), G.D. Spradlin (Gen. Winfield), Laurence Hugo (Alex Sebastian), Steve Kanaly (Parker), Martin Kove (Stan), Pepper Martin (Reggie), Rod McCary (George Donaldson), Paul Jenkins (Terry), Ross Bickell (Murdock).

Jake Axminster (Rogers) is a hard-boiled, wise-cracking private eye in 1934 Los Angeles. Mary Kingston (Baxter) hires him to prove her innocence because she is being framed for murdering her boyfriend, and the police are seeking her whereabouts. Jake hides her in a beach house and begins his investigation. He discovers that Mary and her boyfriend witnessed a Alex Sebastian’s (Hugo) murder at a party on the previous night, and she fled but her boyfriend was captured and killed. Sebastien was a reporter who was about to publish a story of some importance, concerning the date of November thirteenth. Following in the wake of CHINATOWN (1974) this was a valiant attempt by Universal to capture the same blend of period atmosphere, themes of corruption and a Chandler-esque mystery. The result is a mixed bag with the positives being the period detail in the production design and some smart dialogue. On the minus side are the unimaginative and sometimes flat direction and a disappointing denouement. Rogers essays James Garner in his interpretation of the down-at-heel private eye but he lacks Garner’s charm. Nevertheless, his enthusiastic performance occasionally hits home. A strong support cast is on hand, notably the excellent Joyce as Rogers’ secretary who combines her work with running the phone lines for the city’s hookers. Joyce has a natural comic flair which elevates the material when she is on screen. James is the corrupt cop who beats on his prisoners and Baxter has fun as the fugitive starlet. The script, by veterans Stephen J. Cannell and Roy Huggins, could have been sharpened further, but the production was a hasty one with the series being a mid-season replacement. The promise on show here would occasionally surface over the series’ next ten episodes before it was cancelled due to low ratings just as it was building a head of steam. Whilst this three-part story served to introduce the series to its US audience, it was edited to 103 minutes and released in cinemas in the UK, Europe, Australia, Central and South America. The film was based on a notorious 1933 American conspiracy known as the Business Plot, which involved wealthy businessmen trying to bring down United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a coup.

Film Review – WHITEOUT (2009)

WHITEOUT (2009, Canada/USA/France/Turkey) **½
Action, Crime, Thriller
dist. Warner Bros. USA), Optimum Releasing  (UK); pr co. Warner Bros. / Dark Castle Entertainment / StudioCanal; d. Dominic Sena; w. Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes (based on the graphic novel by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber); exec pr. Don Carmody, Steve Richards, Greg Rucka; pr. Susan Downey, David Gambino, Joel Silver; assoc pr. Aaron Auch, Ethan Erwin; ph. Christopher Soos (Technicolor. 35mm (anamorphic) (Kodak Vision 2383), D-Cinema. Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Super 35 (source format). 2.35:1); m. John Frizzell; ed. Martin Hunter; pd. Graham ‘Grace’ Walker; ad. Gilles Aird, Martin Gendron, Jean Kazemirchuk; set d. Réjean Labrie; cos. Wendy Partridge; m/up. Jocelyne Bellemare, Corald Giroux; sd. Mark Larry (Dolby Digital | DTS | SDDS); sfx. Louis Craig; vfx. Dennis Berardi, Ian Hunter, Richard Yuricich, Jeff Goldman, Richard Martin, Tom Turnbull, Thierry Delattre; st. Steve Lucescu; rel. 9 September 2009 (USA), 11 September 2009 (UK); cert: 15; r/t. 101m.

cast: Kate Beckinsale (Carrie Stetko), Gabriel Macht (Robert Pryce), Tom Skerritt (Dr. John Fury), Columbus Short (Delfy), Alex O’Loughlin (Russell Haden), Shawn Doyle (Sam Murphy), Joel Keller (Jack), Jesse Todd (Rubin), Arthur Holden (McGuire), Erin Hicock (Rhonda), Bashar Rahal (Russian Pilot), Julian Cain (Russian Co-pilot), Dennis Keiffer (Russian Guard), Andrei Runtso (Russian Guard), Roman Varshavsky (Russian Guard), Steve Lucescu (Mooney), Paula Jean Hixson (Lab Tech), Craig A. Pinckes (Aircraft Tech), Sean Tucker (Operations Tech), Marc James Beauchamp (Weiss).

The only U.S. Marshal assigned to Antarctica, Carrie Stetko (Beckinsale) will soon leave the harsh environment behind for good; in three days, the sun will set and the Amundsen-Scott Research Station will shut down for the long winter. When a body is discovered out on the open ice, Carrie’s investigation into the continent’s first homicide plunges her deep into a mystery that may cost her own life. The Antarctic setting adds to the atmosphere of this otherwise familiar genre thriller. Beckinsale is good in the lead, although she remains perfectly presented despite the hostile environment. The film manages to generate some tension and thrills but there is a distinct lack of originality in the plot, which has a muddled narrative with gaps in logic. The CGI work is moderate at best and the presentation of the setting always feels a little false.

Film Review – LONELY ARE THE BRAVE (1962)

LONELY ARE THE BRAVE (1962, USA) ****
Drama, Western
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), Rank Film Distributors (UK); pr co. Joel Productions; d. David Miller; w. Dalton Trumbo (based on the novel “Brave Cowboy” by Edward Abbey); exec pr. Kirk Douglas (uncredited); pr. Edward Lewis; ph. Philip H. Lathrop (B&W. 35mm. Panavision (anamorphic). 2.39:1); m. Jerry Goldsmith; m sup. Joseph Gershenson; ed. Leon Barsha; ad. Alexander Golitzen, Robert Emmet Smith; set d. George Milo; cos. Stanley Kufel, Peter V. Saldutti; m/up. Dave Grayson, Bud Westmore, Larry Germain; sd. Waldon O. Watson, Frank H. Wilkinson (Mono (Westrex Recording System)); st. Bob Herron; rel. 27 April 1962 (UK), 24 May 1962 (USA); cert: PG; r/t. 107m.

cast: Kirk Douglas (John W. “Jack” Burns), Gena Rowlands (Jerry Bondi), Walter Matthau (Sheriff Morey Johnson), Michael Kane (Paul Bondi), Carroll O’Connor (Hinton), William Schallert (Harry), George Kennedy (Deputy Sheriff Gutierrez), Karl Swenson (Rev. Hoskins), William Mims (First Deputy Arraigning Burns), Martin Garralaga (Old Man), Lalo Rios (Prisoner).

Douglas gives one of his best performances as a cowboy out of his time who attempts to break a friend (Kane) out of jail and is then pursued through the mountains by the local sheriff (Matthau). The film is played out for the most part from Douglas’ perspective as it laments the passing of the old west, which has been taken over by technological progress. The mix of drama and dry humour may seem jarring to some but adds a sense of realism as the humour is never over-played. There is brutality, represented by Kennedy’s sadistic jail warden. The humour is mainly played out through Matthau’s sheriff’s wilting exasperation at the incompetence of his men. There are symbolic scenes demonstrating the core theme of a modern west with the unforgettable bookends and Trumbo’s screenplay adaptation is well observed, excepting the jailbreak scene, which feels a little too easy. Douglas is superb and gets into the soul of his character and Lathrop’s black and white photography adds to the yearning for nostalgia. The section showing Douglas’s ascent of the mountain with his horse is depicted with authenticity and generates considerable suspense. Reported to be Douglas’ favourite of all his films. This was Carroll O’Connor’s film debut. An overlooked gem.

Film Review – BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955)

52 Before 62 – # 2 Bad Day At Black Rock (1955) | The Last Blog Name On  EarthBAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955, USA) ****½
Crime, Drama, Western
dist. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); pr co. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); d. John Sturges; w. Millard Kaufman, Don McGuire (based on a story “Bad Time at Hondo” by Howard Breslin); pr. Dore Schary; assoc pr. Herman Hoffman; ph. William C. Mellor (Eastmancolor. 35mm. CinemaScope. 2.55:1); m. André Previn; ed. Newell P. Kimlin; ad. Malcolm Brown, Cedric Gibbons; set d. Fred M. MacLean, Edwin B. Willis; m/up. John Truwe; sd. Wesley C. Miller (Mono (35mm optical prints) (Western Electric Sound System) | 4-Track Stereo (35mm magnetic prints)); rel. 13 January 1955 (USA), 17 March 1955 (UK); cert: PG; r/t. 81m.

cast: Spencer Tracy (John J. Macreedy), Robert Ryan (Reno Smith), Anne Francis (Liz Wirth), Dean Jagger (Tim Horn), Walter Brennan (Doc Velie), John Ericson (Pete Wirth), Ernest Borgnine (Coley Trimble), Lee Marvin (Hector David), Russell Collins (Mr. Hastings), Walter Sande (Sam).

John J. MacReedy (Tracy), is a one-armed stranger who comes to the tiny town of Black Rock one hot summer day in 1945, the first time the train has stopped there in years. He looks for both a hotel room and a local Japanese farmer named Komoko, but his inquiries are greeted at first with open hostility, then with blunt threats and harassment, and finally with escalating violence. MacReedy soon realizes that he will not be allowed to leave Black Rock; town boss Reno Smith (Ryan), who had Komoko killed because of his hatred of the Japanese, has also marked MacReedy for death. MacReedy must battle town thugs, a treacherous local woman (Francis), and finally Smith himself to stay alive. The film has an excellent script that creates an air of mystery and intimidation, which Sturges maximises through his economic shooting. Tracy is superb as the mysterious visitor and is supported by an excellent cast that includes Ryan as the influential rancher; Borgnine and Marvin as Ryan’s muscle; Francis as the only girl in town whose brother played by Ericson proves to be their weak link; and Brennan and Jagger as the town doctor and drunken sheriff ashamed of their past. The confrontation between Tracy and the townsfolk grows as the story plays out to its inevitable and ironic conclusion. Whilst the ending may seem a little hurried and convenient, taken as a whole, the film is a textbook example of building suspense through character and dialogue.

AAN: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Spencer Tracy); Best Director (John Sturges); Best Writing, Screenplay (Millard Kaufman).