Film Review – THE GLASS KEY (1942)

THE GLASS KEY (1942, USA, 85m, PG) ***½
Crime, Drama, Film-Noir
dist. Paramount Pictures; pr co. Paramount Pictures; d. Stuart Heisler; w. Jonathan Latimer (based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett); ph. Theodor Sparkuhl (B&W | 1.37:1); m. Victor Young; ed. Archie Marshek; ad. Haldane Douglas, Hans Dreier.
cast: Brian Donlevy (Paul Madvig), Veronica Lake (Janet Henry), Alan Ladd (Ed Beaumont), Bonita Granville (Opal Madvig), Richard Denning (Taylor Henry), Joseph Calleia (Nick Varna), William Bendix (Jeff), Frances Gifford (Nurse), Donald MacBride (Farr), Margaret Hayes (Eloise Matthews), Moroni Olsen (Ralph Henry), Eddie Marr (Rusty), Arthur Loft (Clyde Matthews), George Meader (Claude Tuttle).
This complex film noir was the second adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s 1931 novel, which had previously been filmed in 1935 as a vehicle for George Raft. Donlevy is the crooked politician who finds himself being accused of the murder of the son of a prospective Baltimore governor by a gangster (Calleia) from whom he refused help during a re-election campaign. Ladd is Donlevy’s right-hand man who is encouraged by the victim’s sister (Lake) to find the real killer whilst protecting his boss’s interests. Ladd gets to essay his tough-guy persona, whilst Lake’s alluring performance and the pair’s obvious chemistry helps elevate the film’s stature. Bendix is also memorable as Calleia’s heavy – the beating he gives Ladd is particularly brutal. The plot twists, however, are perhaps too plentiful whilst Heisler’s direction and Latimer’s dialogue is often heavy-handed. The film’s production followed hot on the heels of the previous year’s successful adaptation of Hammett’s THE MALTESE FALCON. Ladd and Lake, who had earlier appeared in THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942), would go on to make seven movies together.

Film Review – THE BIG HEAT (1953)

THE BIG HEAT (1953, USA, 89m, 15) ****
Crime, Film-Noir, Thriller
dist. Columbia Pictures; pr co. Columbia Pictures; d. Fritz Lang; w. Sydney Boehm (based on the Saturday Evening Post serial by William P. McGivern); pr. Robert Arthur; ph. Charles Lang (B&W | 1.37:1); m. Henry Vars; ed. Charles Nelson; ad. Robert Peterson.
cast: Glenn Ford (Dave Bannion), Gloria Grahame (Debby Marsh), Jocelyn Brando (Katie Bannion), Alexander Scourby (Mike Lagana), Lee Marvin (Vince Stone), Jeanette Nolan (Bertha Duncan), Peter Whitney (Tierney), Willis Bouchey (Lt. Ted Wilks), Robert Burton (Gus Burke), Adam Williams (Larry Gordon), Howard Wendell (Commissioner Higgins), Chris Alcaide (George Rose), Michael Granger (Hugo), Dorothy Green (Lucy Chapman), Carolyn Jones (Doris), Ric Roman (Baldy), Dan Seymour (Mr. Atkins), Edith Evanson (Selma Parker).
Tough and uncompromising film noir sees Ford as tough cop Dave Bannion with a personal score to settle take on a politically powerful crime syndicate. Lang handles the material unobtrusively, focusing on the actors and allowing them to deliver top-notch performances. Ford’s transition into a bitter single-minded cop seeking revenge is stark. Grahame brings personality and wit to her role as sadistic and corrupt politician Marvin’s mistress. Lang’s no-frills approach allows the story to breathe, and Vars’ musical score is subtly effective.

Film Review – UNDER SUSPICION (1991)

UNDER SUSPICION (1991, UK) ***
Crime, Drama, Thriller
dist. Rank Film Distributors (UK), Columbia Pictures (USA); pr co. Carnival Film & Television / Columbia Pictures / London Weekend Television (LWT) / The Rank Organisation; d. Simon Moore; w. Simon Moore; pr. Brian Eastman; ph. Vernon Layton (Colour. 35mm. Panavision (anamorphic). 2.35:1); m. Christopher Gunning; ed. Tariq Anwar; pd. Tim Hutchinson; ad. Tony Reading; rel. 27 September 1991 (UK), 28 February 1992 (USA); BBFC cert: 18; r/t. 99m.
cast: Liam Neeson (Tony Aaron), Laura San Giacomo (Angeline), Kenneth Cranham (Frank), Maggie O’Neill (Hazel Aaron), Stephen Moore (Roscoe), Alphonsia Emmanuel (Selina), Alex Norton (Prosecuting Lawyer), Kevin Moore (Barrister), Alan Talbot (Powers), Malcolm Storry (Waterston), Martin Grace (Colin), Richard Graham (Denny), Michael Almaz (Stasio), Nicolette McKenzie (Mrs. Roscoe), Alan Stocks (Paul), Tommy Wright (Hotel Janitor), Lee Whitlock (Ben), Noel Coleman (Judge), Stephen Oxley (Hotel Deskman), Colin Dudley (Hotel Waiter).
In this emulation of ‘40s and ‘50s film noir, Neeson is a private eye who becomes a double-murder suspect when his client’s boyfriend and his own wife are found dead, side by side. The sleaze has been amped up here with increased doses of sex and more graphic violence. The genre conventions are played to the hilt quite nicely in the first two acts, but the story goes off the rails in its final act as implausibility takes over with director/writer Moore keen to top each twist. A race against the clock element is also thrown in for good measure. The result is an entertaining but contrived and flawed mystery/thriller – not least because San Giacamo makes for an unconvincing femme fatale. Neeson, however, is good in the lead role and the period setting (Brighton, 1959 into 1960) is well realised.

Film Review – ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1951)

ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1951, USA) ***½
Drama, Film-Noir
dist. RKO Radio Pictures; pr co. RKO Radio Pictures; d. Nicholas Ray; w. A.I. Bezzerides, Nicholas Ray (based on the novel “Mad with Much Heart” by Gerald Butler); pr. John Houseman; ph. George E. Diskant (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Bernard Herrmann; ed. Roland Gross; ad. Ralph Berger, Albert S. D’Agostino; rel. 12 December 1951 (USA), 14 November 1951 (UK); BBFC cert: PG; r/t. 82m.
cast: Ida Lupino (Mary Malden), Robert Ryan (Jim Wilson), Ward Bond (Walter Brent), Charles Kemper (Pop Daly), Anthony Ross (Pete Santos), Ed Begley (Capt. Brawley), Ian Wolfe (Sheriff Carrey), Sumner Williams (Danny Malden), Gus Schilling (Lucky), Frank Ferguson (Willows), Cleo Moore (Myrna Bowers), Olive Carey (Mrs. Brent), Richard Irving (Bernie Tucker), Patricia Prest (Julie Brent).
Interesting and intense character drama sees Ryan play a rough city cop who is disciplined by his captain and sent upstate, to a snowy mountain town, to help the local sheriff solve a murder case. There he questions his own approach during a murder manhunt which brings him into contact with the fugitive’s blind sister, played by Lupino. The key theme is of redemption plays out a little awkwardly as what made Ryan the way he was in the big city is only hinted at and never fully explored. Ray directs his actors well and the film is constantly moving, with the director’s frequent use of the hand-held camera during action sequences adding a level of urgency. With the help of Diskant’s striking photography (particularly using the Colorado Rockies location) and Herrmann’s evocative score, Ray elevates the film above the level of its script, producing an often-engrossing tale. Lupino directed the film for several days when Nicholas Ray fell ill.

Film Review – THE BLUE DAHLIA (1946)

THE BLUE DAHLIA (1946, USA) ***½
Crime, Drama, Film-Noir, Mystery, Thriller
dist. Paramount Pictures; pr co. Paramount Pictures; d. George Marshall; w. Raymond Chandler; pr. John Houseman ; ph. Lionel Lindon (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Victor Young; ed. Arthur P. Schmidt; ad. Hans Dreier, Walter H. Tyler; rel. 16 April 1946 (USA), 1 June 1946 (UK); BBFC cert: PG; r/t. 96m.
cast: Alan Ladd (Johnny Morrison), Veronica Lake (Joyce Harwood), William Bendix (Buzz Wanchek), Howard Da Silva (Eddie Harwood), Doris Dowling (Helen Morrison), Tom Powers (Capt. Hendrickson), Hugh Beaumont (George Copeland), Howard Freeman (Corelli), Don Costello (Leo), Will Wright (‘Dad’ Newell), Frank Faylen (Man Recommending a Motel), Walter Sande (Heath).
Ladd stars as a returning vet from WWII with Beaumont and brain-injured Bendix. When Ladd tries to reunite with his wife, Dowling, he discovers her promiscuity and walks out. When Dowling ends up murdered, Ladd is the chief suspect and runs into Lake whilst trying to evade capture and clear his name. A largely effective film noir that has more than its share of melodrama and a resolution that feels overly manufactured. Chandler’s script is a little over-reliant on cliched dialogue and often lacks his verbal spark, whilst the ending was changed against his wishes. There are, though, many wonderful individual scenes and Lake’s confident performance coupled with Ladd’s toughness elevates the material.
AAN: Best Writing, Original Screenplay (Raymond Chandler)

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.

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.

Film Review – OUT OF THE PAST (1947)

Image result for out of the past 1947Out of the Past (1947; USA; B&W; 97m) ***** d. Jacques Tourneur; w. Daniel Mainwaring; ph. Nicholas Musuraca; m. Roy Webb.  Cast: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming, Steve Brodie, Richard Webb, Virginia Huston, Dickie Moore, Frank Wilcox, Mary Field, Paul Valentine, Ken Niles, Oliver Blake, James Bush, John Kellogg. A private eye escapes his past to run a gas station in a small town, but his past catches up with him. Now he must return to the big city world of danger, corruption, double-crosses and duplicitous dames. Classic film noir is brilliantly structured and immaculately directed by Tourneur with crackling dialogue. Mitchum and Greer give standout performances as opportunistic lovers thrown together by fate. Douglas is the sleazy gambler making up the triangle. Cross follows double-cross and it hangs together until its ironic final twist. A masterclass in film-making. Mainwaring adapted his own novel “Build My Gallows High”, which was also the UK title of the film on its original release. Remade as AGAINST ALL ODDS (1984). [PG]

Film Review – DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944)

Image result for double indemnityDouble Indemnity (1944; USA; B&W; 107m) *****  d. Billy Wilder; w. Billy Wilder, Raymond Chandler; ph. John F. Seitz; m. Miklós Rózsa.  Cast: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Porter Hall, Jean Heather, Tom Powers, Gig Young, Richard Gaines, Fortunio Bonanova, Edmund Cobb, Byron Barr, John Philliber, Clarence Muse, Bess Flowers, Sam McDaniel. An insurance rep lets himself be talked into a murder/insurance fraud scheme that arouses an insurance investigator’s suspicions. Classic and highly influential film noir with a tight script, hardboiled and witty dialogue and first-rate performances. Stanwyck is the deceptive, but alluring, femme fatale and MacMurray the smitten salesman. Robinson is superb as the eccentric investigator. Based on the novel by James M. Cain. Remade as a TV Movie in 1973. [PG]

Film Review – WHIRLPOOL (1949)

Image result for whirlpool 1949Whirlpool (1949; USA; B&W; 97m) ***  d. Otto Preminger; w. Ben Hecht, Andrew Solt; ph. Arthur Miller; m. David Raksin.  Cast: Gene Tierney, Richard Conte, José Ferrer, Charles Bickford, Richard Conte, Barbara O’Neil, Constance Collier, Fortunio Bonanova, Eduard Franz. A woman secretly suffering from kleptomania is hypnotized in an effort to cure her condition. Soon afterwards, she is found at the scene of a murder with no memory of how she got there and seemingly no way to prove her innocence. Film noir is interesting for its premise and Ferrer’s sinister performance as the hypnotist. But after a promising start the plot descends into melodrama and loses its sense of logic in a weak finale that too neatly wraps up the story. Evocative score by Raskin. Based on the novel “Methinks the Lady” by Guy Endore. [PG]