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.
BAD 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).
SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (USA, 1956) ****
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures; Production Company: Batjac Productions; Release Date: 15 July 1956; Filming Dates: late September–late October 1955; Running Time: 78m; Colour: WarnerColor; Sound Mix: Mono (RCA Sound Recording); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
Director: Budd Boetticher; Writer: Burt Kennedy; Producer: Andrew V. McLaglen, Robert E. Morrison; Director of Photography: William H. Clothier; Music Composer: Henry Vars; Film Editor: Everett Sutherland; Art Director: A. Leslie Thomas; Set Decorator: Edward G. Boyle; Costumes: Rudy Harrington, Edward Sebesta, Carl Walker; Make-up: Web Overlander, Norman Pringle; Sound: Earl Crain Jr.
Cast: Randolph Scott (Ben Stride), Gail Russell (Annie Greer), Lee Marvin (Bill Masters), Walter Reed (John Greer), John Larch (Payte Bodeen), Don ‘Red’ Barry (Clete), Fred Graham (Henchman), John Beradino (Clint), John Phillips (Jed), Chuck Roberson (Mason), Stuart Whitman (Cavalry Lt. Collins), Pamela Duncan (Señorita Nellie), Steve Mitchell (Fowler), Cliff Lyons (Henchman), Fred Sherman (The Prospector).
Synopsis: Ex-sheriff Ben Stride tracks the seven men who held up a Wells Fargo office and killed his wife.
Comment: Tightly directed Western with Scott in fine form as the brooding ex-sheriff hunting down those responsible for the death of his wife during a robbery. Marvin is also excellent as a chancer looking to profit. The bleakness of the subject matter is played out through a desert track and stormy weather. The script is lean and efficient and Boetticher keeps the piece moving at a good pace. Scenic photography and the smitten Russell add to the ingredients, making this one of the finest of the star and directors’ collaborations.
Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The (1962; USA; B&W; 123m) ****½ d. John Ford; w. James Warner Bellah, Willis Goldbeck; ph. William H. Clothier; m. Cyril J. Mockridge. Cast: John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Strother Martin, Edmond O’Brien, Andy Devine, Jeanette Nolan, John Carradine, John Qualen, Ken Murray, Willis Bouchey, Carleton Young, Woody Strode, Denver Pyle. A senator, who became famous for killing a notorious outlaw, returns for the funeral of an old friend and tells the truth about his deed. Ford’s last great Western is dominated by three strong central performances. Wayne represents the old-west values, whilst Stewart stands for the civilisation of law and order. Marvin’s outlaw stands in the middle as the evil which must be dealt with. Meanwhile, Miles must decide whether her heart lies with Wayne or Stewart. Rich in detail with a strong script and boisterous performances from a quality supporting cast and sumptuously shot in black and white by veteran cinematographer Clothier. In 2007, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Based on the story by Dorothy M. Johnson. [U]
Comancheros, The (1961; USA; DeLuxe; 107m) *** d. Michael Curtiz; w. James Edward Grant, Clair Huffaker; ph. William H. Clothier; m. Elmer Bernstein. Cast: John Wayne, Stuart Whitman, Lee Marvin, Bruce Cabot, Nehemiah Persoff, Ina Balin, Michael Ansara, Patrick Wayne, Jack Elam, Edgar Buchanan, Joan O’Brien, Henry Daniell, Richard Devon, Bob Steele, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams. Texas Ranger Jake Cutter arrests gambler Paul Regret, but soon finds himself teamed with his prisoner in an undercover effort to defeat a band of renegade arms merchants and thieves known as Comancheros. Interplay between Wayne and Whitman drives this otherwise routine story. Curtiz adds directorial style and the action scenes are well shot, but other aspects of the story never really get off the ground. Rousing score by Bernstein. The final film directed by Curtiz. On the days when Curtiz was too ill to work, Wayne took over direction of the film. Based on the novel by Paul Wellman. [PG]
Seven Men from Now (1956; USA; Colour; 78m) ∗∗∗∗ d. Budd Boetticher; w. Burt Kennedy; ph. William H. Clothier; m. Henry Vars. Cast: Randolph Scott, Gail Russell, Lee Marvin, Walter Reed, John Larch, Don ‘Red’ Barry, Fred Graham, John Beradino, John Phillips, Chuck Roberson, Stuart Whitman, Pamela Duncan. Ex-sheriff Ben Stride tracks the seven men who held up a Wells Fargo office and killed his wife. Tightly directed Western with Scott in fine form as the brooding ex-sheriff and Marvin also excellent as a chancer looking to profit. Scenic photography and the smitten Russell add to the ingredients, making this one of the finest of the star and directors’ collaborations. [PG]