Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Killing (1956)

Ex-con Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) is getting together a team to rob a racetrack. They could put you away just as fast for a $10 heist as they can for a million dollar job. So might as well go big.

The Killing is a pure heist movie. Cool and in command, we watch Johnny plan, organize, and execute the heist in almost documentary style. Few details are revealed until the job begins. We just see the pieces put into place. There is voice over narration that reads like a police blotter.

Many characters are introduced over the first act. Elisha Cook Jr. is here of course, ex-wrestler Kola Kwariani needed subtitles to be understood, Rodney Dangerfield is visible in a crowd scene, but most bizarre is the performance of Timothy Carey. Carey had a strange career. A method actor, he would improvise to a ridiculous degree. I’m surprised that Kubrick used him twice considering his reputation for control. A little later in his career there were directors who were afraid of him. Here he has a small role, hired to shoot a horse. He smooth-talks a parking lot attendant who starts hanging around. His line delivery is nothing short of confounding.

I struggled with this film for the first act. The storytelling and performances were odd and not very noir-like. There are many moving pieces with little explanation. The cuts from stock footage to the sets were jarring and took me out of the movie. Also the narration was distracting. But as the film progressed and the caper became clear, I became interested.

The influence of this film on directors like Quentin Tarantino is very apparent. The lunch table scene from Reservoir Dogs is taken almost verbatim. The gun hidden in the bathroom is also familiar. Here Sterling Hayden’s character gets it and in The Godfather Sterling Hayden’s character “gets it”.

I must give Kubrick some slack. The film was fairly low budget without much studio support, and the dragnet-esque narration was a studio demand. In the end, it’s a strange, complex, and interesting film, and totally worth watching again. However, maybe because of the more conventional tone, I liked The Killers a smidge better. AMRU 4.
“You'd be killing a horse - that's not first degree murder, in fact it's not murder at all, in fact I don't know what it is.”

Friday, April 3, 2020

Wife vs. Secretary (1936)

A publishing executive (Clark Gable) and his wife (Myrna Loy) are madly in love, but odd circumstances lead her to question his relationship with his secretary (Jean Harlow). After all, she’s Jean Harlow.

I selected this film because it sounded like silly nonsense. Nonsense with huge start power. But Larry Karaszewski did a Trailers from Hell video on it saying it was far smarter than the title implied. And it was.

We can forgive Loy’s Linda for reaching her conclusion. She isn’t jealous by nature and we see the bits of misinformation that leads her astray. Even though it’s all innocent (not a spoiler), her conclusion is quite reasonable. And it doesn’t help that her mother-in-law doesn’t doubt it for a moment. Plus, Gable’s Van is terrible at explanations. Even the perfect wife can have doubts.

Gable is exuberant and energetic as young Gable was. Always fun to watch. I was always mystified with the collective infatuation with Jean Harlow, figuring it mostly a product of her early demise. Here, though, she is quite charming as the dedicated secretary. Maybe I found her so much more likable because she wasn’t playing trashy. Jimmy Stewart was her would-be fiance. Gloria Holden had a small role. She always gave me that weird feeling.

If I were to criticize anything about the film it would be that they didn’t stick the landing. Not totally. I suppose Linda realized that she was wrong. I wish that point was more clear, but that’s picking nits. Wife vs. Secretary is clever, witty, and charming all the way through. The leads bubble with chemistry and its a fun ride. Way better than its title. AMRU 4.
“You’re a fool, for which I am grateful.”

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Two-bit hood Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) meets hot young Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) and impresses her with his criminal ways. They go off together and do this Laurie and Bart deal across the country.

Once again we visit the intersection of sex and guns. Unfortunately for hot Bonnie, Clyde isn’t much of a lover boy. Downright impudent in fact. But Bonnie sticks with him anyhow. Soon a gas station attendant, Clyde’s brother (Gene Hackman), and his frumpish wife join the gang. They target banks because banks are bad, what with all of the farm foreclosures.

At once both stylish and awkward, Bonnie and Clyde was clearly influenced by the French New Wave. An early scene where our heroes try to get it on was clumsy as hell. But this serves the narrative well. They try to be Robin Hood-esque saviors but they’re not. Cool, cute, and stylish, but no substance. Just criminals to the end. Impudent, if you will.

Denver Pyle plays the Ranger on the hunt for our Heroes. No relation to Gomer. Prolific and weird looking character actor Michael J. Pollard played the recruited gas station attendant, and got nominated for an Oscar. He was in a ton of stuff but I remember him most from that Star Trek episode and Scrooged. He passed last December. And so it goes. Prolific and weird looking character actor Dub Taylor played his dad. This is also Gene Wilder’s film debut. He played, well, Gene Wilder.

It isn’t a coincidence that I watched Bonnie and Clyde directly after Gun Crazy. A recent cable box upgrade allows me to record (almost) to my heart’s content, so now I have a serious library to choose from. Also, I seem to be home a lot recently. Go figure. While Gun Crazy was partially inspired by the real Bonnie and Clyde, this is the first feature film on the couple. I had recorded and deleted it several times in the past because of space issues.

Bonnie and Clyde doesn’t shy from the blood, considering the year, but it is mostly unremarkable in that regard by today’s standard. But it’s most remarkable in every other way. Faye Dunaway astounds. With its style and content, Bonnie and Clyde heralded in the American New Wave of cinema, and nothing would be the same. AMRU 4.
“We rob banks.”

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Gun Crazy (1950)

Ever since he was little, Bart was obsessed with guns. He just loved shooting things. Not living things, he’s no monster. Just things, and he’s pretty good at it. Returning home from the Army he visits a carnival with his buddies and sees a sharpshooter act featuring a hot woman. He becomes as obsessed with Laurie as he is with guns. After drama, they go off together and do this Bonnie and Clyde deal across the country.

I know of Gun Crazy as a top Film-Noir. Even read about it in a book, but that was a couple years ago. After seeing the movie, I needed to re-read that chapter to remember why I was supposed to like it so much. Unscripted and improvised scenes influenced the French New Wave, ok I see that. Very low budget, didn’t realize that. Written by Dalton Trumbo, interesting. Crackling sexuality between the leads, hmmmmm, ok.

Gun Crazy makes a strong parallel between sex and guns, and Peggy Cummins sizzles on screen. Bart, though, is damp toast. He is never fully on board with the whole criminal outlaw lifestyle and only goes along so he can buy Laurie nice things. She’s the femme fatal leading our dufus good boy astray. I didn’t connect with John Dall in Rope and I didn’t connect with him here. Also, I don’t buy that either lead were familiar with firearms. The actors handle them as if they had fifteen minutes of rehearsal. I admit I also know nothing about guns, but I can tell when something is the extension of one’s being or a toy in the hand.

Our heroes’ motivation is straightforward. Guns, money, and each other. And sadly, the chemistry is lacking. Don’t get me wrong. It did like Gun Crazy. I just failed to see what made it exceptional. There was something slightly bland about the story and dialog. I had high expectations, and once again, they landed soft. AMRU 3.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Foreign Correspondent (1940)

A Newspaper is tired of the bland reports coming from their foreign correspondents in Europe, so the editor decides to send the local screw-up reporter. Solid plan. John Jones (Joel McCrea) travels overseas to interview the famous pacifist Stephen Fisher, and maybe his hot daughter too.

Filmed after the start of war in Europe but set just prior, our heroes try to avoid war, but the bad guys want it. Mystery, suspense, and romance to follow. Standard Hitchcock stuff. Hey look, it’s Ian Wolf! That guy’s in everything! George Sanders is here too, and a bit of a cad, as always. Santa Gwenn was here but I somehow missed him.

I was a little disappointed by Foreign Correspondent. I like most of what Hitchcock directs, and there is no misstep here, but I failed to connect with the story or the characters. I’ve liked McCrea in other projects, and let’s face it. Joel McCrea only plays Joel McCrea. Maybe the fault lies in the lack of creativity in the “early war, Nazis are bad” microgenre (To Be or Not To Be, notwithstanding), but I didn’t take to it as I did his later work.

That’s not to say I hated it. It was fine. And I can see how his work improved over the years. It’s way more polished than the 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, and better in that regard than The Lady Vanishes, though I liked that more. The Hitchcock name comes with certain expectations and sometimes they land soft. Anyhow, AMRU 3.

Monday, March 23, 2020

All Through the Night (1942)

Crooked sports gambler ‘Gloves’ Donahue (Humphrey Bogart) learns that the baker of his favorite cheesecake has been bumped off, so he decides to investigate. Mostly because a hot chick is somehow involved. He uncovers a bigger conspiracy. Could it involve Nazis? Yes. Yes it could.

Could this be a highly rated (7.1 on IMDb) Bogart film-noir that I had never even heard of? That sounds too good to be true. Sadly, it is. Released between The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, All Through the Night is principally a comedy. This explains how Phil Silvers and Jackie Gleason got invited to the party. Still, the story plays out as a crime mystery/drama. Everyone’s favorite uncle William Demarest plays sidekick Sunshine whose major contributions are cracking wise and knocking stuff over.

Additionally, Casablanca alumnae Conrad Veidt and Peter Lorre have principal roles. Freaks star Wallace Ford has a smaller role. Our femme fatal stand-in is played by Kaaren Verne (Ingeborg Greta Katerina Marie-Rose Klinckerfuss to her friends). Three years after the film’s release, she and Lorre divorced their respective partners and hooked up for five years of marital bliss.

Bogart at this time was a star but not yet a legend. He plays a tough, but lacks the cynicism of his better roles. Remember, he is motivated by hot chicks and cheesecake. There isn’t much mystery here. Bad guys coerce good people to do their bidding. Why? We learn soon it’s because Nazis and World War II. So many B pictures in the early part of the war tread this ground. All Through the Night is no different, and little better. It keeps your interest well enough, and Bogart raises the level of any production, but it is what it is. An unfunny comedy, a film-noir with little atmosphere, a mystery with little mystery, a crime film that doesn’t take itself serious. Just a movie that holds your attention. And Humphrey Bogart. AMRU 3.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Untamed Youth (1957)

Sisters Penny and Jane (Mamie Van Doren and Lori Nelson) are travelling to Hollywood when they stop to skinny dip in a small pond, because of course they do. Stock creepy sheriff type arrests them for vagrancy. They are given the choice to spend 30 days in jail or be slave labor for a cruel cotton farmer. They choose the latter.

Down on the farm they meet up with the other inmates, a bunch of honkey beatniks. It seems that boss man Tropp has made a deal with the lonely judge lady to funnel cheap labor to his farm while others farms struggle to find workers. But Judge lady’s adult son returns from the Navy and starts to figure out what’s going on.

Life on a cotton farm is hard and relentless. When the kids get back to the barracks they barely have enough energy left to throw a rocking dance party all night long. Mamie became the first actress to sing Rock and Roll in an American film. Eddie Cochran played one of the insundry youths. He was an actual Rock and Roll star and would die in a car wreck three years later. And so it goes.

Probably the worst part of this film is the horribly forced youth dialog. The only trustworthy adult is a cook who only speaks in beatnik riddles that even our heroes find hard to swallow. Second worst thing might be that all of the singers seem to be doing a bad Elvis Presley impersonation, Mamie included. Not a big fan of the Pelvis on the best of days, so off brand Elvis is a non-starter.

Despite the insipid plot, poor acting, the exploitative direction, the cringe-worthy pseudo-teen lingo, the terrible songs … I’m sorry, I lost my train of thought, where was I again? Oh, yea, Untamed Youth. Actually, it wasn’t all that bad. The story, such as it is, made sense in it’s own way. The character’s motivations and actions were consistent and the story resolved itself satisfactorily. Maybe that sounds like a low bar, and it is, but it’s a bar many exploitation films fail to reach. Untamed Youth was designed for the youth drive-in crowd, and by all accounts it was a success. It was even endorsed by the Catholic League of Decency by condemning it. Those guys! I can’t say I’m sorry I watched it, but it did evoke many groans and eye rolls. AMRU 2.5.
“Here me out, my friend. I am a just man. Even a philosopher, of parts. Possibly the most erudite bum for miles around. But, in this day of crass materialism, with dog eat dog, and man bite man, I claim that the laborer is worthy of his hire and the artist of his doom.”