One of the most oft-revived of the pre-Technicolor Nicholas Ray efforts, Born to Be Bad offers us the spectacle of Joan Fontaine portraying a character described as “a cross between Lucrezia Borgia and Peg O’ My Heart”. For the benefit of her wealthy husband Zachary Scott and his family, Fontaine adopts a facade of wide-eyed sweetness. Bored with her hubby, she inaugurates a romance with novelist Robert Ryan. All her carefully crafted calculations come acropper when both men discover that she’s a bitch among bitches. She might have gotten away with all her machinations, but the censors said uh-uh. Originally slated for filming in 1946, with Henry Fonda scheduled to play the Robert Ryan part, Born to Bad was cancelled, then resurfaced as Bed as Roses in 1948, this time with Barbara Bel Geddes in the Fontaine role. RKO head Howard Hughes’ decision to replace Bel Geddes with the more bankable Fontaine was one of the reasons that producer Dore Schary left RKO in favor of MGM. Based on Anne Parrish’s novel All Kneeling, Born to be Bad is so overheated at times that it threatens to lapse into self-parody; though this never happens, the film was the basis for one of TV star Carol Burnett’s funniest and most devastating movie takeoffs, Raised to be Rotten Continue reading
French director Francois Truffaut’s newest film is a tribute to American film noir. It is based on a 1962 novel by Charles Williams that blends mystery and comedy genres. Jean-Louis Trintignant plays Julien, a real estate agent who finds himself under suspicion for the murder of a friend. When his wife is killed shortly afterwards, Julien goes into hiding.
Barbara (Fanny Ardant), his feisty secretary who secretly loves him despite his penchant for beautiful blondes, volunteers to help clear his name. Donning a trench coat appropriate for the challenge at hand, she sallies forth on her own investigation. She soon discovers confusing clues and meets sinister figures, including a pimp, a movie-house cashier, a priest, and a smooth talking lawyer. Continue reading
The meanest, heaviest, most unrelentingly grim hunk of American cinema you’re likely to see– at least prior to 1950– Brute Force is an explosive hybrid mixing aspects of the string of stark prison melodramas that stretch back to the silent era, and the broodingly dark crime dramas that sprung up in the postwar 1940’s that we’ve since come to identify as Film Noir.
One of my personal favorite ‘noir’s of all time, Brute Force features a young, highly flammable Burt Lancaster (in his second film role, his followup to Siodmak’s The Killers, another crime drama produced by Mark Hellinger) in the role of inmate Joe Collins, a part that seems to fit him like a glove. A seething prisoner barely able to contain his rage over his incarceration and the vicious machinations of the warden, Joe dominates the men in his cellblock by the raw power of his presence. Continue reading
Multi-millionaire Horace Woodruff Vendig (Zachary Scott) shows himself to the world as an ambitious philanthropist, but that’s far from the case. Even as a young man he starts to exhibit an obsessive and selfish urge to make more and more money, loving and leaving women at will to further this end. Vendig steps on and rolls over anyone who stands in his way, including his lifelong friend Vic Lambdin (Louis Hayward), utilities executive Buck Mansfield (Sydney Greenstreet) and various women, among them his first and only love, Martha Burnside (Diana Lynn), socialite Susan Duane (Martha Vickers) and Buck’s wife, Christa Mansfield (Lucille Bremer). It is a tribute to the acting skills of Scott that he makes his despicable character somehow likeable and sympathetic. The stellar cast includes Raymond Burr, Edith Barrett, Dennis Hoey and Joyce Arling. One of the few big-budgeted projects helmed by cult director Edgar G. Ulmer (Detour). Continue reading
Carol Reed reached the peak of his form with this classic noir, an elegy for American innocence and European elegance. Joseph Cotten, in fine form, stars as unemployed pulp-novelist Holly Martins. When he arrives in post-WWII Vienna on the promise of a job from his old friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles), he finds that Lime has recently died in a dubious car accident. Against the advice of British sector authority Major Calloway (Trevor Howard), who accuses Lime of criminal behavior, the indignant Martins decides to stay to investigate his friend’s death. He searches this city of rubble-strewn streets and bombed-out buildings, earnestly questioning Lime’s associates, a cynical, war-weary collection of black-market hustlers. At length, he realizes that the stories he’s hearing are so full of contradiction, he’s getting nowhere. Yet, he’s entranced by Lime’s beautiful girlfriend, Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli), who, unlike the others, seems to have loved Harry. Continue reading
“A man plans a hold-up with a group of trusted fellows, he gets his hands on the money, and the girl – what could go wrong? Almost everything.”
The Locksmith Killer.
Daniel Boisett (Robert Hossein) and his friend Paul Genest (Jean Sorel) are disturbed by the home owner during an attempted safe-cracking. In the ensuing mêlée, Paul accidentally kills the home owner and both men flee the scene in panic. Paul manages to escape but Daniel is shot and wounded by police and is promptly sentenced to a lengthy stint in prison. Continue reading
By Jeffrey M. Anderson
Essentially a retread of The Freshman (1990) on a much lower budget, In the Soup concerns a young wannabe filmmaker, Adolfo Rollo (Steve Buscemi) who becomes mixed up with a gangster-type, Joe (Seymour Cassell) in the name of financing his first film.
Very little filmmaking occurs, though. What really happens is the old story of the life-loving older guy teaching the high-strung younger fellow a thing or two about living.
Yes, it’s an old story that has been told a thousand times before and since, but Alexandre Rockwell’s little film has a home movie charm and a streetwise wit that make it a must-see sleeper. Continue reading