Billy Wilder – Double Indemnity (1944)


In 1938, Walter Neff, an experienced salesman of the Pacific All Risk Insurance Co., meets the seductive wife of one of his clients, Phyllis Dietrichson, and they have an affair. Phyllis proposes to kill her husband to receive the proceeds of an accident insurance policy and Walter devises a scheme to receive twice the amount based on a double indemnity clause. When Mr. Dietrichson is found dead on a train-track, the police accept the determination of accidental death. However, the insurance analyst and Walter’s best friend Barton Keyes does not buy the story and suspects that Phyllis has murdered her husband with the help of another man. Continue reading

Billy Wilder – The Lost Weekend (1945)


Don Birnam, long-time alcoholic, has been “on the wagon” for ten days and seems to be over the worst; but his craving has just become more insidious. Evading a country weekend planned by his brother Wick and girlfriend Helen, he begins a four-day bender. In flashbacks we see past events, all gone wrong because of the bottle. But this bout looks like being his last…one way or the other.

Fifty-six years have seen many advances in the level of realism portrayed on film, but it is safe to say that The Lost Weekend remains the benchmark against which all other films on alcoholism are measured. Its view is uncompromising yet it manages to present that view in a manner that does not require resorting to tasteless violence or nihilism to make its point (unlike, for example, a more recent film such as Leaving Las Vegas [1995], well-acted as it may be). The film’s realism is enhanced by extensive location shooting in New York, somewhat of a rarity for the time. Continue reading

Stanley Kubrick – Killer’s Kiss (1955)


Kubrick’s own critique of his second feature reveals the director’s future marriage of lofty philosophical themes with nuts-and-bolts genre movies. “Killer’s Kiss” is a stepping-stone to grandeur, a youthful nod and wink to the peerless older genius that is waiting later through the stargate of “2001″ and beyond.

Today we can shoot a film on our phones, edit it on our Macs and upload it to YouTube in a matter of hours. Back in 1955, the 27-year-old Kubrick was filming guerrilla style on the streets of New York with a $40, 000 budget loaned from his pharmacist uncle with no guarantee of distribution and financial return. Continue reading

Robert Aldrich – Kiss Me Deadly (1955)


SYNOPSIS: In this atomic adaptation of Mickey Spillane’s novel, directed by Robert Aldrich, the good manners of the 1950s are blown to smithereens. Ralph Meeker stars as snarling private dick Mike Hammer, whose decision one dark, lonely night to pick up a hitchhiking woman sends him down some terrifying byways. Brazen and bleak, Kiss Me Deadly is a film noir masterwork as well as an essential piece of cold war paranoia, and it features as nervy an ending as has ever been seen in American cinema. Continue reading

Orson Welles – Touch of Evil [Restored Version] (1958)


Roger Ebert / September 13, 1998

Come on, read my future for me. You haven’t got any. What do you mean? Your future is all used up. So speaks a fortune-telling madam, played by Marlene Dietrich, to the drunken sheriff of a border town, played by Orson Welles, in “Touch of Evil.”

Her words have a sad resonance, because Welles was never again to direct in Hollywood after making this dark, atmospheric story of crime and corruption.

It was named best film at the 1958 Brussels World Fair (Godard and Truffaut were on the jury), but in America it opened on the bottom half of a double bill, failed, and put an end to Welles’ prospects of working within the studio system. Yet the film has always been a favorite of those who enjoy visual and dramatic flamboyance. “I’d seen the film four or five times before I noticed the story,” the director Peter Bogdanovich once told his friend Orson. “That speaks well for the story,” Welles rumbled sarcastically, but Bogdanovich replied, “No, no–I mean I was looking at the direction.” Continue reading

Alain Cavalier – Le combat dans l’île AKA Fire and Ice (1962)


A hidden gem of the French New Wave, Alain Cavalier’s thrilling black-and-white noir is as sleek and cool as it is gripping. Filled with thrilling plot twists, daring shoot-outs and stormy betrayals, Le Combat dans l’ile takes place against a backdrop of 60’s political turmoil and is strikingly shot by legendary cameraman Pierre Lhomme. Jean-Louis Trintignant is Clément, a member of a right-wing terrorist organization who becomes involved in a political assassination attempt. A member of his gang betrays him and he hides out with his wife Anne (a luminous Romy Schneider) in the country home of a childhood friend, Paul (Henri Serre). Clément defines macho, with his surly incommunicativeness and sudden outbursts of violence, with Anne often its recipient. Paul, by contrast, is a gentle pacifist, and as affection grows between him and Anne, the emotional as well as political tension soar. Continue reading