John Huston – The Maltese Falcon (1941)



‘Spade and Archer is the name of a San Francisco detective agency. That’s for Sam Spade and Miles Archer. The two men are partners, but Sam doesn’t like Miles much. A knockout, who goes by the name of Miss Wanderly, walks into their office; and by that night everything’s changed. Miles is dead. And so is a man named Floyd Thursby. It seems Miss Wanderly is surrounded by dangerous men. There’s Joel Cairo, who uses gardenia-scented calling cards. There’s Kasper Gutman, with his enormous girth and feigned civility. Her only hope of protection comes from Sam, who is suspected by the police of one or the other murder. More murders are yet to come, and it will all be because of these dangerous men – and their lust for a statuette of a bird: the Maltese Falcon.’
– J. Spurlin (IMDb) Continue reading

John Huston – Key Largo (1948)


Key Largo is a 1948 film noir directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson and Lauren Bacall and featuring Lionel Barrymore and Claire Trevor. The movie was adapted by Richard Brooks and Huston from Maxwell Anderson’s 1939 play of the same name, which played on Broadway for 105 performances in 1939 and 1940.

Frank McCloud travels to a run-down hotel on Key Largo to honor the memory of a friend who died bravely in his unit during WW II. His friend’s widow, Nora Temple, and wheelchair bound father, James Temple manage the hotel and receive him warmly, but the three of them soon find themselves virtual prisoners when the hotel is taken over by a mob of gangsters led by Johnny Rocco who hole up there to await the passing of a hurricane. Mr. Temple strongly reviles Rocco but due to his infirmities can only confront him verbally. Having become disillusioned by the violence of war, Frank is reluctant to act, but Rocco’s demeaning treatment of his alcoholic moll, Gaye Dawn, and his complicity in the deaths of some innocent Seminole Indians and a deputy sheriff start to motivate McCloud to overcome his Hamlet-like inaction. Continue reading

Delmer Daves – Dark Passage (1947)


Of the four movies Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall made together, Dark Passage is the forgotten stepchild. Sandwiched between The Big Sleep and Key Largo, Delmer Daves’ innovative and suspenseful mystery-thriller caused barely a ripple at the box office upon its initial release. Maybe the gritty, post-war themes of isolation and paranoia hit too close to home, or the use of a subjective camera alienated audiences. Whatever the reason, Dark Passage got a bum rap from critics and public alike. And while it may not rank up there with the best of Hollywood noir, the film flaunts enough style and substance to merit appreciation. Continue reading

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