I figured I’d round out 2013 with a New Year’s Eve-centric caper. Repeat Performance came across my radar during the Christmas crime week and I read that it takes place on Dec. 31, so there ya go. Perfect. It’s a pretty good fantasy-noir hybrid, kinda like Groundhog’s Day but set over a year instead of a single day. The plot is pretty cool: a woman gets to relive the previous year in order to right some wrongs that led to her shooting her husband. But Repeat Performance goes a bit over the top for my tastes and it can be painfully melodramatic at times. There is some great stuff going on about predestination and challenging fate, but overall the whole film failed to entertain.
I planned on holding off my thoughts on Robert Siodmak’s The Killers for a while just because it’s such a quintessential noir. And because I knew I would have a lot to say about it. But my plate was clean today of freelance work, so fuck it, let’s rumble. Honestly, guys, this is the Citizen Kane of film noirs. Adapted from the short story by Ernest Hemingway (arguably the granddaddy of the hard-boiled school of writing), The Killers is an exemplary example of Siodmak’s refined blend of Hollywood talent and German expressionistic leanings. The character played by Burt Lancaster also strongly defines the classic Hemingway hero who accepts his fate in the face of death.
In Nightmare Alley, Tyrone Power plays one slick charlatan feeding off the gullibility of old ladies. This cat’s got charm and smoky eyes that could floor a rhino. It might be one of my favorite noir roles, even if I think he deserved a much harsher punishment in the end. This film is cool because it doesn’t revolve around cops or private investigators going after gangsters (in the traditional sense). It’s set in the dark underworld of carnies and provides some surface insight on how they rope in suckers, fleece them, and pull up stakes for the next town. And when carnies start betraying each other and can’t trust their own, you know you’re in for some shit.
After reviewing Robert Montgomery’s Lady in the Lake during my week of Christmas crime reviews, I wanted to check out more from him. I went with another one from 1947, Ride the Pink Horse, which Montgomery also stars in. I really, really dug this gritty little film. Set in a small rural town in New Mexico, the film is ripe with the post-war disillusionment that defined noir, but transferred to an unorthodox setting. The minimal, brooding tone of the film remains consistent throughout, juxtaposing the annual fiesta taking place and wrapping this mean revenge tale in a tightly-wound blanket of doom.
Christmas crime review week comes to an end with 1961’s Cash on Demand. This British thriller was produced by Hammer Films on the cheap, right when they were branching out in avenues beside horror to breathe new life into the company. The film stars Peter Cushing and prolific Doctor Who alumni Kevin Stoney. It’s a tightly wound little bank heist film set on Dec. 23, when banks are stuffed with cash ripe for folks making holiday withdrawals. Despite dragging in some parts, particularly the middle, overall it’s a charming little caper that cleverly reimagines A Christmas Carol.
Raymond Chandler’s Lady in the Lake is my third favorite Philip Marlowe novel. The book’s plot is pleasantly complicated even for Chandler, but one of the main reasons I love it is that it takes Marlowe out of L.A. and into the mountains – the last place you’d find a hard-boiled private dick. Chandler’s own screenplay for a Lady in the Lake adaptation was never used. Instead, Robert Montgomery directed and starred in a version written by Steve Fischer, who penned a ton of westerns as well as Bogart’s Dead Reckoning. Chandler himself hated the adaptation, but I really like it. It’s tough and pulpy with a subtle romantic thread running throughout. For once, it’s nice to see Marlowe fall in love (even if Chandler’s creation preferred drinking alone).
This is the third time in less than two weeks I’ve reviewed a Robert Siodmak joint. Christmas Holiday really amps up the melodrama and while it kinda seems overly sappy on the surface, ya gotta put it into context. Hollywood didn’t take too kindly to hookers as lead characters, so Siodmak took a lotta flak for this one. I’m not a huge fan of this one, it’s nothing I would want to rewatch anytime soon, but there’s some interesting things going on. And when the tone dramatically shifts from domestic bliss to noir, it’s wicked fun.
The influence of Cornell Woolrich can never be overstated. Although the average joe may not be familiar with his name, they’ve probably seen a film based on his work. There are dozens of noirs based on Woolrich’s stories (most notably Hitchcock’s Rear Window) more so than any other crime novelist. I’ve read a handful of his stuff, including one of the meanest revenge novels I’ve ever come across: Rendezvous in Black. Anyway, today’s review is based on his novel I Married a Dead Man, which he wrote under his pseudonym William Irish. Starring Barbara Stanwyck and John Lund, No Man of Her Own is a flat mix of melodrama and noir that’s tedious at times, but whatever blemishes the film suffers from are redeemed by Stanwyck’s towering performance. Her character is an opportunistic jerk, but whatever.
“When the Better Business Bureau rings the Christmas bell, the suckers forget there’s such a business as murder, and businessmen who make it their exclusive line.”
It’s Christmas week and Cleveland hitman Baby Boy Frankie Bono is on assignment in New York City, where his target is some second string syndicate boss “with too much ambition.” It’s been a while since Frankie’s been in NYC and the last thing he wants is unnecessary contact with folks who may recognize him. When the job takes a turn for the worse, Frankie’s gotta keep his cool and stay alive in this rat maze. Allen Baron wrote, directed, and stars in Blast of Silence, a lean, mean look at urban violence and the seedy sweaty underworld that nutures it. The film is both visually stunning and rough around the edges, and she’s loaded with indie sensibilities, making it a standout of the tail end of the classic noir cycle.
All Honest Joe wants for Christmas is Diane. All Diane wants for Christmas is money. More specifically, a wealthy sap who can supply her with the lavish lifestyle she dreams about. Over the course of Roadblock‘s 73 minutes, the audience witnesses Joe’s integrity completely spiral down into the darkest parts of immorality. While the turning point of the film occurs on Christmas Eve, when the holiday spirit changes Diane’s heart, Joe’s manic desire for her has already pushed him past the point of no return.