A year before Henry Hathaway directed Kiss of Death (launching Richard Widmark into stardom), he backed Mark Stevens into The Dark Corner. Stevens plays hapless private eye Bradford Galt, a man framed for murder in this grim, mean little noir. Driven by strong casting, including Lucille Ball and Clifton Webb (Laura), The Dark Corner explores just what the title suggests: the darkest corners of the human psyche, the aspects that can steer a man to murder. The title also reflects the insane amount of darkness visually in the film. The whole shindig is one dark affair, dig?
After the gut punch of Kansas City Confidential, I figured I’d check out some more of Phil Karlson’s films. Netflix is currently streaming his follow-up, 99 River Street, so I checked it out. This one also starts John Payne, this time as a hard-luck ex-pugilist who has turned to driving a cab to pay the rent. Just another sucker on the vine. It’s a startlingly violent film for the time – I have no clue how some moments got past the censor board. One guy even gives instructions on how to make a girl horny! Regardless of the film’s brutality, 99 River Street is overall an optimistic film that displays Karlson’s macho, acerbic style.
Phil Karlson’s Kansas City Confidential is a two-fisted revenge flick that’s a feast for fans of hardboiled dialogue and an essential in the annals of noir. The film cleverly unravels the “perfect crime” motif – one in which the heist is allegedly snitch-proof because the hoods don’t know the identity of each other or the cat who planned the shindig. Karlson’s sharp directing anchors the film, which features one tough lineup of hoods: Neville Brand, Lee Van Cleef, and Jack Elam. Top it off with John Payne as an embittered fall guy and Kansas City Confidential is a fucking powder keg of a noir (that ironically takes place mainly in Mexico).
He Walked by Night is the film that spawned the Dragnet franchise, which debuted on radio the following year. The film has the whole “the names have been changed to protect the innocent” line and it even features Jack Webb, who went on to play Joe Friday in the ’60s TV series. The film is a straightforward, quasi-documentary police procedural about the manhunt for a cop killer. It’s presented in a very dry style by director Alfred L. Werker, but the on location shooting in L.A. adds much to the story – particularly in the intense sewer chase at the end. As far as procedurals go, I prefer Dassin’s The Naked City, but He Walked By Night has its own merits.
This whole crime movie a day writing project started about a month ago with Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat. Today we look at another one of the German maestro’s celebrated noirs: 1944’s The Woman in the Window. This one lacks much of the visual expressionism Lang would experiment with later in his noirs, favoring a more naturalistic approach, but features the sardonic look at the fine line between respectability and crime he would thematically explore many times after this. The plot is pretty straightforward as well, but it’s elevated by some top notch performances from Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea, who plays a gleefully slimy extortionist.
After making a string of highly acclaimed crime films in the ’50s and ’60s, unconventional French badass Jean-Pierre Melville created his epic masterpiece Le Cercle Rouge in 1970. I’m not calling it an epic because it’s 2.5 hours long, naw, I’m saying that because the film encompasses all of his beliefs concerning criminals, the underworld, and the police and presents them in one seamlessly controlled narrative. Like Rififi 15 years before (which Melville was originally attached to direct), Le Cercle Rouge is centered around a heist. It’s planning, execution, and fallout are depicted in detail, also like in Dassin’s film. Melville’s film takes a closer look at all of these aspects though, all while exploring the masculine romanticism and codes of honor that he obsessed over.
John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle is a tremendously influential film that hits just as hard today as it did in 1950. When it comes to caper films, this bad bitch laid down the blueprint. Much like Rififi five years later, The Asphalt Jungle worried the studio and other tight-assed conservatives due to the detailed depiction of its heist. Suits were afraid that less morally bound people would attempt to imitate the caper. That was 64 years ago. After watching it today, I don’t feel influenced to rip off a high-end jewelry store, but I would like to imitate Sterling Hayden’s aggressively gritty masculinity. Shot with Huston’s naturalistic visual style and featuring an ensemble of baddasses, The Asphalt Jungle is an essential noir.
Today the Criterion Collection is releasing a Blu-ray upgrade of Jules Dassin’s mighty Rififi. In honor of this, today’s crime review will be a reprint of a Movie of the Day column I wrote for CHUD back in September of last year. Dig:
Rififi is a flat-out brilliant and brutal caper that transcends the crime genre. It’s the complete antithesis of the decadent Hollywood heist films where everyone’s dressed as a GQ model and immune to perspiration. The four ex-cons of the film live in a much darker world where plans are hatched in dank basements and shootouts occur in secluded hills. There’s nothing pretty about the film – except for perhaps Magali Noel as the seductive lounge singer Viviane – but it still manages to be unquestionably beautiful in its execution, structure, photography, and moral nucleus.
British dramatist Patrick Hamilton’s influential play Gaslight was adapted into film twice. I watched the later American version rather than the earlier British one because I love me some Joseph Cotten. Here he plays a detective of Scotland Yard, but he hangs onto his American accent because he’s Joseph fucking Cotten and no one’s going to tell him to talk like some fancy pants British prat. Apparently the British version of Gaslight is more understated, but I really dug the gothic, grand guignol atmosphere of this one, directed by George Cukor. Also known as Murder in Thorton Square, Gaslight is an effective little psychological thriller that’s perfect for a rainy evening. Also, Joseph Cotten.
Y’know a movie is going to be hard when it starts with trash floating down a gutter. Ottto Preminger’s Where the Sidewalk Ends has a solid premise – a detective investigating a murder he committed – and one tough as nails leading man, Dana Andrews, best known as the droll cop in Preminger’s Laura. The film addresses typical noir themes such as doomed fate and punishment, all presented in Preminger’s clear-cut style. No frills or excessive visual flair, no social commentary, just a rugged, violent thriller of the streets.