This one comes recommended by Brian Saur of the mighty Rupert Pupkin Speaks – a fantastic film blog for people who simply adore cinema. He consistently shows love to a lot of underrated films from every era, which is how The Mask of Dimitrios came across my radar. This 1944 wartime noir from Romanian director Jean Negulesco reunites Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet (the little man and the fat man, as they’re referred to in the trailer), and sorta reverses the characters they played in The Maltese Falcon. One’s the blackmailer, the other a sophisticated man of letters – together they’re out to trace the final years of globetrotting scoundrel Dimitrios Makropoulos!
Sometimes the girl on a gangster’s arm is more important than the billfold in his pocket. Nothing is truer in the world of Mr. Brown, a somber, carnal crook who gets off on owning Susan Lowell, a stunning blonde who’s essentially held captive by Brown. Sniffing at Brown’s polished heels is persistent flatfoot Leonard Diamond. While he insists he’s spending the tax payers’ money to take down Brown’s big “combination,” it’s really his overwhelming lust for Susan that’s driving him. The Big Combo is director Joseph H. Lewis’ other masterpiece (alongside Gun Crazy). While on the surface it may seem like a pretty straightforward gangster flick, this bad bitch is a potent brew of cruelty and sex.
“People don’t change. It’s like those sticks of rock, bite one all the way down, you’ll still read Brighton. That’s human nature.”
24 years before he was quietly murdering women inside his flat at 10 Rillington Place, Richard Attenborough came up hard on the seedy boardwalks of Brighton Rock. Based on Graham Greene’s 1938 novel of the same name, Brighton Rock is considered by many to be the exemplary British noir. I haven’t seen nearly enough of the Brits’ output during the classic noir period to comment on that, but I can say that Brighton Rock is one powerful portrait of evil and Catholic anguish. Not to mention that Attenborough’s performance as adolescent psycho Pinkie Brown will make your knickers quake.
Why won’t anybody listen to Barbara Stanwyck?! Witness to Murder had the unfortunate timing of being released shortly before Rear Window. Both films share a similar paranoid peeping tom premise, but Witness to Murder lacks Hitchcock’s polish. The film received positive reviews, particularly for John Alton’s camerawork, but Rear Window completely overshadowed it in the long run. There’s plenty to enjoy here though, including a devilishly wicked performance by George Sanders as a refined sadist.
The third film to be based on a Mickey Spillane novel is My Gun Is Quick. Released two years after the mighty Kiss Me Deadly, My Gun Is Quick is a trim, completely comfortable noir that features my favorite depiction of Mike Hammer (although diehard Spillane fans would probably choke me out for saying that). It’s not a great caper, however, as it’s crippled by a dreadful pace and the disjointed unevenness that comes from being directed by two different filmmakers.
In a L.A. hash joint the size of a broom closet, Mike Hammer (Robert Bray) befriends Red, a young hooker hoping to save enough scratch to move back to Nebraska. Mike takes pity on the poor tramp and when a thug barges in and tries to force her out, Mike delivers a combo that lays him out quick. Before parting ways, Mike gives Red some cash for the bus back home, as well as his contact info so she can drop him a line when she arrives. On her way out of the diner, Mike notices a gaudy ring on Red’s finger – one with enough shine to blind a donkey.