Aww yeah, another Cornell Woolrich adaptation…The Chase is based on Woolrich’s 1944 “Black Path of Fear,” from his famous “Black” series, which includes Phantom Lady. The adaptation follows closely to the book (minus the opium dens), so viewers familiar with Woolrich won’t be surprised by the breakneck twist that occurs two thirds into this caper. The twist, however, is totally bonkers one and may turn some viewers off. The Chase, starring Robert Cummings, Steve Cochran, and the mighty Peter Lorre is a fantastic noir if you can stomach the twist. While some consider it ballsy, others may consider cheap.
Month: May 2014
EYES IN THE NIGHT (1942)
“Now you’re in my world…darkness!”
Based on Baynard Kendrick’s 1941 novel “The Odor of Violets,” Eyes in the Night is an entertaining mystery-comedy elevated by the presence of Edward Arnold as a cunning blind detective. The feature-length directial debut of Fred Zinnemann (Act of Violence), Eyes in the Night is definitely above-par for a B-crime film, but viewers looking for the hard edge of noir should look elsewhere. This is a wholesome affair, with a German shepherd named Friday that steals the show and plenty of humor cracking up the seedier crime elements.
Impact is a wholly typical domestic noir in which a wife plans to murder her husband and get away with it by playing stupid. This was a hugely popular motif in the ’40s, with a lot of scripts scratching at the coattails of Double Indemnity. While that film leaves imitators in the dust, some of the them have just enough to offer to be worth a watch. Case in point: Impact, a fun, but lazily directed film that proposes an intriguing legal case though bores terribly during the second act.
Quicksand refers to the impressively pathetic hole that Danny Brady (Mickey Rooney) digs for himself throughout this fatalistic workingman’s noir. What starts as “borrowing” $20 from the till at the garage where he works turns into grand larceny and murder. The film’s message damning greed is steeped in gritty atmosphere provided by Long Beach’s waterfront amusement park, The Pike. As Danny sinks further into the clutches of fate, he learns the hard way that stealing money from the till is just the tip of the corruption iceberg.
PLAN FOR ESCAPE (1952)
Plan for Escape was part of the Emmy-winning CBS series Studio One (sponsored by Westinghouse appliances, a point that’s made several times during the program), a weekly series that ran for a whopping 10 seasons. The program originated as a weekly dramatic radio show, then transitioned to television during the late ’40s. Watching this 60-miute drama, I couldn’t help but yearn for something like this on contemporary TV. Not to complain about the “golden age of TV” that’s been going on since The Sopranos, but programming is lacking a weekly anthology like this one. Just one hour that presents a good old-fashioned drama with hot shit actors. My kingdom for a show like that right now.
Anyways, Plan for Escape focuses on the girlfriend of a wealthy gangster who’s sick of being confined and looked over. It’s a fairly straightforward story with a misleading title, though the finale is elevated by sharp direction and a taught showdown.
PLEASE MURDER ME (1956)
In hindsight, you know why Angela Lansbury makes such a wicked femme fatale? After planting herself in the national consciousness as kindly old gumshoe Jessica Fletcher for 12 years, seeing her in a role like Myra in Please Murder Me is jarring. Earlier in her career she scored big playing baddies and this little B-thriller is a great example of her dark side. Directed by Peter Godrey (The Two Mrs. Carrolls), Please Murder Me is 74-minutes of nasty little power plays and shocking revenge through sacrifice. And one super sketchy murder trial.
OF BONSAI AND BALANCE: THE HERO’S JOURNEY IN THE KARATE KID
This article originally appeared in the Sept. 2012 issue of Paracinema Magazine.
“First learn stand, then learn fly.”
If there’s one overused approach to the academic examination of film it’s the application of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth. First presented by Campbell in his seminal 1949 book “The Hero With a Thousand Faces,” the idea of the monomyth (also known as The Hero’s Journey) explores our shared history and examines a common thread that appears in the nature of our different cultures. It presents a pattern in myths, legends, fairy tales, etc. in which the hero goes through specific stages to transform into an archetype. Campbell’s book looks at why/how this pattern naturally emerged out of different stories from all over the globe and traces it throughout history. Of course, the monomyth pattern existed long before Campbell laid it all out in “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” in works like “Beowulf” and “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” and that seemingly omnipresence of it is what makes the monomyth so damn interesting and important.
T-Men is one of those semi-documentary films (like Call Northside 777) that brown noses the feds, but viewers expecting an over-staged presentation of federal prowess will be surprised. These “semi-documentary” films are usually not my bag, but this one is seriously dark and downright ruthless in parts. It also never romanticizes the life of a U.S. Treasury agent. It does quite the opposite, in fact. There’s a fair amount of newsreel propaganda and even a “public service announcement” from the Secretary of Treasury acting as prologue, but T-Men feels way more like a brooding underworld noir than stiff government kitsch.
ROAD HOUSE (1948)
First off, I wanna say that the road house depicted in Road House is AWESOME. It’s low-ceilinged, built like a log cabin. There’s a bowling alley, a bar, a sporting goods store, and Ida Lupino playing piano. This is the coolest (fictional) joint west of Chicago. Now if it wasn’t for the tension between its manager and owner, Jefty’s Road House would be perfect.
After Richard Widmark struck it big with Kiss of Death and Street With No Name, Ida Lupino personally requested that he play in Road House, which was her star vehicle. He essentially plays a variation of Tommy Udo, with the psychotic tendencies clicked down a few notches. But ho boy does he resurrect that beautiful, unnerving laugh from hell. Road House, directed by Jean Negulesco (Mask of Dimitrios), has a simple story infused with brilliant dialogue and heaps of noir aesthetics. Man, I really love this sharp little movie.
RECENT REVIEWS FROM BEYOND
Here’s a rundown of the reviews I’ve recently written for Bloody Disgusting! A nice brew of good and bad, like mixing Fruity Pebbles with arsenic. Enjoy!
DER SAMURAI: impressively weird film outta Germany.
WHITEWASH: like the Coen Bros. meet Jack London.
ALL CHEERLEADERS MUST DIE: the new Lucky McGee film, supernatural cheerleader revenge.
APP: innovative Dutch film that turns your phone into a second screen. Kinda fun, but annoying at times.
AXEMAN: one of the worst “’80s homage” slashers I’ve seen in a while.
TORTURE CHAMBER: wholly unique, but scrappy film that’s like watching someone’s nightmare.