Budd Boetticher’s The Killer Is Loose took the psychopaths off the streets and put them in the swell suburban homes of America, which certainly chilled audiences out of their bobby socks upon its release in 1956. Made 10 years after World War II, this film presents a different type of killer – one that’s more traumatized by war than he is simply mad. A sharply directed film noir, The Killer Is Loose is a strong B-picture that’s required viewing for folks interested in the evolution of cinema psychos.
8 MILLION WAYS TO DIE (1986)
This Friday, the big screen adaptation of Lawrence Block’s A Walk Among the Tombstones hits theaters. Liam Neeson, riding high on his action renaissance sparked by Taken, plays Block’s iconic private eye and recovering alcoholic Matthew Scudder. It’s a damn good book and from what I’ve heard, Scott Frank’s film for the most part stays faithful and captures the grittiness and black soul of Block’s vision.
This isn’t the first time a Scudder novel has made its way to film. Back in the summer of ’86, Jeff Bridges first played him in Hal Ashby’s 8 Million Ways to Die. The adaptation had some truly solid writers behind it: Oliver Stone, David Lee Henry (Road House), and Robert Towne (Chinatown). This turned out to be the final film for Ashby, who was one of the most captivating filmmakers of the ‘70s. He was a socially conscious director whose output represents some of the most heartfelt human dramas of the era (Harold & Maude, The Last Detail, Being There).
A SIMPLE PLAN (1998)
“You don’t steal the American dream, you work for it.”
There are loads of movies where progressively worse crimes are committed to cover up the initial one, which tends to seem so innocent at the time. The wicked fun Quicksand comes to mind. I don’t think there are any as quite heartbreaking as Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan. The film takes the audience slowly through the consequences of that first act of crime, showing how it unravels the lives of the players involved. Inevitably, it causes them to turn on each other, but in places far more painful than their pocketbook. Before Minnesota family man Hank Mitchell (Bill Paxton) fully realizes it, he’s trapped in a spiral of blind greed, murder, and ultimately, deep remorse.
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.
WAIT UNTIL DARK (1967)
My mother recommended I check out this ’60s thriller Wait Until Dark. She said that when she saw it in the theater, they had an ambulance parked in the lobby in case anyone had a heart attack or something. I wish they still pulled gimmicks like that – spice up things, y’know? I didn’t have to be resuscitated while watching the film, but hot damn is there some thick suspense in this one. It’s directed by Terence Young, who did a buncha Bond films, and it’s based on a play, which makes sense being that it takes place in essentially one room in a tiny apartment. Everything from the set up to the climax is pulled off really well, in particular Mr. Alan Arkin’s absolutely terrifying role. Smash the light bulbs and let’s dig in.
LE DEUXIEME SOUFFLE (1966)
Le Deuxiéme Souffle (Second Breath) was Jean-Pierre Melville’s first film after a four year hiatus in the mid-60s. It was also his final black & white film. Once again he proved himself to be France’s most masterful stylist, while also reinforcing his favored themes of loyalty, friendship, and doomed masculinity. Word is bond in the world of Melville, and Le Deuxiéme Souffle‘s anti-hero Gu Minda (the monolith Lino Ventura) makes that statement numerous times during the film. It’s a pretty standard gangster tragedy, but in the hands of Melville, the film is a contemplative morality play with visual style and inventiveness out the ass.
UN FLIC (1972)
Yesterday we looked at Melville’s Bob le flambeur – a film that saw the French crime maverick developing the style and motifs he’d eventually refine in his classic gangster cycle. Today we’re jumping forward in time to his final film, Un flic (A Cop), which was released in 1972 – one year before the filmmaker’s premature death. Here Melville seems to be fetishizing and embellishing the trademark touches he developed late in his career: meticulous heist sequences, minimal dialogue, long glares, homoerotic undertones. All these elements are presented to an almost absurd degree. The result is a visually fascinating caper that frustratingly lacks the emotionally engaging sacrificial gut punches of his classics.
THE OUTFIT (1973)
I became obsessed with the novels of Richard Stark (pseudonym of Donald Westlake) about a year ago. By mid-2013, I had read all 16 novels in the original series revolving around career criminal Parker. There’s not a bad one in the lot. I love the economic prose and the toughness of the Parker character. They’ve made a few films based on the series, some bad, some amazing. Here’s a look at one of the (better) film adaptations of a Parker novel, 1973’s The Outfit.
10 RILLINGTON PLACE (1971)
Based on the true story of UK serial killer John Christie (Richard Attenborough), who during the 1940s and early 1950s murdered at least eight women, 10 Rillington Place is a mercilessly dark and unconventional film. Christie would rent out rooms in his building as a front for his murders and also hire prostitutes to bring back and dispose of. The film focuses on one particular killing, that of Beryl Evans (Judy Geeson), and the subsequent trial that wrongfully condemned her husband Tim (John Hurt) to death. If you’re looking for a feel-good movie, stay the hell away from 10 Rillington Place. (more…)
THE KILLERS (1946)
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.