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.
UNLAWFUL ENTRY (1992)
Before the review, I wanna note that Jonathan Kaplan, the director of today’s film, Unlawful Entry (a reworking of yesterday’s film The Prowler), also directed the underrated 1979 juvenile delinquent tale Over the Edge. I named this blog after the fictional housing development where that film takes place: New Granada. So yeah, that’s pretty cool. Kaplan has had a pretty versatile career, which includes the mighty trucksploitation film White Line Fever and lots of Law & Order: SVU episodes. And the guy’s still working well into his ’70s. Here’s to you, Mr. Kaplan.
BLAST OF SILENCE (1961)
“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.
CRISS CROSS (1949)
Talk about a blueprint for film noir, Robert Siodmak’s Criss Cross lays down an impenetrably stark view of the Los Angeles underworld and one poor sucker who gets trapped in its web. What lured him there? A woman, duh. The title refers to the barrel of bluffs characters dip their heads into – bobbing for salvation. While film noir is known for its doomed heroes and hopelessness, Criss Cross transcends these motifs and reaches this surreal nightmare of despair, obsession, and betrayal unmatched in the golden era.
ACT OF VIOLENCE (1948)
Post-war disillusionment is often noted as one of the overall themes of film noir. A soldier returns from war to be greeted by a sardonic American society not worth fighting for – that’s a broad example. Austro-American director Fred Zinnemann’s hopelessly grim thriller Act of Violence takes on this disillusionment fist-first, with a tightly-wound reversal of the good guy/bad guy set up that barrels forward to its ill-fated climax. Heightened by six terrific performances, this dark little film offers a bit of redemption at the end, though not without a price.
KISS OF DEATH (1947)
“Y’know what I do to squealers? I give it to em in the belly.”
Man, it doesn’t get slimier than Tommy Udo. Richard Widmark made his screen debut in this 1947 thriller from director Henry Hathaway (The House on 92nd Street), and goddamn did he make his mark. Kiss of Death made him an instant star. The film is based on the book by Elazar Lipsky, a former assistant district attorney in New York and is loaded with inside detail on how the judicial system works – and it ain’t pretty.