Film Noir

Secret Beyond the Door (1947)

Secret Beyond the Door... (1948)  Directed by Fritz Lang Shown: Michael Redgrave, Joan Bennett

A gothic Freudian nightmare from German maestro Fritz Lang, Secret Beyond the Door was adapted by his frequent collaborator Silvia Richards from a story by Rufus King. A sinister ‘40s twist on the French Bluebeard tale, the film is often considered a minor work in the great Lang’s oeuvre (far behind the almighty The Big Heat in my book), though even a lesser Lang film is better than the worst of most other filmmakers.

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THE KILLER IS LOOSE (1956)

The Killer Is Loose 1956

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.

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THE ICE HARVEST (2005)

The Ice Harvest

John Cusack has been cashing checks on the DTV circuit lately. Thrillers like The Numbers Station, The Factory, and Frozen Ground have allowed him to essentially phone it in, which is a sad state of affairs for such a solid actor. One of the last films where Cusack got to fully embody a character and make it clear that nobody else could play the role was Harold Ramis’ comedy neo-noir The Ice Harvest. He plays mob lawyer Charlie Arglist, a patient, calm man whose employment clashes with his inherent kindness. Watching Cusack’ less-is-more approach makes it tough to imagine anyone else in the role. His smirks, collected demeanor, and knowing gaze penetrate the colorful cast of characters he encounters on an icy Christmas Eve in Wichita, Kansas. When the mayhem clears, Arglist still manages to have a sense of decency about him. The Ice Harvest is a fine example of neo-noir in the thematic tradition of a man way in over his head.

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A CRIME AGAINST JOE (1956)

A Crime Against Joe

This one’s a pretty decent, yet wholly underwhelming “wrong man” film in which a drunk Korean War veteran is accused of murdering a young girl. A Crime Against Joe has a pretty drab script, but there’s enough interesting stuff going on to be engaging. There’s a cool high school graduation pin subplot, for example, that leads the protagonist begrudgingly down memory lane to see which of his fellow alumni is framing him for murder. Other than that element and a few other fun aspects, A Crime Against Joe fails to really pack a punch.

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THE FAKE (1953)

The-Fake-1953

Here’s a great little caper set inside London’s Tate Museum. Starring versatile noir favorite Dennis O’Keefe, The Fake is a strong example of that overused word in film criticism: “romp.” Yeah, I know, I just used it, but it really is adequate in this situation. More, The Fake is a “condensed romp,” with minimal locations and characters. There’s still a bit of that hard-edged noir aesthetic, but overall it’s a fun, lighthearted crime film that’s the sort of perfect lazy Sunday afternoon fare people spend hours penetrating Netflix for. While no means a classic, The Fake has enough unique things going for it to make it a blast to watch. I mean, when’s the last time you saw a mystery where the color lapis lazuli was a major clue?

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STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951)

Strangers on a Train

I’m currently re-reading Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, so I figured I’d repost my review of Hitchcock’s adaptation, which originally appeared on Collider last year…

Everyone, at some point in their lives, secretly wishes death on another person. We all do it. Homicidal thoughts are as natural as breathing. Hopefully you’ve never acted on yours, but if you are reading this from a prison cell, congratulations on being assertive. The notion that we all want someone dead is what drives smarmy psychopath Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) into asking tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger) for a good ol’ round of murder in Hitchcock‘s Strangers on a Train.

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ACE IN THE HOLE (1951)

09A-Ace-in-the-Hole

Shhh…you guys hear that? Sounds like some kinda music…it’s just over this dusty ridge. Yeah, it’s music. And they’re singing about…some guy named Leo stuck in a cavern. Oh! It must be Ace in the Hole, Billy Wilder’s blistering indictment of American sensationalist culture! Initially deemed too cynical on its release in 1951, Ace in the Hole stands today as powerfully ahead of its time. The public loves a good, rotten news story about death, that’s never changed. What Wilder does here is place the spectators, the politicians, and the journalists on the chopping block for the crime of producing such a vile atmosphere where the good people are exploited by the media to make a buck.

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SLEEP, MY LOVE (1948)

Sleep, My Love

German director Douglas Sirk is probably best known for his 1950s Technicolor melodramas that focused on female and domestic issues. Since their initial release, films like Magnificent Obsession  and All That Heaven Allows have grown into critical and cult successes for their intelligent criticisms of American society. Bridging the gap between his early work and these celebrated melodramas is Sleep, My Love – a psychological noir that has a familiar plot, but sharp directing and top notch acting all around.

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THE CHASE (1946)

The Chase 1946

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.

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EYES IN THE NIGHT (1942)

Eyes in the Night

“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.

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