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.
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.
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?
Fictional heroes typically embody a series of human ideals such as doing the right thing, protecting the innocent, seeing that justice is properly served – all that crap. Fictional anti-heroes are more realistic as they tend to be flawed in very truthful ways. In crime fiction, the majority of the heroes are divorced alcoholics and if they’re not, they’re in a loveless marriage crumbling under their obsessive work habits.
The protagonists during the golden age of hardboiled fiction usually drank their way through cases. In Dashiell Hammett’s final novel The Thin Man, Nick and Nora mix themselves a martini pretty much every other page but a possible liquid dependency is never explored. Although Philip Marlowe liked to drink when he pondered over cases and chess problems, he never checked into AA. It’s not until contemporary times that we see heroes of crime fiction crippled by their vices. Nordic author Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole character, for example, is a chronic boozehound whose addiction leads him to some severely dark edges of morality.
Stuck in between the classic noir hero and the damaged detectives of modern times resides Hoke Moseley. First introduced by author Charles Willeford in his groundbreaking novel Miami Blues (1984), Hoke is simply one of the most believable creations in crime fiction history. Not just because he drinks and possesses other flaws we can see in our ourselves, but also because he’s just a working stiff going through the same issues as you and me. He’s not a drunk, but he drinks. He’s a good cop, but doesn’t really take his work home with him. Too put it bluntly, he’s utterly relatable.
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…
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.
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.
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.
“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.