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RE: My Top Film Noir - 9/1/2010 9:36:58 AM   
homersimpson_esq


Posts: 20118
Joined: 30/9/2005
From: Springfield
quote:

ORIGINAL: elab49

No. 38

 
Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)
 
d. Boris Ingster
w. Frank Patros (uncredited work from Nathanial West)
 
 
Spoiler Free Synopsis: A reporter who witnesses the aftermath of a murder discovers how easy it is to be the victim of circumstances.

The last shall be first and the first shall be last as the saying goes – or at least 3rd from last. Stranger on the Third Floor is pretty much universally acknowledged as the first film noir. Along with two other films (Citizen Kane and I Wake Up Screaming) from 1940/41, this RKO B movie is seen as a seminal work that helped set the tone for the film noir cannon – this in no small measure due to Van Nest Polglase's art direction on two of them. Here it is considered to be the earliest example of the blurring of the line between reality and dream and display of German Expressionism in a Hollywood film.

Ingster the director didn't have much of an impact apart from this although he had formerly been with UFA, the German film studio that provided a home to the likes of Lang, Murnau, Wilder and Siodmak. And while Frank Patros did contribute to another couple of classic noirs his better work was more tangential to the genre – De Havilland's spell in the asylum in The Snake Pit and a very enjoyable ghost story with Ray Milland called The Uninvited. But with Polglase and cameraman Nicolas Musuraca the anticipated style of film noir is there to see. Musuraca is up there with the likes of Metty and Laszlo when it comes to noir work and his low key lighting helps turn the film into a study of paranoia and guilt. When the guilty verdict comes in the tone turns dark and the lighting contrasts deepen. We see through tilted cameras (not really seen again till post-The Third Man but had been popular with the likes of James Whale), with odd angles throwing ominous shadows on the wall. The neighbourhood of low rent rooming houses, unpleasant neighbours and run-down restaurants gets creepier even before we finally see the appearance of the man whose name above the title caused confusion given how small the part was – Peter Lorre could have sleepwalked whose appearance generally harks back to Cesare and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.



Other noir staples are here too. As Ward realises how easy it is for circumstance to place you at the sharp end he flashbacks to his run in with his obnoxious neighbour Meng (beautifully played by Charles Halton) – panicking after finding a body he ends up acting in the same way as the unfortunate Briggs (Elisha Cook Jr – he appears therefore, of course, it is a noir!). After the verdict the voiceover starts - not the normal narrative, more stream of consciousness. And the dream sequence. Over 6 minutes of full-blown German Expressionism as Ward faces the courts with the sleeping jurors, justice gone dark (previously shown lit up as he wrestled his with his conscience in trying to decide what to do), and the vision of a blind judge with scales and scythe. Justice is not blind to bias but truth.



It is a remarkably cynical and bitter film. Cynicism represented by Ward's mentor – newspapermen were good for this role. As far as he is concerned it makes no difference if Briggs is innocent and gets the chair – there's too many people in the world anyway! Justice was not portrayed so nastily again till later in the 40s with the likes of Lady From Shanghai. From the newspapermen disparaging the idea of innocence being relevant to the clearly bored courtroom personnel – the judge is caught napping, the defence is incompetent and the jury is asleep. Justice is konked out and snoring.  It makes a joke of the thesis offered in the history of courtroom cinema in the recent Beeb documentary that there was faith in the system and in justice until the world fell apart. In the late 60s and 70s cynicism prevailed - lawyers became bad guys and judges set up hit squads. Sure mistakes were made earlier but with Atticus Finch there to protect us we knew there was right and truth in the world. Stranger on the Third Floor does not subscribe to this view.


Overall the acting is decent. John McGuire is pretty bland although he handles the voiceover well and Tallichet's (Mrs William Wyler) performance is fine. Her investigation in the final quarter of the film is said to be one of the influences on Siodmak's Phantom Lady – of which more later. Elisha Cook Jr gives an excellent account of himself as the persecuted Briggs whose plaintive cries proclaiming his innocence as he is led away lead to the change in tone.

One final thing. You always wonder if you are overanalysing with some of these films. But Ingster was another immigrant who left Nazi Germany. The film is about the oppression of innocence and how easily doing nothing means it could happen to you to. So part of the dream sequence might point to the theme being something else entirely….







During my apparent hiatus from regular lists & top 10 visitations, I seem to have entirely missed this thread. I'm going to go through it bit by bit for noir recommendations as I investigate a genre I have a burgeoning love of, but little knowledge of. Recently watched this one, and after noticing your reference to German Expressionism, I can see where my love of noir stems from, as I do like a good German Expressionist film!

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Post #: 241
RE: My Top Film Noir - 9/1/2010 10:33:47 AM   
TRM


Posts: 4797
Joined: 20/10/2006
From: Bristol
quote:



and after noticing your reference to German Expressionism, I can see where my love of noir stems from, as I do like a good German Expressionist film!



You should read that book sometime


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Post #: 242
RE: My Top Film Noir - 9/1/2010 11:13:28 AM   
elab49


Posts: 54577
Joined: 1/10/2005
Did you enjoy the film, Homer?

There will be a review here by tomorrow night. I may as well commit myself to something I can only fail at

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quote:

ORIGINAL: Deviation] LIKE AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS TOO. IT MADE ME LAUGH A LOT AND THOUGHT IT WAS WITTY. ALSO I FEEL SLOWLY DYING INSIDE. I KEEP AGREEING WITH ELAB.


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Post #: 243
RE: My Top Film Noir - 9/1/2010 11:24:30 AM   
homersimpson_esq


Posts: 20118
Joined: 30/9/2005
From: Springfield
I did! It was effective in what it did, albeit a little short...!

And the book is next on my "to read" list...  

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Post #: 244
RE: My Top Film Noir - 10/1/2010 4:39:26 PM   
elab49


Posts: 54577
Joined: 1/10/2005
No. 27



Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947)


Directed & Written: Felix E Feist (from a novel by Robert C DuSoe)
 
Spoiler-Free Synopsis. If you learn one thing from this classic noir list then shivering hitchhikers will be left vainly waggling their thumbs from Lands End to John O'Groats. Jimmy Ferguson didn't learn.   Slightly tipsy on the way home to Los Angeles to his nearly new wife he stops to give killer Steve Morgan a ride.
 
Devil is one of the very low budget end of the 40s films – they even have to squeeze the star's name in the title frame! It looks very Poverty Row but was actually an RKO B picture (although budgets were generally lower at RKO than the major studios – and to an extent I sometimes think noir in the 40s is almost synonymous with the RKO logo broadcasting tower, even though there is a good spread of studios in this list). 
 
Steve Morgan starts by killing a bank depositor before heading off to hitch a ride out of town, chancing on salesman Fergie – happy, hapless and heading home. Ticking off a remarkably observant pump jockey to his cost – Jack Kenny (who's a regular reporter of crimes to the cops), recognises the description of Morgan and ends tagging along with Detective Owens for the duration. Most of the cop scenes in the film revolve around card games (something else Kenny excels at) – partly a comment on them, maybe, but also a good reminder of how short the time span of the film is with one continuous game playing throughout one very long night for the occupants of Fergie's car.
 

 
The 2 men pick up a brassy blonde and a quieter runaway and head to a beach house owned by a friend of Fergie after running into a roadblock. Morgan uses Fergie's inebriation to manipulate him while making disturbing moves on the pretty brunette, playing on her dream of heading to Hollywood.  
 
Lawrence Tierney isn't the greatest actor on this list – far from it. But he provided a remarkably convincing air of menace – of barely suppressed psychosis. Maybe that wasn't acting – and it made him perfect for the eponymous 'hero' of this noir. You can't beat a good maniac in noir – the nut you inadvertently bump into when you're enjoying your good life, sailing along untroubled. But then one decision, one mistakenly good act, and everything goes to hell. Granted this is still America in the 40s and bad endings are still rare enough for you to have to read through the 'nice ending' tagged onto a film that should so clearly have gone the other way. But Fergie suffers for his mistake – his home, his reputation, his freedom and his life all come under threat because of one foolish act. And you still have the worm in the nice domestic set-up, the suspicion and the mother still in the background
 


 
The quality of the others varies. Ted North is fine as nice guy Fergie and his character is well-written – convincingly convinced to do kind of the wrong thing so as not to get into too much trouble, but still desperate to get home and generally missing how dangerous Morgan really is until it is too late. You wouldn't have thought there could be a worse actor than Peter Lawford in his family, though, but there was. Betty Lawford playing the more knowing Agnes is at times almost laughably bad and is one of the reasons the film isn't higher. It varies though – sometimes her low low voice can't handle her lines, the next she manages a couple of sentences than run through fine. As she makes clear just how little she cares about doing the right thing, backing up Morgan in his final con, she actually does quite well. There is one fascinating line referring to cigarette stubs as 'dead soldiers' – a world away from how the term is used now, in the post-Wire world. And Nan Leslie makes clear to us just how chilling Morgan's controlling behaviour is, even before being trapped in the beach house with him. With Agnes in the bedroom reading Balzac, and Fergie dashing round trying to get his wife back on the phone, Carol is basically left to Morgan to do what he wants with.
 

As with much noir the family life is idealised – regular trips to Fergie's lovely little pregnant wife in her frothy bedroom but, even here, although they can't resist the annoying ending, we have the fly in the ointment with her bitter complaining mother that eventually drives wifey onto the road herself, after being primed to think the worse even before she hears the music and women in the background.
 
The work behind the camera is perfectly OK but isn't the reason the film made the list. Although cinematographer J Roy Hunt gave us the stunning visuals in Tourneur's I Walked With A Zombie and was an RKO regular, he didn't bring more of that to noir– the closest he came was some equally good work on Dymytryk's almost but not quite noir Crossfire. And director Feist hasn't done that much we would be aware of now but was well known from his 'Crime Doesn't Pay' shorts at the time. HIs only other major noir featured dead-faced harridan Crawford.
 
Devil Thumbs a Ride is probably one of the hardest to get a hold of in this list (it didn't even make the first editions of the bible of American Film Noir by Silver and Ward!), but is well worth the attempt. Even without the overtly expressionist camerawork, the tension ramps up nicely in that beach house as Morgan twists and turns to get out that door and away with Fergie learning the lesson of one bad decision. There is light relief on the police side, with the poker and picking up wedding parties, but remarkably that, and the cutaways to the happy domestic home, don't detract from the threat Morgan represents giving us one of the best dangerous madmen that Tierney added to his repertoire.
 


 
Trivia: Director Felix E Feist was stepfather to fantasy writer Raymond E Feist.
 
 

< Message edited by elab49 -- 10/1/2010 4:49:45 PM >


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quote:

ORIGINAL: Deviation] LIKE AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS TOO. IT MADE ME LAUGH A LOT AND THOUGHT IT WAS WITTY. ALSO I FEEL SLOWLY DYING INSIDE. I KEEP AGREEING WITH ELAB.


Annual Poll 2013 - All Lists Welcome

(in reply to elab49)
Post #: 245
RE: My Top Film Noir - 10/1/2010 5:10:57 PM   
rawlinson

 

Posts: 45002
Joined: 13/6/2008
From: Timbuktu. Chinese or Fictional.
Excellent choice!

quote:

Lawrence Tierney isn't the greatest actor on this list – far from it. But he provided a remarkably convincing air of menace – of barely suppressed psychosis. Maybe that wasn't acting – and it made him perfect for the eponymous 'hero' of this noir.


Yeah, he was a mad bastard. They didn't invite him back to do any more Seinfeld eps after he stole a knife on set.

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Post #: 246
RE: My Top Film Noir - 10/1/2010 10:10:50 PM   
elab49


Posts: 54577
Joined: 1/10/2005
quote:

ORIGINAL: rawlinson

Excellent choice!



I remember it coming up in your list and being very careful not to give my opinion on it then!

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quote:

ORIGINAL: Deviation] LIKE AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS TOO. IT MADE ME LAUGH A LOT AND THOUGHT IT WAS WITTY. ALSO I FEEL SLOWLY DYING INSIDE. I KEEP AGREEING WITH ELAB.


Annual Poll 2013 - All Lists Welcome

(in reply to rawlinson)
Post #: 247
RE: My Top Film Noir - 10/1/2010 11:38:50 PM   
rawlinson

 

Posts: 45002
Joined: 13/6/2008
From: Timbuktu. Chinese or Fictional.
 I think you said it was the kind of film you just knew I'd like.

< Message edited by rawlinson -- 10/1/2010 11:39:08 PM >

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Post #: 248
RE: My Top Film Noir - 11/1/2010 12:01:39 AM   
elab49


Posts: 54577
Joined: 1/10/2005
And one that would confirm PA's then recently made comment about the mad films you were choosing

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quote:

ORIGINAL: Deviation] LIKE AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS TOO. IT MADE ME LAUGH A LOT AND THOUGHT IT WAS WITTY. ALSO I FEEL SLOWLY DYING INSIDE. I KEEP AGREEING WITH ELAB.


Annual Poll 2013 - All Lists Welcome

(in reply to rawlinson)
Post #: 249
RE: My Top Film Noir - 14/1/2010 9:44:42 PM   
elab49


Posts: 54577
Joined: 1/10/2005
No. 26
 

 
The Racket (1951)

Director: John Cromwell

Writer: William Haines/WR Burnett from a play by Bartlett Cormack

Spoiler-Free Synopsis - in a world away from black and white good and bad guys, a cop and a gangster run up against each other for a final time as the world changes around them.

The Racket has a fascinating back story. The film itself is a remake of a 1928 film by Lewis Milestone (which I haven't seen, but it seems to have had a fairly recent run on TCM in the US with a good print so it might turn up yet). This was, in turn, based on a play by Bartlett Cormack, recently brought out for a run in LA starring Edward G Robinson as Nick Scarsi (Scanlon in the remake). Howard Hughes liked what he saw and took it up as one of his first film projects – he also produced the remake.

Like Ben Hecht before him, Cormack was a journalist from Chicago (they may even have been on the Chicago Daily News at the same time – that background might help when you consider the character of the idealistic reporter in the film). While Hecht effectively created the gangster genre with Von Sternberg with the classic Underworld, Cormack's contribution was a play – a searing indictment of city and police corruption that, oddly, never got a run in Chicago. The 1928 film was banned there too. It probably didn't help that the oft mentioned but never seen 'old man' was taken as a thinly veiled attack on the then Mayor of Chicago, Big Bill Thompson and the main gangster was called Nick Scarsi – close enough to Scarface at the time Capone still controlled the city. The connections don't end there, either, as one of Cormack's first scripts in Hollywood was the adaptation for Lewis Milestone of the Hecht/MacArthur play The Front Page. Later, Cormack gave us the powerful proto-noir Fury for Fritz Lang. Of which, more anon.



What's really fascinating about this film for me are the underlying ideas. The nature of crime in this city is changing – the thugs who rule by violence (Ryan) are losing grounds to corporate corruption, the real evil. The 'old man' has disappeared behind the scenes and a new broom is doing things a different way – using his brain, leaving Scanlon and his tactics out to dry, fed up with cleaning up Scanlon's mess. Scanlon himself is on the edge of being sacrificed and can't seem to grasp that – when the new blood deals with a snitch cleverly (undermining anything they might claim under oath), Scanlon goes ahead and deals with him his way. It's the move from Avon Barksdale to Stringer Bell being played out decades earlier – the cycle goes on because the thugs who live in the 'real world' and know what they are doing never quite get beaten down.

The match to Ryan's Scanlon is Robert Mitchum as McQuigg – he too is subject to superiors causing him trouble – corrupt cops and a corrupt judiciary. It pushes him beyond the law to what he thinks is right and wrong – framing people can be the right thing. The symbolic destruction of a writ of habeas corpus. And his final set-up of the form of corruption he can deal with – Scanlon, who just wasn't going to leave the station in one piece once Johnson died. McQuigg's actions are just as violent as the oppositions – well, the opposition he can deal with.

The Racket is a far more successful adaptation to film than, e.g., Wyler's Detective Story, from the same year, which remains powerful but doesn't break out from its stage origins. With The Racket, you'd be hard-pressed to realise this was a play on first viewing, with suspicion only arising during the final scenes at the police station. The screen allows Cromwell to continually shoot Ryan as the big man, towering over the new bloods and their 'nice' way to run corruption – the only man he matches for size is the first confrontation with Mitchum – 2 men in much the same position on either side of the law.



For the screenplay I'd give most credit to Burnett. He's already appeared here as the writer of This Gun for Hire. His High Sierra was adapted to noir twice (and IMO influenced a couple of the Nikkatsu noirs as well). Later work included The Asphalt Jungle but at the start of his film career his work contributed to both Little Caesar and Scarface and it is that type of gangster control, the way they worked then, that he presents as changing here as the slick businessman take control, although this play pre-dated both of them. That said, those who've seen/read the play/original film suggest the script is fairly close to both.


Greater focus is given to the criminal side of the film - Mitchum doesn't even turn up till nearly a 1/3rd of the way through the film, although his character gets an early mention at the crime commission, providing an example of what those running the show do to good cops – move them around, wear them down by attrition, never let them get too settled or too close. While there is an element of hope – perhaps McQuigg can think several moves ahead as he does at the end – maybe he still has a shot against the new deal. But beating the Scanlon's doesn't mean a thing anymore – and at least he realises that. It's the paper shufflers at the crime commission who'll be tracking down these bad guys. Not for the murders they commit – but with the paper trail. Capone's taxes in real life, dodgy real estate investment in this film.


In some ways the story in The Racket is a prototype for elements of The Big Heat – the larger scale corruption, undermined by old-fashioned thuggery, the presentation of the domestic security of the good guys infiltrated by bombs – but here they don't have the courage to destroy it completely and twist the 'hero', and there aren't really any key female characters – Lizbeth Scott has very little to do in a minor moll role with a small romance on the side (the aforesaid honest reporter), nothing like Gloria Grahame was to get. The Racket is more cerebral in its treatment of the nature of crime and corruption changing in the big city.

Ryan provides a powerful and frustrated presence at the centre of the film, as a gangster not going out without a fight, even when it dawns on him the end is near at the police station, when he realises from those supposedly on his side that he is going to be sacrificed for the 'greater good'. You can almost feel sympathy for the predicament he's in - unusual given we are clear that he is a man used to using violence. William Talman (easily recognisable by anyone who ever watched Raymond Burr in Perry Mason) is an honest and observant cop who suffers for looking up to McQuigg. Don Porter is excellent as the new broom, ward boss Connolly, using his multi-badged bagman to help keep things under control. Like Raymond Burr, William Conrad spent most of noir as a bad guy – a thoughtful and intelligent, but corrupt cop here. He has few scenes but stands out in them all.  


Cinematographer Diskant turned up earlier with some good work on Kansas City Confidential and provides the same here – his best work though, IMO, was in the 2 that just missed the list discussed above – Narrow Margin and On Dangerous Ground.
Trivia – apart from the bewildering number of potential directors the film had (including Nicholas Ray and Samuel Fuller apparently did early work on the script), John Cromwell, the final choice, actually appeared as McQuigg when the play ran in the late 1920s, presumably against Edward G's Scarsi.

< Message edited by elab49 -- 22/1/2010 4:17:07 PM >


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quote:

ORIGINAL: Deviation] LIKE AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS TOO. IT MADE ME LAUGH A LOT AND THOUGHT IT WAS WITTY. ALSO I FEEL SLOWLY DYING INSIDE. I KEEP AGREEING WITH ELAB.


Annual Poll 2013 - All Lists Welcome

(in reply to elab49)
Post #: 250
RE: My Top Film Noir - 17/1/2010 11:40:47 PM   
elab49


Posts: 54577
Joined: 1/10/2005
Up next - in a stunning 3 entries in just over a week development - a noir from a director who'll also turn up a wee bit higher, starring a man who will turn up even higher, and for which I've just had to watch a French film too.

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quote:

ORIGINAL: Deviation] LIKE AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS TOO. IT MADE ME LAUGH A LOT AND THOUGHT IT WAS WITTY. ALSO I FEEL SLOWLY DYING INSIDE. I KEEP AGREEING WITH ELAB.


Annual Poll 2013 - All Lists Welcome

(in reply to elab49)
Post #: 251
RE: My Top Film Noir - 17/1/2010 11:43:48 PM   
rawlinson

 

Posts: 45002
Joined: 13/6/2008
From: Timbuktu. Chinese or Fictional.
quote:

ORIGINAL: elab49

Up next - in a stunning 3 entries in just over a week development - a noir from a director who'll also turn up a wee bit higher, starring a man who will turn up even higher, and for which I've just had to watch a French film too.


I know what it is.

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Post #: 252
RE: My Top Film Noir - 17/1/2010 11:45:17 PM   
elab49


Posts: 54577
Joined: 1/10/2005
Piles probably does too



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quote:

ORIGINAL: Deviation] LIKE AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS TOO. IT MADE ME LAUGH A LOT AND THOUGHT IT WAS WITTY. ALSO I FEEL SLOWLY DYING INSIDE. I KEEP AGREEING WITH ELAB.


Annual Poll 2013 - All Lists Welcome

(in reply to rawlinson)
Post #: 253
RE: My Top Film Noir - 17/1/2010 11:48:30 PM   
rawlinson

 

Posts: 45002
Joined: 13/6/2008
From: Timbuktu. Chinese or Fictional.
Your clue reads like Miles's TWBB post.  Or a Derek Acorah cold reading 'There's a director who'll be in the list somewhere else and another man who's also in the list, with letters in his name and France is somehow related. Ask about it, you'll see I'm right.'

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Post #: 254
RE: My Top Film Noir - 17/1/2010 11:50:58 PM   
elab49


Posts: 54577
Joined: 1/10/2005
I would point out, however, that you understood it.

So not complete babble. Or a babble dialect you understand. One of the two. Well, 3 unless we discount Dante's Equation. Which is also, I believe, the name of a rather bad post-DaVinci Code book.

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quote:

ORIGINAL: Deviation] LIKE AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS TOO. IT MADE ME LAUGH A LOT AND THOUGHT IT WAS WITTY. ALSO I FEEL SLOWLY DYING INSIDE. I KEEP AGREEING WITH ELAB.


Annual Poll 2013 - All Lists Welcome

(in reply to rawlinson)
Post #: 255
RE: My Top Film Noir - 17/1/2010 11:55:41 PM   
rawlinson

 

Posts: 45002
Joined: 13/6/2008
From: Timbuktu. Chinese or Fictional.
quote:

ORIGINAL: elab49

I would point out, however, that you understood it.

So not complete babble. Or a babble dialect you understand. One of the two. Well, 3 unless we discount Dante's Equation. Which is also, I believe, the name of a rather bad post-DaVinci Code book.


I speak babble like a native. I don't know if I've seen The Racket, it's not ringing bells at the mo'. I do know I missed Wallander episodes somewhere and I'm v annoyed. I know that's not related but it's still annoying.

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Post #: 256
RE: My Top Film Noir - 18/1/2010 12:06:17 AM   
elab49


Posts: 54577
Joined: 1/10/2005
You mean the original? I'd to check it epi by epi as they kept changing the number of the epi and the total (at first it was out of 10, because they'd shown the 3 originally) and then out of 13 and then possibly not quite in the right order. But I think I have, now, 13 epis and all different

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quote:

ORIGINAL: Deviation] LIKE AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS TOO. IT MADE ME LAUGH A LOT AND THOUGHT IT WAS WITTY. ALSO I FEEL SLOWLY DYING INSIDE. I KEEP AGREEING WITH ELAB.


Annual Poll 2013 - All Lists Welcome

(in reply to rawlinson)
Post #: 257
RE: My Top Film Noir - 18/1/2010 12:12:48 AM   
rawlinson

 

Posts: 45002
Joined: 13/6/2008
From: Timbuktu. Chinese or Fictional.
quote:

ORIGINAL: elab49

You mean the original? I'd to check it epi by epi as they kept changing the number of the epi and the total (at first it was out of 10, because they'd shown the 3 originally) and then out of 13 and then possibly not quite in the right order. But I think I have, now, 13 epis and all different


It's all over the place. I just realised I have two copies of The Container Lorry and The Castle Ruins, and no idea how.  I seem to be missing The Darkness, The African and Mastermind.  I wonder if they're going to show the second series.  I'd like to see the original series that were based on the novels with Rolf Lassgard, I don't have any of those. I do have audiobooks for most of them though.

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Post #: 258
RE: My Top Film Noir - 18/1/2010 7:01:51 AM   
elab49


Posts: 54577
Joined: 1/10/2005
I think the Beeb have already announced they'll be showing it - not too far away either, as I'm pretty sure it was mentioned that the Swedish series would be back, I think, later this year, when the Branagh one started.

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Post #: 259
RE: My Top Film Noir - 19/1/2010 4:59:05 PM   
rick_7


Posts: 6151
Joined: 30/9/2005
From: The internet
Incredible stuff on The Racket - you don't usually get that kind of analysis outside of one of those glossy BFI books.
 
I didn't realise Conrad was in it. I don't think I knew him when I saw the film; he's great in Cry Danger. Good point about the transition to the screen (I wasn't aware of the stage background), and the parallels with The Big Heat, which are strong.
 
Did you know that after Talman was in The Hitch-Hiker, a driver got out of his car at a red light and slapped him in the face? Talman: "You know, I never won an Academy Award but I guess that was about as close as I ever will come to one."

< Message edited by rick_7 -- 19/1/2010 5:01:30 PM >


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Post #: 260
RE: My Top Film Noir - 19/1/2010 5:07:00 PM   
Piles


Posts: 5545
Joined: 6/8/2007
From: Whalley Range
I look forward to seeing what you have to say about this next entry. I really liked it when I saw it recently. It would certainly make my top fourty noirs too.

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Post #: 261
RE: My Top Film Noir - 19/1/2010 5:13:57 PM   
rick_7


Posts: 6151
Joined: 30/9/2005
From: The internet
quote:

ORIGINAL: Piles

I look forward to seeing what you have to say about this next entry. I really liked it when I saw it recently. It would certainly make my top fourty noirs too.

Does it feature sweaty fat men wrestling, or am I on the wrong track? It could be that piano one, of course, but I'm not sure Tom Neal's going to appear again.

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Post #: 262
RE: My Top Film Noir - 19/1/2010 5:47:41 PM   
elab49


Posts: 54577
Joined: 1/10/2005
quote:

ORIGINAL: rick_7

Incredible stuff on The Racket - you don't usually get that kind of analysis outside of one of those glossy BFI books.
 
I didn't realise Conrad was in it. I don't think I knew him when I saw the film; he's great in Cry Danger. Good point about the transition to the screen (I wasn't aware of the stage background), and the parallels with The Big Heat, which are strong.
 
Did you know that after Talman was in The Hitch-Hiker, a driver got out of his car at a red light and slapped him in the face? Talman: "You know, I never won an Academy Award but I guess that was about as close as I ever will come to one."


Thank you.  

I may find a use for that bit of trivia a bit further up. Well, maybe a lot further up 

quote:

  I look forward to seeing what you have to say about this next entry. I really liked it when I saw it recently.


See - my clue was completely transparent

To improve upon it - both leads have also appeared in the list already.

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quote:

ORIGINAL: Deviation] LIKE AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS TOO. IT MADE ME LAUGH A LOT AND THOUGHT IT WAS WITTY. ALSO I FEEL SLOWLY DYING INSIDE. I KEEP AGREEING WITH ELAB.


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(in reply to rick_7)
Post #: 263
RE: My Top Film Noir - 20/1/2010 12:42:37 AM   
rawlinson

 

Posts: 45002
Joined: 13/6/2008
From: Timbuktu. Chinese or Fictional.
quote:

ORIGINAL: elab49

See - my clue was completely transparent

To improve upon it - both leads have also appeared in the list already.


"I'm getting an E. Edgar, Egbert, Edith..."

(in reply to elab49)
Post #: 264
RE: My Top Film Noir - 22/1/2010 9:29:56 AM   
elab49


Posts: 54577
Joined: 1/10/2005



No. 25

Scarlet Street (1945)

Director: Fritz Lang
Writer: Dudley Nichols (from the original play/screenplay of La Chienne by Mouezy-Eon and Fouchardiere.

Spoiler-Free Synopsis: Emasculated cashier Chris Cross encounters an alluring woman under the control of an amoral dreamer. Murder ensues.
 

NB This review also includes extensive discussion/spoilers for La Chienne (Renoir, 1931)

Scarlet Street is a remake of the 1931 Renoir film La Chienne (which has recently become accessible via nefarious means) – a tale where no-one is really innocent that Lang changed from an almost amused and cynical look at life to a sad bleak existence that ends in a nightmare.

Lang comes back to art a lot. He brought in Dali before leaving Moontide, you can see it in The Big Heat and obviously the lesser Woman in the Window. Here the art seems to be at the centre of the film – the painting of Adele's first husband looms over Chris's life; Chris romanticises his love of art confusing it with his desire for love; and, Johnny sees art as easy money and the perfect scheme for an amoral dreamer with a sense of entitlement and no talent - no work and lots of cash. Initially angry at its seeming worthlessness then controlling when it is assigned value. And if Chris does feel so strongly for it, however deluded, his torment at the end is exacerbated by his inability to reclaim it thanks to his lie on the stand.

In this remake Chris isn't the hoary, boring, butt of jokes – he is presented as genuinely valued and held in some affection. He has friends. This difference gives us more motivation for Chris, a more credible fall into the relationship with Kitty so soon after seeing his boss and his young lady 'friend' and dreamily considering a life where a young woman loved him. When he takes Bennett home Lang places her higher than him on the step, bathed in a white light – Chris's own special angel up on her pedestal with the tacky see-through rain coat telling us the gutter is more her level. Edward G's performance is far superior to Simon's in the original. Both physically – the transformation from eager lover (although constantly spurned and never consummated) to the shrivelling up when he discovers the true nature of Kitty and Johnny's relationship – and emotionally, he gives us far more than the passive presence of Michel Simon.  It probably helps that when he talks about art his enthusiasm is genuine given his status as one of Hollywood's great art lovers.
 
The twists of fate are so key here – if Chris and friend hadn't slipped out early, if it hadn't been raining and he hadn't accompanied his umbrella less friend to the bus stop first. If he hadn't missed the first bus and had to wait, if he hadn't gotten turned around in the small streets on the way to the subway. Had not all of those happened he wouldn't have chanced upon Bennett and Duryea at just the moment when it looked like an assault of one stranger upon another.

Although the story is superficially the same there are a myriad of differences in tone and approach between Renoir's original and Lang's remake. One of those is the approach of the bilkers. There is a sense of accepted entitlement in the original – Lulu drifts around assuming she should get everything coming her way, coming alive only for Dede, with Dede completely amoral. Johnny and Kitty are given a more active motivation in Scarlet Street – a purpose, a plan. It examines more of Kitty's back-story – she hasn't always been as she is now, was more of a 'normal girl', until she met Johnny, is clearly wholly obsessed with him and picked up many of his habits, clearly deserving the nickname 'lazylegs'. And unlike Lulu, Kitty isn't quite as hopeless. Intelligent and avaricious, a more potent character. But it isn't as if they are particularly bright at being corrupt – forming their own back-story for Chris, the 'successful moneyed artist', something that unexpectedly comes true through their own actions.



And there is the odd spark of a curious affection for Chris at times. Or, perhaps, empathy – after all, her relationship to him isn't a million miles from her submissive one to Johnny, and he cares as little for what he wants as she does for Chris. Both films present a take on power in relationships of the treat 'em mean and keep 'em keen variety. How do you react when your other half is weaker than you, more in love than you are? Chris's role in Kitty's life mirrors hers in Johnny's. The dismissive attitude, the easy power.

The manipulation in the relationship is beautifully played (although more one-sided than, say, the equally fascinating Monsieur Hire). At what is possibly not their first lunch Chris finally admits he is married after Kitty suggests setting her up in an apartment – and he's so pleased when Kitty forgives him for the deception because she's going to let him help her until the almost immediate thought of where the money will come from strikes him. And so we cut immediately to his first criminal act – a lifetime of honesty undercut by the dream of a floozy playing him. Immediately retracted of course – his conscience hasn't completely deserted him. But when he tries to do it honestly he's confronted again with an intractable problem – the existence of his shrewish wife. At least, there, he stops cowering and starts answering back. But not for long by the end of the scene she's gained control as the radio show Happy Household plays in the background and he soon ends up back in his emasculating flowery pinny.



I also love that the film plays out a wonderful tale of misdirection – Chris's horrible wife, his reference to murdered wives in Brooklyn, asking Kitty what she would do if he suddenly became 'free'. 

And, finally, there is the fate of Chris himself. An ice pick for ice queen – the penetration of the blade the closest he got to her bed – shot in bright pristine white (the bed, the outfit – the same aura he first saw round her on the steps) then plunging into the dark as Johnny arrives with, for him, exceptionally bad timing. And after the court (where, again, Chris's participation is more active than in La Chienne, taking the stand to deny Johnny's claims and locking away his art with that lie on the stand, aided and abetted by his shrewish wife's misunderstanding). And then that nightmarish sequence near the end – Chris haunted by his crime just as the newspaperman predicted, driven to his own personal hell locked in the cell of his sleazy hotel room with interfering helpers preventing his escape from the taunts of the dead who still have each other and he's lost everything. And this is another wonderful twist – after the encounter with the journalists we're again handed a red herring – that Chris will be tormented by his crime because you never really get away with it. It isn't the murder itself that torments him, not really. He's still desperate to believe in Kitty's innocence – the voices taunt him not with his crime but their love for each other, their togetherness in death. A far more interesting ruination than mere guilt.



Both Bennett and Duryea do superb work here, particularly the hugely underrated Duryea who has, I think, possibly never been better, particularly as he takes on the role done best in the original and gives a brilliantly self-centered performance as the hapless Johnny whose composure goes spectacularly when not only his schemes fail but he ends up taking the fall.

Nichols didn't really do noir and his screenplay, presumably with input from Lang, while remaining relatively close to the original, plays quite a bit with motivation. Here it's more active, less passive from Kitty, and, e.g., playing up the misdirection with Adele's possible fate and, particularly, Chris's more active deception in Johnny's actual fate and what happens to him as a result. Nichols other work includes multiple westerns, the occasional film for Rene Clair and, going from the sublime to the ridiculous, Bringing up Baby and The Bells of St Marys. We can safely say this script is at the higher end of the scale!

Lang has almost appeared here before with Moontide and this won't be his last entry in the list. Working again with Milton Krasner, who did some brilliant work on A Double Life, the visual highpoint starts with the final crime – Kitty in her pristine white bedroom, Johnny's entrance and the trial and that fabulous scene as Chris tries to escape the taunts of the dead (with, for me, some tantalising memories of M coming through). Their end is far bleaker than Renoirs – he seems to invite us to laugh at the fools valuing the paintings of a bum but Chris? The corrupt pair has driven him to murder and madness, the final shots of his staggering on unable to end it and the last 10 minutes or so are both visually and aurally chilling.



Trivia: Fritz Lang less successfully remade Renoir's La Bete Humaine as Human Desire. IMDB claims Renoir disliked both remakes.

Scarlet Street is now in the public domain and can be viewed here
http://www.archive.org/details/ScarletStreet
 

< Message edited by elab49 -- 18/2/2010 11:33:57 AM >


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quote:

ORIGINAL: Deviation] LIKE AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS TOO. IT MADE ME LAUGH A LOT AND THOUGHT IT WAS WITTY. ALSO I FEEL SLOWLY DYING INSIDE. I KEEP AGREEING WITH ELAB.


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(in reply to Jasiri)
Post #: 265
RE: My Top Film Noir - 22/1/2010 9:50:14 AM   
rawlinson

 

Posts: 45002
Joined: 13/6/2008
From: Timbuktu. Chinese or Fictional.
Great review, E'.  

I'm at 36 on my list now and you're at 24, race to the finish line?

(in reply to elab49)
Post #: 266
RE: My Top Film Noir - 22/1/2010 9:59:01 AM   
elab49


Posts: 54577
Joined: 1/10/2005
But you're capable of 3 reviews in a day. I have problems with 3 reviews in a month!

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quote:

ORIGINAL: Deviation] LIKE AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS TOO. IT MADE ME LAUGH A LOT AND THOUGHT IT WAS WITTY. ALSO I FEEL SLOWLY DYING INSIDE. I KEEP AGREEING WITH ELAB.


Annual Poll 2013 - All Lists Welcome

(in reply to rawlinson)
Post #: 267
RE: My Top Film Noir - 22/1/2010 10:04:22 AM   
rawlinson

 

Posts: 45002
Joined: 13/6/2008
From: Timbuktu. Chinese or Fictional.
I wish I could aim for 3 a day every day. The bloody thing would be done then. That reminds me actually, I need to send you a pm about something.

So, any clues for number 24?

(in reply to elab49)
Post #: 268
RE: My Top Film Noir - 22/1/2010 10:12:06 AM   
elab49


Posts: 54577
Joined: 1/10/2005
It is quite difficult to find.

It has 2 titles after flopping on release



< Message edited by elab49 -- 22/1/2010 10:52:11 AM >


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Lips Together and Blow - blogtasticness and Glasgow Film Festival GFF13!

quote:

ORIGINAL: Deviation] LIKE AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS TOO. IT MADE ME LAUGH A LOT AND THOUGHT IT WAS WITTY. ALSO I FEEL SLOWLY DYING INSIDE. I KEEP AGREEING WITH ELAB.


Annual Poll 2013 - All Lists Welcome

(in reply to rawlinson)
Post #: 269
RE: My Top Film Noir - 22/1/2010 10:18:25 AM   
rawlinson

 

Posts: 45002
Joined: 13/6/2008
From: Timbuktu. Chinese or Fictional.
And I've just sent a second pm with my guess for 24.

(in reply to elab49)
Post #: 270
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