Posts tagged “Film Noir

Cape Fear/e (1962/91/93) Revisited


I’m going to try something new in this review – 3 films, well 2 films and a TV episode all titled – Cape Fear. For sometime I’ve been thinking about the relationship between these horror films. Having also read that the Martin Scorsese remake in 1991 was pointless really, I need to see this for myself to understand what is actually going on here. Has Scorsese wasted a cast and crews time and a film companies money, not to mention the audience who went to see etc. I’ll finish on a more comedic note with The Simpsons spoof Cape Feare which combines the best of both films. I’m one film in – the original which I shamefully saw in about 9 parts on YouTube whilst working at a summer camp a few years ago.

The 1962 original released as part of a cycle of horror films that attempted to emulate Psycho (1960) which reshaped the genre forever, what a was expected from the genre and its very form. What followed was a series of cheap knock-offs so to speak that tried to replicate that magic for the next few years. With time for the industry to react one of the first films out using A-list actors with well established careers, such as Deborah Kerr‘s The Innocents (1961), and the cult classic of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). However Cape Fear has more in common with film noir, or the first shoots of neo-noir after it ended a few years earlier with Touch of Evil (1959). Take some of the best bits of The Night of the Hunter (1955) and repackage it into a more audience friendly film that has also become a classic.

Taking the Charles Laughton noir of a preacher who works his way into a community, marrying a Jail birds widow, in order to get his hands on the money which the dead husband has hidden. Memorably played by Robert Mitchum, whose physical presence transformed the role and the film into that of almost folklore horror. Seeing America through the eyes of an English director who gave us his vision of a country deeply rooted in its religion that could be so easily be corrupted. The Mitchum character of Harry Powell becomes Max Cady, again not long released from prison has a one track mind, not money, he has plenty of that. Its more like a destiny that he has to fulfill coming to the home town of successful lawyer and family man Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) who had to testify against him on an attack charge against an innocent woman. After first meeting Cady we know he’s not a family man, not meant to live around law-abiding people. He’s not a gentlemen who stops to pick up papers for woman on the stairs. He’s to be avoided, even before we learn his back story.

The Cady’s live in reasonable comfort, a small lawyer whose life is about to be turned upside down, about to take him and his wife Peggy (Polly Bergen) and daughter Nancy (Lori Martin). I couldn’t help but start to draw comparisons with this to the remake, what were the new relationship that brings Cady to town. It’s more complex for sure in the remake. Back to this more straightforward film that doesn’t waste time establishing whose the good and bad guys. However it’s the law whose hands are tied, Cady’s being doing more than marking the days in his cell before being released. Reading up on the law and planning his revenge. Starting his war of terror against Bowden and his family, taking aim at the teenage daughter – Nancy whose awareness of the male gaze and sexual power is about to blow wide open.

Cady is not just a deranged criminal out for revenge he’s a sexual predator too, making Nancy his next victim. This could be where Scorsese got a bit of tunnel vision, along with changing taste and the loosening of censorship which allowed for a more adult version of the film. Nonetheless the original filmed in cheap/standard black and white adds another layer to this dark film that gets more intense scene by scene. Tying Sam in knots with nowhere to turn but to lead him into a trap on the houseboat along the Cape Fear river. The sexuality is all coming from Mitchum, even middle-aged has a decent body that added to his domineering on-screen presence. If anything I found the ending lackluster, instead of what the audience wants – and Scorsese gives us. We have the law winning out, the courts of justice putting Cady back behind bars before a swift and happy ending. It feels after all of that struggle the good and civilised in Bowden wins out, his primal desire and wishes earlier on in the film to shoot him are repressed to allow him to drag him to a prison cell before a having another trial. Hopefully leading to reform, something I really can’t see happening to Cady, whoever plays this disturbed character.

Onto the remake now, which after hearing it was pointless, I’m starting to see why after just finishing it. I first watched it at University, thinking it was a great thriller, I even used it as part of my research for thrillers and suspense. What the hell was I thinking, more to the point what was Martin Scorsese thinking. It wasn’t even a film he wanted to do, it was an assignment given to him by the Universal, for reasons I just don’t understand, I don’t think he does either. Probably hoping to get his next project The Age of Innocence (1993).

Lets take a look at the film on the face of it, a remake of the 1960’s classic thriller which saw the Bowden family being tormented by the deranged Max Cady that still remains at the core of this film. However 30 years have passed and the script admittedly needed altering in some respects. There’s far more sex on-screen, along with the usual depiction of Scorsese penchant for violence. Making it a good match, but then the same can be said of lots of directors. He’s a director for hire here. The main difference is Cady played by a hammy Robert De Niro whose clearly having a ball, glad to be working with his old pal Marty one more time. The crime committed now is, aggravated assault, essentially rape when you get to know the character. He’s come back to get revenge on his old lawyer Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) who we learn buried evidence that could have allowed Cady to go free. That facts are made clear early on away from Cady who is beginning his campaign of fear.

Originally Bowden was a witness to an assault committed by Cady, now we see that the lawyer has used his professional power to alter the course of Cady’s life. I couldn’t have seen that working in 1962, only a few years from playing Atticus Finch (Peck) couldn’t betray that upstanding heroic image. Whilst Mitchum could’ve easily played that role to the extreme without getting as hammy as De Niro. We spend more time with the daughter now named Danielle (Juliette Lewis) who is more sexually aware. Whilst the wife is pretty much unchanged, reacting instead to the plot as it unfolds. If anything she is more traumatised by the films events. So the father and daughter get the thick of it.

A memorable addition or “nod” of approval to the remake, is the inclusion of three of the original cast Peck, Mitchum and Martin Balsam each having a few scenes. Was this more a ploy to bring in the older audience to see three older actors once more, or to say that the film is not being made without their blessing. I think its more the former with a bit of promotional casting. Mitchum first appears as the detective who wants to help but is forced to not suggest to seek alternatives. Whilst Peck is clearly having more fun in his cameo as Lee Heller who is Cady’s defence lawyer. Whilst a clearly bored Martin Balsam the original detective plays the judge who rules a restraining order in Cady’s favor. The aging actor clearly underused and wondering what the hell he is doing on set.

The law is clearly not in Bowden’s side throughout, doing all he can to protect his family, being screwed at every turn by a criminal who has read his books, including the Bible and Sexus (just for added smut). There are times when you are on the Bowden’s side, then you think, haven’t we been here before, only in black and white and not for as long. Drawing out the scenes and adding new ones that only drag out this practically scene for scene remake. The religious overtones are very heavy and clearly a directorial stroke, which makes the work his – overtly.

Ultimately it’s a hammy overreacted, waste of film that sees an accomplished director scraping the barrel with sacred material that shouldn’t have been touched. He should have looked back to Dead Calm (1989) which had the boat thriller in the bag in every way. We have actors who are doing their best, whilst some are just glad for the bigger paycheck and a few days work. Lastly Scorsese only makes you think about the original more overtly with the lazy use of the original score by Bernard Herrmann, conducted by Elmer Bernstein who simply conducted it for the “new” soundtrack. There’s no attempt to be really a unique film that is about the same basic premise, its the just the same just sexed up.

Now I want to watch the far superior Simpsons parody which focuses in the best elements. The second episode of season 5 – (yes it’s that old), a longtime favorite of mine. I remember getting it on video – the murder mysteries tape. Makes me feel old just thinking about it. It’s been a while since I last saw the episode until last night. It was still as fresh and spot on with the jokes that came thick and fast. Midway through the golden age of the now long running animated sitcom, which has now become the longest running of its kind too. Cape Feare was also the third time that Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammer) appears in this now iconic role. Assuming the Max Cady role directly from the Scorsese’s film gave us a year before. It’s a cheeky spoof that is more entertaining that the thriller which is 6 times as long.

I think the focus was on the more recent film still fresh in the public consciousness, which is understandable, leaving the original alone. Taking the best bits of a pointless film and making fun of the rest in 20 minutes of animation. We already know that Bob has it in for Bart (Nancy Cartwright) who has twice already found him out, once for robbery, and for attempted murder. Now it’s time for revenge. There’s no need to build up that history between the two except in a few short scenes. The blood written letters and the parole hearing before Bob’s released, using his charm to gain his freedom.

Already the Simpson family are on edge, the letters and now the cinema scene which is ensures we are in for a scene for scene spoof. Of course there’s more common sense at play, the harassments taken seriously by the police instead of going down the private detective route – which leads to the fishing wire and teddy bear set-up which isn’t taken seriously. Ultimately they’re referred to the FBI who put them into the Witness Relocation Program giving them a new identity and opening titles. It’s all played fast a loose. Yet the law is on the families side, moving the spoof quickly on, there’s no time to discuss the need to use a gun or to kill Bob, it’s about hiding.

The finale is more family friendly with a Gilbert and Sullivan homage, making the most of an earlier scene in the car journey. The houseboat is loose on the water, just not out of control as Bart uses the performance to buy him time. He’s too clever to result to deadly violence to see his enemy (not Moe Szyslak (Hank Azaria) and his panda’s). The episode delivers some of the finest moments not just of the season but a collection of jokes that are better than the expensive thriller that tries to outdo the original.

So ends my first 3 (2 and a spoof) film review, attempting to find a relationship and history. I’ve chosen an easier trilogy (of sorts) to begin with a film, a remake and a spoof. I can see how it a classic (before it was more common) to remake a film. Seeing that it was sexed up, add some violence and some cheeky cameos to draw in the audiences. Whilst a controversial cartoon plays fast and loose, appropriate the events of a recent film and make fun of it, so is the nature of a spoof which in the case of this film is more entertaining, than the remake.

 


Film Talk – George Bailey’s Nightmare


On 16th January I presented my first film talk, the first in a series of community based talks about film, looking into films in more detail than before. The first was looking at It’s a Wonderful Life (1947) sharing my insights of the film with the general public. Below you can read the notes from the night.

Tonight I’d like to explore the darker side of It’s a Wonderful Life, (1946), Frank Capras Christmas classic that at the time of release got a mixed to luke-warm response from both critics and general public. His first film post WWII, it was also the flagship film for his new production company, Liberty films which he formed with fellow directors and comrades during the war George Stevens, and William Wyler. Both very different directors; Stevens known for his comedies, especially for the Tracy and Hepburn film; Woman of the Year (1942); where the famous affair began. Whereas Wyler had been making a range of films, a few with Bette Davis who he had affairs with. It wasn’t until he released Mrs Miniver (1942) about a middle class British family coping with war on the home front did his career begin to change for the better.

Turning back to Capra, he was a Sicilian immigrant who came to America in 1903 aged six with his family. He would later to move to Hollywood where he would direct a string of very successful comedies during the depression. Moving forward to just before It’s a Wonderful life was released in late 1946, he has spent the last the duration of the World War two, posted in Washington, holding the rank of Major, in command of the U.S. Film core, coordinating projects at home and out on the front line. Most notable colleagues under his command included John Ford, John Huston, William Wyler, who made propaganda films for both public and military consumption.

With exception to John Ford, he was the most successful of the fellow directors, having directed a number of successful comedies, earning himself 3 Best Director Oscars during the 1930’s alone. The films speak for themselves

It Happened One Night (1934) was the first film and comedy to winning the “Big 5” Best Actor, Actress, Writing, Director and Film. The film follows a journalist who will stop at nothing to get an exclusive story of a runaway socialite before her big wedding.

Mr Deeds Goes to Town (1936) won best director, second in a row, and his third nomination. A musician inherits a vast fortune, spending the rest of the film fighting off city slickers who will do anything for it.

You Can’t Take it With You (1938) won Best director and film for his studio Columbia. A rich Families son falls for a daughter from an eccentric family, who in turn lay in the way of the family business’s plans.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) most notable for the 12-minute filibuster by James Stewart picked up Best Original Screenplay. A naïve boy ranger’s leader is made governor of his state, when in Washington he finds corruption, not the high ideals who believes in.

All of these films came before Pearl Harbor in December 1942 when he would finish his on-going projects before enlisting. On returning to civilian life, his industry had changed beyond recognition, as much as they wanted him. He wrote in the New York Times about

‘Breaking Hollywood’s “Pattern of Sameness”…This war he wrote had caused American filmmakers to see movies that studios had been turning out “through their eyes” and to recoil from the “machine-like treatment” that, he contended, made most pictures look and sound the same. “Many of the men… producers, directors, scriptwriters returned from service with a firm resolve to remedy this,” he said; the production companies there were now forming would give each of them “freedom and liberty” to pursue “his own individual ideas on subject matter and material”

Five Came Back – Mark Harris – Pg. 419-20

What is this “Pattern of Sameness” that he was reacting to in his article? The article was setting out his opening of an independent studio – Liberty Studios that would produce films unhindered by the moguls. Something that more and more directors were beginning to do. Maybe this “Sameness” was a type of film he was not used to, or produced a negative response in him. Were these the films his contemporaries and even partners in his new venture were all making?

“…his fellow filmmakers, including his two new partners, were becoming more outspoken advocates for increased candour and frankness in Hollywood movies and a more adult approach to storytelling, he flinched at anything that smacked of controversy. Over the past several years he had become so enthralled by the use of film as propaganda that in peacetime he was finding it hard to think of movies in any other way. “ There are just two things that are important,” he told the Los Angeles Times in March. “One is to strengthen the individuals belief in himself, and the other, even more important right now, is to combat a modern trend towards atheism.”

Five Came Back – Mark Harris – Pg. 419-20

His fellow filmmakers were striving for more realism in their work, one response for wanting realism, a stylized realism is Film noir.

“The term “film noir” itself was coined by the French, always astute critics and avid fans of American culture from Alexis de Tocqueville through Charles Baudelaire to the young turks at Cahiers du cinema. It began to appear in French film criticism almost immediately after the conclusion of World War Two. Under Nazi Occupation the French had been deprived of American movies for almost five years; and when they finally began to watch them in late 1945, they noticed a darkening not only of mood but of the subject matter.”

Film Noir – Alain Silver & James Ursini – Pg 10

A new kind of American cinema was flooding into French cinemas.

I’d like to show the nightmare, or alternate reality sequence from the film now. However before I do, I’d like to share what I found in the sequence that fits into what makes a film noir a film noir. There a few themes and visual cues that can be attributed to the genre, each applied to different varieties within the genre, showing how flexible it is.

The Haunted Past –

“Noir protagonists are seldom creatures of the light. They are often escaping some past burdens, sometimes a traumatic incident from their past (as in Detour or Touch of Evil) o sometimes a crime committed out of passion (as in Out of the Past, Criss Cross and Double Indemnity). Occasionally they are simply fleeing their own demons created by ambiguous events buried in their past, as in In a Lonely Place.”

Film Noir – Alain Silver & James Ursini – Pg 15

For George he tries for the majority if the film to escape his hometown – Bedford Falls, which has always pulled him back at the last-minute. His father’s death, marriage to Mary, the Depression, His hearing that stopped him fighting during World War II, until finally he might be leaving to serve a jail sentence for bankruptcy.

The Fatalistic Nightmare – “The noir world revolves around causality. Events are linked like an unbreakable chain and lead inevitably to a heavily foreshadowed conclusion. It is a deterministic universe in which psychology…chance…and even structures of society…can ultimately override whatever good intentions and high hopes the main characters have.”

Film Noir – Alain Silver & James Ursini – Pg 15

You could say that George has been living a nightmare, until he enters into a world created by his desire to not exist.

These are only types of Noir narrative that apply to the film. The look of Noir has been applied to the alternate reality where George enters his Noir Nightmare, the look of the town, now named Pottersville, where we find all the business in town have sold out, part of Potters empire, populated with bars and clubs, another town to drown your sorrows, forget who you are and where you have come from, until reality will ultimately come for payment.

The lighting – Chiaroscuro Lighting. Low-key lighting, in the style of Rembrandt or Caravaggio, marks most noirs of the classic period. Shade and light play against each other not only in night exteriors but also in dimmed interiors shielded from daylight by curtains or Venetian blinds. Hard, unfiltered side light and rim outline and reveal only a portion of the face to create a dramatic tension all its own. Cinematographers such as, John F Seitz and John Alton took his style to the highest level in films like Out of the Past, Double Indemnity and T-Men. Their black and white photography with its high contrasts, stark day exteriors and realistic night work became the standard of the noir style.

Film Noir – Alain Silver & James Ursini – Pg 16

If we look at Out of the Past (1947) which follows a private investigator (Robert Mitchum) who has tried to escape his life, living in a small town as a mechanic, before his old life catches up with him in the form of Kirk Douglas. Here you can see the deep shadow that leaves the characters in almost darkness at times.

Whilst in Double Indemnity (1944) another prime example of the genre we can see how the lights are directed against the blinds, which act more like bars of a jail cell rather than an indicator of the time of day, Light and shadow are used to take us into a dark underworld that is lurking around the corner ready to consume you.

I’m going to play the nightmare sequence now (stills below), afterwards I’ll share some of my observations.

Capra essentially redressed and relight of Bedford Falls? I feel that Capra was reluctant to really delve into the genre he was resisting. He does however replicate the lighting, which is heavily stylised through the exterior scenes and those in the old Granville house, where he had previously (in his living life) threw stones at with Mary. However here it seems more stones have been thrown here, as it’s beyond a ghost house.

Looking at George reaction to the world around him as he begins to realise that this is not his world, the consequences of his not existing has on the world.

I also noticed that it’s the third time that he has jumped/fallen into the water, the first being to save his younger brother Harry’s life, the second as he literally and emotionally falls for Mary, his wife to be.

Whilst the third and final fall, is an accidental heroic act that replicates the first time that was for Harry, this time for a stranger, the angel – second-class, Clarence. .


Scarlet Street (1945)


scarlet-street-1945Until recently I’ve not seen a film noir for a long time, even longer since an Edward G. Robinson film, which itself is real treat. Sadly not from the 1930’s, yet to see one of those gems. I’ve had to settle for a   Fritz Lang which really isn’t so bad after all. Scarlet Street (1945) a film I’ve been looking out for, along with Woman in the Window (1944), the later film a return of both director, actor and Joan Bennett another chance for her femme fatale to work her charms as she gets her claws into her unsuspecting victim. I can only respond to Scarlet Street which was a real slow burner, working it’s magic on me, drawing me into and under the spell of yet another unsuspecting victim as he goes on a downward spiral.

I can see how Robinson was drawn to this film, a lover and collector of art, this is an easy on-screen expression of that, the lengths that an aspiring artist would possibly go to for success. I’m not drawing comparisons between himself and I, but I can sympathise with him to a point. We see him being celebrated by his colleagues, a lifetime of loyal service as a cashier, a comfortable life however not completely happy however. Leaving him vulnerable to any woman who showed the slightest sign of affection or attention. A man who would naturally jump at that chance also a fallible human being. When Christopher Cross meets Katharine ‘Kitty’ March (Bennett) who is “saved” from a mugging’s encouraged to gain his confidence in order to get money out of him. Believing him to be a successful artist, of course these are boasts that are blown out of proportion, her own ignorance draws her into his own projection.

Both are projecting an image of themselves, one comes from the heart, another from a false place that has no emotional connection. Cold and calculating and manipulated by her boyfriend Johnny Prince (Dan Duryea) who is the real con man of the film. Pulling the strings through manipulation and abuse towards Kitty who may appear to take it without being affected by the control his has over her. The femme fatale is at the mercy of a male counterpart, a term that I can’t even coin for this review Princes role is very rare in the genre, seen more as an abusive lover.

Turning to Christopher again we have a character who is weak and soft, the very reverse of Robinson’s previous work. Maybe he too was tired of the hard roles like James Cagney wanting more emotional and vulnerable roles to get his acting chops around. I can’t help but think of his distinctive role in Double Indemnity (1944) Barton Keyes an insurance man who’s sure of his profession discovering he’s no longer at the top of his game when he works with the insecure and faltering partner Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) who tries to fraud the company he works for, all for what he believes is in the name of love. Keyes world of certainty has crumbled around him, he can’t trust his colleague who he has known for years. The modern world of WWII is a far darker place than of a decade earlier, the lengths that customers may go to make a claim see Keyes start to question the world around him.

Robinson’s character a year later in Cross holds a lesser role of responsibility a cashier, it’s still a position of trusts brought into a world that is far different from his regular life. Trapped in a loveless marriage to a woman who all but despises him. She sees him more as a lodger in the way, his painting a hobby that will get him nowhere. When his talents encouraged by his “lover” Kitty he comes alive, living a double life of husband and lover, he’s on fire in aspects of his life that he had long but given up on. Of course Johnny Prince is always lurking in the shadows, wanting to get as much money as he can out of Cross who reluctantly gives into this love-soaked demands for cash. Kitty an “actress” moves to a more expensive apartment, her lifestyle has to be supported if she is to maintain it. Of course it’s all a façade for what they both really want.

Of course this all sounds rather standard, even with a cowardly Robinson who even allows for his work to be accepted as the work of his lover. He can no longer look forward to fulfilling his dreams of being a successful artist in his own right. Giving up one dream for another to make another possible. Is he mad or just human as he sees his work being celebrated yet looking on from the sidelines, unwittingly creating his masterpiece her “self-portrait”. It’s hard to watch him loose grip of his dream, giving more than just his money, his creative control, his dignity, his job and ultimately his sanity. He loses more than what he hoped to gain.

It’s a depressing decline that we hope would never happen, how can our hero of countless films become just another human being before our eyes. The artist in me wanted to shout to him, to take back what is rightly his time, his fortune and glory, to be celebrated, not another overlooked talent taken advantage of. Lowering himself to commit worse crimes than both Kitty and Johnny who wanted on his money, he takes something far more valuable. It is however a work all of his own, committed in the moment that again only he knows who the true artist is which is even more torturous for him. Ultimately none of his work will ever be credited to him by others except all of us who can look passively on.


The Stranger (1946)


The Stranger (1946)I’ve been watching a few of Orson Welles‘s later films (with cameo’s) and I thought it was time to take a look at one of his own films, one that on the surface doesn’t appear to have been butchered in the editing room. You could say that The Stranger (1946) has come out practically unscathed after what happened with The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) which is only half as good as it really could be. If only the footage that was cut could be found and pieced back together again. Still that’s another discussion for another review. Looking at this film-noir that on the surface appears more main-stream, has more in common with the genre that accidentally grew around that time and Welles’s breakthrough film Citizen Kane (1941) where he was left to his own devices. OK here we have less of that style which he uses more subtly to get the feelings of fear, shock and innocence across to an audience who at the time had just come out of war with Germany and Japan that finished that year. They were being exposed to newsreels of harrowing images of concentration camps that had been discovered. The full extent of Nazi crimes was being made public. Even for an audience today seeing footage from the camps is unsettling, traumatic, a hard watch to say the least in the face of incredible human suffering and loss. Orson Welles has taken a gamble playing with the images that have been burned into the short-term memory of America.

Taking that context into a film that is today very much forgotten among more memorable films he directed. This is very much a product of its time. You could dare I say remake it today with an Islamic State focus rather than a Nazi that has gone into hiding. Typically played by Welles himself you see less of him and more of the investigating detective Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson) who takes a chance by releasing another Nazi onto the streets. Hoping that he will lead him to the bigger prize, that of Professor Charles Rankin otherwise known as the notoriously media shy Franz Kindler who played a major role in the gas chambers, a high-ranking Nazi that got away. Thankfully a fictional Nazi that made this film slightly safer, instead of a true account that never happen thankfully. However it’s the thought that even in the safety of a state of rich, prosperous and middle class Connecticut, it makes you think how this could happen in small town America.

Welles even takes a lower billing, it’s all about the search for the truth, seeking to restore safety and security in America. A brave choice by the director who really has a lot of fun in the role. Robinson’s seen to be settling into roles of a maturer man which really suits him, he’s no longer the gangster of the 1930’s. He brings really weight to the role, you feel he believes the lines he is delivering. He’s Americas conscience still fighting and reeling from the trauma of war. Whilst Loretta Young is more side dressing between these two men. She’s weak and indecisive, trapped in a marriage of convienence to a man hiding. Shes America that is still in denial, needing that jolt of reality to wake up to the horrors of the previous half decade or more.

Stylistically this film is very much Welles, the cinematography never stays still for long. Un-nerving us with heavy and high tracking shots, mixed with cuts that leave you on the edge of your seat. It really is not a film-noir of the standard we are used to in the city, I wouldn’t even call it a noir on these terms Welles simply uses the devices he pioneered and pushes them further. It’s not quite as dark as The Lady from Shanghai (1947) or Touch of Evil (1958), he’s still fine tuning. We are outside in the sunshine of Eastern America where trouble never really happens. We are taken into an unsettled world that is yet to full understand what is happening either at home or in Europe. This isn’t even a war-film, it falls more into straight thriller with over-powering sense of fear that has loosened a little with time. We no longer have this enemy around us, a few are being found into their old age.

I guess to really feel the power of this film you have seen it on first release. You do wonder if the truth will out itself and that is what remains. An enemy that has long been put to bed can still stir up your deepest fears, which shows the power of the film over the course of time. The context maybe more historical, its the fear of the unknown and distant being closer than you think which stays with you. I could watch this film on mute and still it would have a power over me which is all down to the strong visuals that stay with you which is what you want from a film of this age.

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In a Lonely Place (1950)


In a Lonely Place (1950)I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, 1950 was a very introspective year for Hollywood, in terms of the films it was releasing, looking in on it self, with the addition of this early Nicholas Ray film noir that shows he doesn’t always needs blistering saturated colours to convey the pent-up frustration that his characters feel as they are pushed into a corner. We’ve seen it before with the young lovers on the run in They Live By Night (1948), the lynch mob that hunts down a woman in Johnny Guitar (1954) to most famously the misunderstood teenager of Rebel Without a Cause (1955). It’s not just the young and women who are in these positions, older and once successful screenwriters in In a Lonely Place (1950) such as Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) who was once on-top has reached a low that he may never get out of.

Given the opportunity to turn the latest sensational novel into a film he has been given the chance to make his name again. If only he liked the material, just another melodrama that’s not worth the paper it’s printed on. Inviting back a young woman who can recite the book to him, sounds innocent enough right? Not when the same girl Mildred Atkinson (Martha Stewart) is found dead the next morning, he was the last person to be seen with her could he really be the killer? He has the temperament to do such a thing, but why would he after giving her taxi money, it doesn’t make sense. A young girl who has so much ahead of her found strangled. Steele’s only chance of being saved is an alibi that is given by his neighbour Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) who seemingly gets him off the hook.

His violent past and record leave doubt in the minds of those investigating the murder. The audience is certainly left guessing, we doubt his innocence the more we learn from Det. Sgt. Brub Nicolai (Frank Lovejoy) his old army friend investigates. Almost certain that it’s Steele that has killed the young woman. We have only Laurel’s alibi to keep him in the clear and that’s not exactly airtight as it only covers the early evening when the woman was still alive. She slowly grows close to him in classic Hollywood style, falling for his charms and dangerous ideas. Not fully aware of what he is capable of. We see him put under immense strain by the police as the is questioned multiple times. He goes over the murder himself as if it were one he wrote himself. A coping mechanism maybe or was he the killer.

As the film progresses, so does romance between the two, softening up around Laurel enough to write that screenplay he’s asked for. He has come alive in more ways than one, all his passions are awoken. Be careful what you wish for as he begins to unravel, we see the rumour’s become fact, a monster is waking up before us. Is he the killer we still ask ourselves, as we even back him into a corner. Bogart could easily play either the good the bad or the flawed guy wanting, show the range of this incredible actor whose time on-screen was prolific and dark. Opposite one of the film-noir’s classic blonde-bombshells Gloria Grahame who softens from the hardened abrasive neighbour to the lover living in fear.

Where does this fit into Ray’s work though? At the beginning of his directing career, given what was probably an assignment to complete, lucky enough to work with these two actors who made this film a classic. Looking inside Hollywood to find a dark underworld of murder, lies and mistrust. Much like Billy Wilder‘s Sunset Blvd. (1950) which delves even further into that world of dog-eat-dog. Ray has yet to come out to give us more emotion that I found in They Live by Night or as late as Bigger Than Life (1956) with all its pent-up emotion just wanting to release. He has still produced a classic of the period that still works today and shows how great Bogie can be and whats better than that?

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Niagara (1953)


Niagra (1953)My dad has the idea that Marilyn Monroe was no good as an actress which is true…to a point as I have found with her last film The Misfits (1961). I believe she unfairly earned this title due the directors she worked with, taking advantage of her, the film industry creating an image she couldn’t live up to and the pressure of public live being labelled a sex-symbol. And this is before the days of the internet when she would have surely suffered far worse under the gaze of the media. You have to look at earlier roles such as her small bit part in All About Eve (1950) where she was more a character role with a few lines, playing the blonde for a scene. Playing up that persona before it really took root a few years later. Another stronger example in Niagara (1953) where she’s paired against Joseph Cottenyes the very same who found fame thanks to Citizen Kane (1941) and a strong of thrillers, a credible actor from the theatre who made the transition to Hollywood. It seems a very strange pairing on the face of it today. Yet it’s not really, take a pretty young thing who knows no better to bring in the audience and an established actor and there you have on-screen couple for a film. It happens sadly to this day, Hollywood really hasn’t broken that mould. Hopefully as more actresses speak out about the sexism in the industry we may finally get change,

As much as Monroe plays more to the classic femme-fetale this time, the blonde who can really drop a few knocks along the course of the film, getting her husband George Loomis (Cotten) all tied up, Not long out of a psychiatric hospital the couple are taking a break at the iconic resort of Niagara Falls, it’s not really what the doctor ordered for the Loomis’s who are further apart than ever before, just about able to stand each other in their cabin. On the face of this all American location dark secrets are beneath surface ready to seep out in the blazing Technicolor film-noir. George’s troubled by feelings of jealousy which consume him, unable to move on, which is pushing the couple apart. As Rose (Monroe) has gone to the arms of another man already whilst on holiday.

We discover the Loomis couple have out-stayed their welcome when The Cutler’s arrive on their “honeymoon” something that is never really explained. Promised that cabin the Lomis’s are still occupying, the two couples an uneasy friendship, the Cutlers aware of the Rose’s overt sexuality towards the other guests staying at the resort, playing music that stirs up George to the brink. I found the Cutlers to be underdeveloped as a couple, first meeting them at the border, before we learn they are not really newlyweds, so what are they, just a couple taking a holiday. Ray (Max Showalter) is hoping to meet his boss Mr. J.C. Kettering (Don Wilson) and his wife, hoping to take advantage of the situation. However it’s Polly (Jean Peters) who has the most excitement, discovering more than she expected whilst enjoying the attractions. 

Polly’s caught up in the mess between George and Rose as things get messy, the disappearance of George before turning up dead a few days later. The all American holiday destination’s tinged with death, lies and alteria-motives that Polly is tangled up in unable to her herself free unlike her husband Ray who is harder to persuade. You could say its a classic Hitchcock where all this dark activity is going on, and only one person really knows the truth. Both of the Loomis’s are very different people, the very definition of opposites when it comes to a couple, the honeymoon period’s indeed well and truly over.

Henry Hathaway has taken the film-noir genre and brought it into the light of day, the all-American couple is no longer going on a happy holiday where you lie on the beach and get-drunk, a place where you can forget your troubles, they come with you and never leave. He has cleverly cast Monroe as the femme-fetale, using her beauty to distract us from what is going on inside her. Whilst Cotten is sometimes out of place, probably too old to really be her husband (like I said earlier a symptom of Hollywood) he’s possessed with jealousy and anger, not to the same level of darkness of Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt (1943), the anger within him has come from a different place as they couple tear shreds out of each other. Hathaway also makes great use of the bells throughout really adds a sense of dread. On first hearing them they are to taunt us, as they ring out a previous song. Before acting as a foundation for more powerful scene that is both brave and daring in full colour, relying on the audiences memory to complete the scene as we’re distracted by the murder below.

This really was a surprising, a rare colour film-noir, with the addition of Monroe before the mid-fifties when her fame was cemented for very different reasons. We see what she could have become in this beautiful location that is synonymous with what is great with America. It’s very classic in it’s form, tinged with darkness. You’ll never go on holiday and feel the same again.

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Sin City (2005)


Sin City (2005)I originally wrote off Sin City (2005) without really looking into what it was about. Partly because I’m not a fan of comic book films and I had yet to discover film noir which I now love, if only I could get more of that American genre. I started to think differently about this film really with its mention by the director Robert Rodriguez who said that without digital technology this film would not be possible. Part of the fascination Side by Side (2012) documentary which really made me aware of this film, the landmark of visual effects and storytelling. You could say it was simply overlooked, I wasn’t going to start with the sequel Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014) without a basic understanding of Frank Miller‘s world, one that combine the violence film noir and the action that can be drawn to life by comic books or graphic novels.

Now with all that foundation in place all I had to do was sit down and enjoy, and enjoy I did, entering a dark world of literally sin around every corner of this heavily stylised environment. Taking black and white to a whole new level. It has to be filmed digitally to allow for so many alterations to be made, from a flicker of eye colour to the saturation of white when someone’s blood leaves their body. Combining both the classic noir imagery with some contemporary twists. I wouldn’t know where to begin to bring this pre WWII world up to date, everything just fits so well.

That’s before we even get to the cast, a rare time when there is an equal balance of both male and female actors. Ok not all in lead roles but their inclusion shows a fully fleshed out, all at each others throats exacting revenge, protecting their own backs world for us to explore. Split up into three acts, with an equally sinister pro and epilogue to wet you’re appetites, you never know whose behind the next corner, partly because of the contrast and the fast pace of this depressingly violent tales.  

I recently caught again Death Becomes Her (1992) which reminded me how good Bruce Willis can be without a massive gun in his hand. Granted he plays Hartigan a detective. he has to rely more on his acting chops than his muscles. In part due to the classic voice over that is synonymous with noir, allowing us into the psyches of the characters, usually looking back at what they did, how they could have changed things. Or just to narrate the events. here we have a look back for all our leads as they all sought justice of sorts. Willis away from the action genre and that stereotype he has helped form can actually give a good performance.

I could go into detail about each act which is as violence as the other, to be honest I wouldn’t have it any other way. Updating the genre for the 21st century more effectively that George Clooney‘s The Good German (2006) which felt forced and heavy handed with the language pumped up to another level. I didn’t even notice it here in Sin City it felt natural, part of the fabric, more subtle. Pumping up the action that brought the screen alive, Even in a limited pallet of colours we still have splashes of colour, literally in places.

Today nearly 10 years later the techniques are common place, that’s probably why the sequel recently released didn’t prove to do so well. At the time, when the majority of films are made in colour this is a rare jump back in time with a modern twist of what we find today. Helping to change and develop the visual language we use today. To see todays actors up on the big-screen in black and white is a real treat and not to be missed. It’s not the best film in terms acting, it is in terms of characters, the action and visuals that draw you into this corrupt and delicious world of violence.


Shane (1953) Revisited


Shane (1953)I already knew that Shane (1953) was a great and classic, but had forgotten why really, a reminder was needed to stir up the emotions and memories that are captured in this gunfighter film. From the beginning we see a lone rider Shane (Alan Ladd) make his way through the field of bushes, in no rush to get anywhere, he’s very much his own man, independent of the laws of the land. Reach the homesteading Starrett family who we soon learn are under threat from Ryker (Emile Meyer) and his men who want to run off this and other homesteaders. All innocent people wanting to make their mark on the country. A real conflict of interests is at the heart of this feud. One group wanting to push out another. It’s a tried and tested formula as we see the stronger force try to drive out the weaker.

Much like in The Westerner (1940), but not hiding behind a supposed law created by Judge Roy Bean. Here it’s about the strength of the man to stand up to another. However strong they feel they are still cowards in the face of Ryker and his men who don’t even draw their guns. Theres a strong code between both sides that is tangible, violence without pulling the trigger, relying more on the inner strength of the man to stand up. Something that we know, just looking at Shane even as he sits on the sidelines will have to step in and save the day. The small (annoying) boy Joey (Brandon De Wilde) who is in awe of the stranger who has become his role model, knows there is something inside him that is waiting to come out.

As much as Shane wants to change his ways, taking on a job with the Starrett’s is not enough to change his very nature. Finally giving in to teach Joey how to handle a gun, in such away that he may one day use it as a tool not a weapon. Shane very much is standing in the shadows of these homesteaders, all decent hardworking men who want to stand up and be respected, not walked all over. Personified by Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) who is the strongest of the group and the weakest, all talk and very little walk, hampered by his wife Marian (Jean Arthur) who wants him to stay safe, not going out to potentially lose his life. She is the very reason he has to; to be seen as a man in front of her and his son whose eyes are open in unto the world around him.

Enter the hired gunfighter Jack Wilson (Jack Palance) who in his few scenes he has steals them all, the “low down Yankee liar” is all bad, the personification of a gunfighter who takes pleasure in pulling the gun from its holster to take another life, to prove his is stronger, better and will live to see another day. That’s until he enters this small Alabama town that could easily be anywhere in America personifying the West for a generation, the open country, the American dream that is still being fought over. A moment in history that could have been repeated anywhere in the United States, a fable you could say of good overcoming evil.

Shane is a classic in every sense of the word, the hero, the villain, the lush green landscape with all its rich dirt and mountains that surround these people in the middle of nowhere. Two of the leads are take from very different genres, Alan Ladd a regular of film noir, and Jean Arthur whose career was all but over, most remembered for her Capra films, both could easily have been out of their depth, which works in their favour, the energy of the modern dark streets and an innocence and need to feel safe in the world.

At the core of this is a need to remain true to yourself, the gunfighter with all their on-screen glory can never settle down with the homesteaders, as strong as that need maybe, it’s a dangerous life to live as we find out for two of them. This is a prime example of the classic western, stranger enters, shakes things up and leaves alone again, never to return leaving the town for the better or worse. Leaving the audience in awe of the dangerous spectacles we have seen in the film. It’s over in a flash, just what we have been waiting for all along satisfying not just the audience by Joey who has been waiting longer than anyone to see his newest role-model come to life after building him up in his mind.

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None but the Lonely Heart (1944)


None but the Lonely Heart (1944)I vaguely remember hearing about this film whilst watching a Cary Grant documentary which mentioned None but the Lonely (1944) a rare dark role for the actor who is best known for his comedy outside of his iconic roles with Alfred HitchcockHere he is back in his native Britain as a down and almost out Ernie Mott who seems to just about scrap by in order to survive in pre-war Britain. Seen as a burden on his mother Ma Mott (Ethel Barrymore) who has her own problems besides him.

He has to face up to life and carry on like the rest of the world. As soon as he leaves the family home he is making his presence known to the street, especially the ladies such as Aggie Hunter (Jane Wyatt) before he attention is drawn to Ada Brantline (June Duprez) who is not too keen on him at first, seeing him for a chancer and little else. It’s as if Grant is playing a role that is from his own past, having come to Hollywood as a charming funny man who sees everything he touch turn to gold.

Deciding to stay with his mother he starts putting down routes, taking on responsibilities, making a name for himself part of the family business, one that before long looses its appeal to him. It’s a grimy world where we find this usually dapper man.  His luck is changing with Ada who starts to go out with him.

If we scratch beneath the surface of his world we find something far darker going on, a need to break free of life on a street where poverty and crime are wide-spread. Temptation is never far away, it’s as if film noir has come to our shores. Of course there are homegrown films such as Brighton Rock (1947), it’s an American production with all the production values, that paints a very dark picture that sees Mott join up with a group of gangsters, by todays standard they aren’t that menacing, they only commit one crime on-screen before having their comeuppance.

What makes this film stand the test of time, as well as it does is the fact it was a dramatic turn for usually comical Grant the jack-the-lad, charmer, brewing with cheek and confidence. Proving away from the master of suspense that he could still take on the darker roles. Placing him back on home turf, if only briefly. Joined by a strong supporting cast lead by Barrymore of the great acting family as the mother who herself is far from perfect, proving how human and open to breaking the law. Sometimes when your situation looks dreadful, we have to swallow our pride and do the wrong thing. Some decisions aren’t as black and white as we want them to be, there are some with many shades of grey in between.

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Have You Seen? (2014)


Inspired by high angle shots found in Brief Encounter (1945), translating the CCTV inspired images to the film noir landscape.

Previously shown at

  • Art Experimenta Vol1, London,
  • WhittyGordon Projects, CityLife, London,
  • Canned Film Festival (2014), Northwich