#83 Out of the Past

Watched: February 9 2017

Director: Jacques Tourneur

Starring: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Virginia Huston, Paul Valentine

Year: 1947

Runtime: 1h 37min

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Jacques Tourneur goes down a different route than in Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie with this film noir, but it still works.

Jeff Bailey (Mitchum) runs a gas station in a small California town, is moderately successful at it (he has at least one employee) and is dating a sweet girl, Ann (Huston). However, he has a past and there are those who won’t let him forget it. One day, Joe (Valentine) saunters into town to drag Jeff back into the world he left behind – a world of criminals and Private Dicks. And, of course, Dames.

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As we have established before, there are good girls (pictured above) and then there are Dames

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Jeff spills the beans to his girlfriend and tells her all about a romance he had back in his private detective days with a certified Dame, Kathie Moffat (Greer). He was hired by her ex boyfriend/stalker/victim Whit Sterling (Douglas) to track her down after she had shot him and run away with $40 000 of his hard earned and totally legitimate money. Jeff follows Kathie’s trail to Acapulco and strikes up a conversation with her, which turns into a whirlwind romance. He lies to Whit and takes Kathie with him to San Francisco to start a new life. Which doesn’t exactly go as planned.

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Turns out you can take the Dame away from Danger but you cannot take Danger away from the Dame

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This could have been the end of the story, but Joe’s appearance means Jeff’s past is about to catch up with him. Kathie has gone back to Whit and Jeff has no choice but to do one last job for him. A job which includes murder, frame-ups, tax evasion and even more double-crossing dames.

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As well as Kirk Douglas

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As we mentioned, this is quite the departure from the previous Tourneurs on the list, but there’s still something distinctly Tourneur about it. We’re just not film scholarly enough to point out exactly what that is… Suffice to say, we enjoyed Out of the Past (almost) as much as his earlier ventures into horror (“almost” because horror is our lifeblood). It is exciting and fun with the most duplicitous of Dames, but there’s also love and romance, heartbreak and sorrow. Extremely enjoyable!

What we learned: Drinks in Acapulco are too cheap. They keep leaving half empty (half full?) glasses in bars!

Next time: Bicycle Thieves (1948)

#82 Odd Man Out

Watched: February 1 2017

Director: Carol Reed

Starring: James Mason, Kathleen Ryan, Robert Newton, Robert Beatty, F.J. McCormick, W.G. Fay, William Hartnell

Year: 1947

Runtime: 1h 56min

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In an unnamed Northern Irish city (our money’s on Belfast), Johnny McQueen (Mason), recently escaped from prison and hidden ever since, is planning a robbery/heist with his cohorts to raise funds for their (also unnamed) organisation. Despite not having been outside for years, Johnny is set on carrying out the plan himself, even when one of his mates offers to go in his place. However, during the heist, he suffers some sort of existential crisis (or perhaps agoraphobia) and things go wrong. Johnny shoots a man and is himself injured, and has to go on the lam.

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Is this some Omenesque foreshadowing? Stay tuned to find out!

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The now injured Johnny first hides in an air raid shelter and after Dennis (Beatty) helps him escape his hiding place he roams the city looking for safety and help with his injuries, meeting all sorts of interesting and colourful characters along the way.

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He also inexplicably poses for portraits

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With the authorities hot on his heels, the people he meets are sympathetic but afraid to help. Most of them give him a drink and send him on his way, scared to get involved but not willing to turn him in and collect the reward. Meanwhile, his girlfriend Kathleen (Ryan) is also looking for him and enlists the help of Father Tom (Fay) to save her love.

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She’s the light at the end of his tunnel. Bliss!

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As the backdrop of all this drama, we see the local kids hero worshipping and celebrating him, in many ways turning him into some sort of Messiah figure. Unfortunately, we all know what happened to Jesus, so this is not necessarily a good sign. Johnny spirals, deteriorating both physically and mentally, and he has to try to come to terms with what he has done and what will happen.

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The snow keeps falling heavier and heavier which, again, we find somewhat ominous

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Odd Man Out is a lot more slowly paced than the other Noirs we’ve watched lately, which was a nice departure. We loved the performances, the beautiful sets (the ravages of “conflict” are evident in the decrepit buildings), the lighting, the score, and particularly the visions in the beer foam and the moving portraits. It’s a long and slow watch, so you have to be in the right mood, but it is definitely worth it.

 

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Pro tip: once you start seeing this in your spilled beer, it’s time to go home

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What we learned: NO jitterbugging!

Next time: Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)

#81 Nightmare Alley

Watched: January 29 2017

Director: Edmund Goulding

Starring: Tyrone Power, Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray, Helen Walker, Ian Keith

Year: 1947

Runtime: 1h 50min

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Edmund Goulding’s Nightmare Alley brings us back to the carny world of Freaks, complete with a Geek (not the computer kind though; more the rip-the-heads-off-of-chickens-with-his-teeth kind). It’s a world we’ve missed and we were very happy to be back.

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The Geek is ever present though never shown on screen. Our filthy, sensationalist minds were only slightly miffed.

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Zeena, Mentalist Princess (Blondell), is mentoring Stan (Power), an ambitious young carnival performer. Stan learns of a secret code which Zeena and her now alcoholic husband Pete (Keith) used to “tell fortunes” back in their Vaudeville days, and he is set on learning it. However, Pete will have none of it and forbids his wife from teaching it to Stan or anyone else.

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“If only something could befall this desperate alcoholic..!”

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One dark night, there is a fatal (if accidental?) mix-up of bottles, and Pete has drunk his last drop. Unable to perform alone, Zeena teaches Stan the code and the two of them resurrect her old clairvoyant act. That is, until Stan is caught fraternizing with fellow performer Molly (Gray) and the lovers are forced to marry, leave the carnival and set up on their own.

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Sparks quite literally fly

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With his new wife, Stan starts performing in hotels – a step up from the traveling carnival circuit and with a slightly more powerful and respectable clientele. As his audience and his reputation grow, he strikes up a (probably platonic) relationship with a consulting psychologist, Lilith Ritter (Walker), who treats many of the city’s elite. When he learns that she records her sessions, he teams up with her to use her clients’ personal information to gain their trust and their money.

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He underestimated how fatale this femme really was…

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Stan becomes the victim of his own hubris and ambition. No matter how many of the women (and Tarot cards) in his life try to warn him that he is crossing the line he keeps pushing, making himself out to be almost a Messiah figure, and in the end something’s got to give. The story comes full circle – we start and end in a traveling carnival where people make their own fate. Nightmare Alley is in many ways an Ikaros-tale, and it’s an intriguing and hypnotic watch. We absolutely loved it!

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Also, Joan Blondell, who we loved in the Busby Berkeley musicals, got even better with age!

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What we learned: Never trust a professional conman. Or a consulting psychologist. Also, do not take the Lord’s name in vain.

Next time: Odd Man Out (1947)

#80 Brighton Rock

Watched: January 29 2017

Director: John Boulting

Starring: Richard Attenborough, Hermione Baddeley, William Hartnell, Carol Marsh, Wylie Watson

Year: 1947

Runtime: 1h 32min

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Brighton. A cesspool of crime, run by gangsters and desperation. On top of the ladder following the death of old kingpin Kite: Pinkie Brown (Attenborough), a young but ruthless man. As newly appointed leader it is his duty to avenge the death of his former boss, and he blames reporter Fred Hale. So he disposes of him.

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Fred wasn’t the only victim. Those glasses had once offended his mother so were also promptly disposed of.

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While there are no witnesses to the actual disposing (which by the way was an excellent scene), Ida Arnold (Baddeley) who had spent most of the day with Fred, gets suspicious and starts her own investigation. At the same time, Pinkie’s associate Spicer (Watson) royally messes up while trying to establish an alibi for the gangsters, and accidentally leaves behind a potential witness – 17 year old waitress Rose (Marsh).

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Luckily, Rose is a mature, intelligent woman, not easily manipulated or an easy victim, and she brings the gangsters down. Just kidding!

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To stop Rose talking, Pinkie starts dating her, and while he may very well be the worst, broodiest date ever, she is an inexperienced, naïve Catholic girl and she falls for him. Silly child.

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She even tends to his battle wounds, that sweet summer child

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Their (insanely wrong) romance blossoms, but that is about the only thing going right in Pinkie’s life. Ida continues her investigation and stumbles across Rose who accidentally reveals a crucial piece of information. Meanwhile, Pinkie’s business is under threat from Colleoni, a rival “businessman,” which puts another cog in his wheels.

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Later, his rival also puts a scar on his face and fear in his eyes

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As his story progresses, Pinkie gets more desperate and more violent and it all builds towards an inevitably bleak ending, particularly as he introduces some Romeo and Juliet-type scenario to his new, doting wife. We’re not entirely sure she paid attention in English class, or perhaps she is still so young she thought it all romantic.

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Then again, who could resist these loving eyes?

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We’ve heard the end referred to as fairly “happy”, but we cannot help but think Rose would be better off knowing the truth about her marriage as it would at least leave her with a chance to move on. As it stands, she may be lost forever.

Brighton Rock is suspenseful to the point of being stressful, and it’s a very good watch. The performances in the film are great, and we really enjoyed it. Definitely worth watching. We will leave you with a picture featuring Ida and Dallow (Hartnell – aka The Doctor), as we have not managed to squeeze them in anywhere else.

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We threw in a couple of police officers for good measure. Enjoy!

What we learned: if a shady character indirectly sort of threatens your life, don’t marry him.

Next time: Nightmare Alley (1947)

#79 Black Narcissus

Watched: January 28 2017

Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Starring: Deborah Kerr, Kathleen Byron, David Farrar, Flora Robson, Judith Furse, Jenny Laird, Sabu, Jean Simmons

Year: 1947

Runtime: 1h 40min

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Sister Clodagh (Kerr) is tasked with starting a convent high up in the Himalayas. To aid in her quest, she is offered four companions; Briony the Strong (Furse), Philippa the Gardener (Robson), Blanche (aka Honey) the Sweet (Laird), and Ruth the Difficult (Byron). Together, they travel to the great unknown to start a school and a hospital for the locals.

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Luckily for them, nothing ever goes wrong when a group of people are stranded in a remote, albeit beautiful, location

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They quickly establish a school where they teach children about guns, and a hospital where they treat people who are sick, but not too sick. With the help of government agent Mr Dean (Farrar) and the local General (which is apparently a code name for royalty), who pays locals to visit the convent, the nuns flourish, at least for a while. They also take in a young local girl, Kanchi (Simmons), who has been hitting hard on Mr Dean with no luck.

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It’s hard to be the only eligible bachelor in the area. He needs help controlling the urges of the women crossing his path.

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When the Young General (Sabu – an actual Indian) comes to learn, the sisters are sceptical about admitting a man into their midst, but they eventually let him join their lessons, which Kanchi is thrilled about.

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She quite literally throws herself at his feet

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As the film progresses, all the nuns experience changes. Sister Philippa has a crisis of faith and ends up planting flowers instead of the vegetables she’s supposed to be growing for the convent. Sister Clodagh keeps having flashbacks to her life prior to life as a nun, reliving her past relationship back in Ireland with a man she thought she would marry. Sisters Blanche and Briony have to make some tough choices in regards to a sick infant, one which has consequences for all the nuns. However, sister Ruth’s break from reality is the most intense and sinister, which makes the last 20 minutes of the film play more like a horror film than the melodrama of the first hour.

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This is what happens when you question your choice of celibacy

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Ruth falls in love (or lust) with Mr Dean, and she becomes insanely jealous of Clodagh as she suspects (rightly or not) that the Sister Superior feels the same way. While the nuns blame the clear air and the water of their new home for their new emotions, it is quite possible that the convent itself might be partly to blame. We learn early on that the palace used to be a House of Women – a house for concubines and wives of the royals, and it seems the women go mad with lust and desire, in some form or another, in this building.

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Some go madder than others

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We enjoyed this film a lot. We have to admit that for the first 50 minutes we were not entirely sure what the point was – why was this film made? Beautiful as it was, it didn’t seem to be going clearly in any one direction. However, everything comes together in the last half. It is a strange and bizarre film, but we loved it nonetheless. Ruth’s transformation is wonderfully creepy and the endless drumming towards the end of the film are very reminiscent of I Walked with a Zombie, which adds to the feeling of horror of the last half hour. If you’re up for something weird and unusual, you should check out Black Narcissus. It’s quite the experience.

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What we learned: Europeans eat sausages wherever they go. Interpret that as you wish.

Next time: Brighton Rock (1947)