#95 White Heat

Watched: April 02 2017

Director: Raoul Walsh

Starring: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien, Margaret Wycherly

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 54min

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After ten years, and 48 entries, James Cagney is back, and we’re thrilled. Cody Jarrett (Cagney) leads a gang of hoodlums with the help of his Ma (Wycherly) with whom he has a relationship worthy of a Freudian study. After several deaths during a train robbery perpetrated by him and his gang, Cody decides to take the rap for another, less violent crime committed at the same time to avoid a life and/or death sentence.

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He seems sadder about leaving his Ma for two years than about leaving his hot wife. See “Freud” above.

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Meanwhile, the man in charge of investigating the train robbery decides to put one of his men, Hank (O’Brien), undercover in Cody’s prison cell to get to the bottom of the case since he knows it was Cody’s doing. Hank’s task is to gain Cody’s trust and get a confession. Or, as it turns out, join him in a prison break and become his right hand man after unfortunate events and treacherous gang members throw Cody’s world off balance.

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“It’s guy love between two guuuuys”

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White Heat is an action-packed noir-thriller-prison break-heist-crime-gangster-film with all the elements we still see in the genre(s). The Cagney Charisma makes you sort of root for him a bit no matter how amoral and unscrupulous his character may be, although in this case it could be partly because the people with which he surrounds himself are pretty much as bad as he is.

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Examples include, but are not limited to, his beautiful but duplicitous wife Verna (Mayo)

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Cagney’s undeniable charm aside, we found ourselves rooting more and more for Hank as the story progressed, and we were really impressed with the often sophisticated investigative and forensic tools employed by the police in this film – they felt very modern to us. We also kind of loved Ma Jarrett although, like her son, she’s a bit of a manipulative sociopath.

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Cody is deliciously insane though, so Ma may have been a stabilizing influence in his life

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It’s a dramatic film with a dramatic score. The storyline is one which would probably have been stretched into an entire season of a TV show nowadays, so with a run time of under two hours, it never gets dull. Very good indeed, and we loved being back in the company of James Cagney.

What we learned: We might all profit from a closer study of classic literature.

Next time: All About Eve (1950)

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#94 The Third Man

Watched: March 27 2017

Director: Carol Reed

Starring: Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 44min

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Holly Martins (Cotten) arrives in post-war Vienna to start a job provided for him by Harry Lime (Welles) only to find that his friend has died. As Martins starts looking into the accidental death, things don’t add up. Conflicting witness statements and suspicious characters convince the mystery writer that there is something strange going on and he starts to investigate with the help of Harry’s (somewhat illegal) girlfriend, Anna Schmidt (Valli).

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It’s a long and winding road to get at the truth. And it’s almost as if there’s symbolism in the sets and cinematography.

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We cannot really say much more about the plot without spoiling the film. Suffice to say, Holly’s suspicions are not unfounded and his investigation takes him deep into the murky waters of war profiteering in post-war/early cold war era Vienna. There are twists and turns aplenty and it’s an exciting and engaging watch.

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It’s a wet dream for cobblestone aficionados everywhere!

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What stands out the most in The Third Man is the incredible use of shadows which reminded us a bit of the early German expressionist films we watched, just turned up to 11 (as did a lot of the angles). The beautiful architecture of Vienna with the juxtaposition of the gorgeous buildings and the rubble of the collapsed structures was beautiful, although we’re sure Austrians may disagree with that.

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For horror fans, there’s also a creepy balloon guy.

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Wet cobblestones, lots of arches, scary shadows, and a strangely beautiful sewer system make the film very visually appealing. There’s also a decorative lampshade – the very epitome of the Noir trope. The performances are great, with Welles being nicely menacing and slick.

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As we said, cobblestone aficionados need look no further for a fix.

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Neither do fans of Orson Welles’ strange charm

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Seriously though – very attractive sewer! We can see ourselves turning it into some sort of Gothic paradise.

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What we learned: War is the mother of invention. Also, sister the oldest is a little shadow slut. She loves her some good shadows!

Next time: White Heat (1949)

#93 Kind Hearts and Coronets

Watched: March 26 2017

Director: Robert Hamer

Starring: Dennis Price, Alec Guinness, Valerie Dobson, Joan Greenwood

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 46min

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Louis D’Ascoyne Mazzini, Duke of Chalfont (Price – looking very much like Gene Wilder), is awaiting his execution for murder. As he calmly enjoys some wine in his cell, he writes down his memoirs, and we are invited to watch how his life unfolded and what led him to his prison cell.

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Death Row sure has changed since the early 1900s!

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Louis’ mother was a wealthy aristocrat until she ran off to marry an Italian opera singer and her family disowned her. When her husband died minutes after the birth of their son, the new mother is left destitute and forced to (gasp!) do manual labour. The horror! She feels this life is beneath her, and never misses a chance to remind her impressionable young son that he deserves better.

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Ain’t no one pointing their cane at Louis Mazzini. Ain’t no one!

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After his mother’s death, Louis becomes obsessed with reclaiming his place in her estranged family and becoming the next Duke of Chalfont – the family estate. Partly because of their awful treatment of his mother, but also partly because of his own ambition and his desire for Sibella (Greenwood), a silly girl he grew up with. However, unfortunately for him, there are eight other family members ahead of him in line for the Duke title. Something has to be done. So he goes on a hilarious murder spree.

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With this kind of family resemblance, tracking them all down should be a piece of cake

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We cannot begin to describe how much we loved this one, and we’re surprised and appalled that we have never heard of it before (a curse on whoever is supposed to be our cultural educators!). Louis is equal parts hilariously sarcastic and genuinely creepy. His systematic approach to trim the family tree is a joy to watch unfold, though his juggling of his two love interests is increasingly sociopathic. Especially as one of them, Edith (Hobson), is the widow of one of his earliest victims.

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The other interest is a silly girl with a penchant for lace and overly complicated hats.

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The visual and verbal humour made us laugh throughout the film, and we’re definitely watching this one again! Price’s stoic and sardonic Louis reminded us of Gene Wilder (they look alike too), and Alec Guinness is wonderful as all eight (unfortunate) members of the D’Ascoyne clan. Joan Greenwood’s Sibella is certainly a silly girl, but she too has a dark side – the two are perfect for each other. If you like sarcasm, murder and fancy dresses (and honestly, who doesn’t?) this is the film for you.

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If you want to make parricide fun, make a game of it!

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What we learned: 8 different ways to kill Alec Guinness. Also, the Latin word for killing family members is parricide. You’re welcome.

Next time: The Third Man (1949)

#91 Criss Cross

Watched: March 20 2017

Director: Robert Siodmak

Starring: Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo, Dan Duryea, Stephen McNally

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 28min

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Steve Thompson (Lancaster) has returned to Los Angeles after a year’s absence, and he quickly reconnects with ex-wife Anna (De Carlo) – the main reason he left town a year earlier. While they seem to be ready to start their relationship again, Anna is also pursued by local gangster Slim Dundee (Duryea) and after a series of miscommunications with her ex-husband as well as pride on both their parts, she ends up marrying Dundee.

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Her new marriage leads to a lot of sneaking around dark parking lots with her ex. That’s what you get for marrying money instead of…whatever it is Steve is to her. Passion perhaps?

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When the lovers are caught in Steve’s house, he tries to cover up their affair by suggesting to Anna’s criminal husband that they join forces for a heist. As an armoured truck driver, Steve offers to be an inside man on a pay roll robbery as long as no one gets hurt in the process. What could possibly go wrong in this scenario?

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Alarm bells should have rung when everyone else showed up at the party in variations of this outfit

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Criss Cross explores a lot of the typical Noir tropes, such as the good guy whose fate is sealed through a mix of circumstances, bad decisions and, of course, the love for a Dame. In addition, there’s the usual: flashbacks, heists, double-crossings, chain-smoking, heavy drinking, gorgeous dresses, the protagonist’s voice-over, and a gradually darker and darker story line.

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As pictured here, Criss Cross also features the typical Noir trope The Decorative Lampshade. Classic!

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The Dame here is fairly innocent and nice compared to a few others we’ve encountered so far, although looks can be as deceiving as a Dame. Anna almost seems another victim – of men in her case, who treat her fairly crappily and might be to blame for her Dameyness (totally a word!), though some of the responsibility might lie with her (her alternative may have been to end up like the barfly in the Round Up). Her descent into victimization may be just a side effect of her learning that her new husband is not as easy to manipulate and control as her ex, but it may also be that Steve (and the audience) are given a glimpse into why she is who she is.

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Bruises are an easy way to evoke sympathy in both exes and audiences (which does not mean the sympathy isn’t justified, by the way).

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Likewise, Steve is not as much of an anti-hero as many other Noir characters – apart from his obsession with Anna (and his tendency to fight with her), he seems to be a fairly ordinary man with a normal family and a steady, average job.

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Until he starts planning heists, that is. As far as we know, that’s not completely normal. Well, perhaps planning them is, but going through with them is another story!

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All in all, we thought this was another wonderful and suspenseful Noir from Robert Siodmak, a master of the genre. Great movie – great rhumba music, courtesy of Esy Morales and his Rhumba Band. Good times!

What we learned: When you Double-Cross a Double-Crosser… It’s a Criss-Cross! Also, organizing a heist to cover up an affair may not be the best idea…

Next time: Jour de Fête (1949)

#90 Caught

Watched: March 11 2017

Director: Max Ophüls

Starring: Barbara Bel Geddes, James Mason, Robert Ryan

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 28min

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Leonora Eames (Bel Geddes) has one ambition in life: to go to Charm School so that she can be eligible to marry a rich, upper-class man. After saving up all her money to attend said school, she gets a job modelling clothes in a store which, through a series of (un)fortunate events leads to her meeting Smith Ohlrig (Ryan), the epitome of the rich bachelor.

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As you can see, she is instantly comfortable in his company

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Ohlrig marries his model more to prove he will than because of any true affection for her, and as soon as they are married, she starts to see his true nature. Rather than a wife, he treats her as property – he expects her to be at his beck and call at every hour of the day and even embarresses her in front of his friends and co-workers. To Leonora’s credit, she realises that no amount of money is worth this kind of treatment and she leaves her abusive husband.

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As the spoiled man-child he is, Ohlrig’s reaction is to ignore everything not going his way and play his pinball machine instead.

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Though not divorced, Leonora is now on her own and gets a job as a receptionist in a small doctor’s office, where she meets Dr Larry Quinada (Mason). For once, she is in the company of a man who expects more from her than being arm candy – she must give her all to her job and show that she can learn. After a somewhat rocky start, she realises that she is capable of more than being a charming wife

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Unlike Ohlrig, Quinada is looking for a woman of substance, not flirty “charm girls”

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However, despite the lack of love in their marriage, Ohlrig has no intentions of giving his estranged wife a divorce, and his treatment of her becomes more and more brutal throughout the film. In addition, Larry is unaware of her marital status as she is afraid to reveal her real identity to him. Will she be able to escape this mess?

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And what’s going on here? Watch Caught to find out!

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Caught is a suspenseful noir which we completely loved. While Leonora’s ambition at the start of the film is questionable, it seems as though this is something she has been told to do, more than something she wants deep down. She is reluctant to go to parties she’s invited to, and she is weary of the sort of men who invite random models to parties. Her readiness to leave her rich husband without a penny also speaks to her true nature. She’s sweet and likable although a bit irresolute and helpless in the beginning.

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Until she starts flashing people, that is

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It’s a great watch with an interesting ending (which we won’t spoil) that may have been even more controversial to a 1940s audience than it is today. A very good, somewhat unusual noir with great performances – kind of like Citizen Kane from the wife’s perspective in a lot of ways. Although parts of Citizen Kane is also from the wives’ perspective so it’s not a perfect comparison… Suffice to say – we loved it!

What we learned: The only reason we haven’t married rich yet is because no one ever sent us to Charm School. Damn our equal opportunity, sisters-are-doing-it-for-themselves country! Also, money alone isn’t everything.

Next time: Criss Cross (1949)