#142 The Killing

Watched: November 9 2017

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Jay C. Flippen, Ted de Corsia, Marie Windsor, Elisha Cook Jr, Vince Edwards, Joe Sawyer, Timothy Carey, Kola Kwariani

Year: 1956

Runtime: 1h 25min

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Five men, led by mastermind Johnny Clay (Hayden), are planning a heist on a race track with a potential earning of around $2 000 000. Apart from Johnny himself, there’s money man Marvin Unger (Flippen), corrupt cop Randy Kennan (de Corsia), and inside men George Peatty (Cook) and Mike O’Reilly (Sawyer).

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“So, if anyone has a manipulative, two-timing wife who’s sure to sell us all out, now’s the time to come forward. No..? No one..? George..? All right then, we go on as planned!”

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George, a small and nervous man, is easily manipulated by wife and residential Dame Sherry (Windsor), who guilts him into sharing parts of their plan with her. Interested in the money, and less so in her husband, she confides in her lover Val (Edwards – their relationship is the exact opposite of Sherry’s marriage in terms of power and manipulation) who teams up with some buddies to steal the money once the five men do the dirty work.

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“You’ll still love me if you’re rich, right Val?” “Sure thing! I’m definitely not sleeping with you because you’re married and therefore there are no obligations on me, and I won’t leave you for someone younger once I have loads of cash!”

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The plan is well thought out, but will the five men get away with it? Will Johnny manage to pull off one last job and retire from crime to marry his girl Fay (Gray)? Or will the deceitful Dame and her lover ruin it all?

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Also, is Nikki’s puppy real or stuffed..? We’re genuinely asking here.

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From the intense opening score to the climax at the airport, The Killing is full of suspense and intrigue. We loved the voice over which, unlike most Noir films, is not voiced by a character in the film but a narrator; we loved Mike and his sickly wife (we were rooting for them throughout); we loved the different takes on the same scene; and we absolutely loved the mask Johnny wears for the robbery.

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The stuff of which nightmares are made

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The first Kubrick film on the list was a new one for us, and it lived up to the expectations, although it is fairly different from his later works (he was quite young at this point). The female characters are not much to write home about, but otherwise this was a very entertaining thriller with some very cool details which we enjoyed.

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Also, great inspiration for a simple yet creepy Halloween costume!

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What we learned: Never share anything with Dames.

Next time: The Searchers (1956)

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#133 The Big Combo

Watched: September 16 2017

Director: Joseph H. Lewis

Starring: Cornel Wilde, Richard Conte, Brian Donlevy, Jean Wallace, Helen Walker

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 27min

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Leonard Diamond (Wilde) is a police lieutenant with a vendetta against crime lord Mr Brown (Conte). Despite warnings from his superiors and a distinct lack of evidence, he is hell-bent on bringing the gangster down and to save Mr Brown’s girl Susan Lowell (Wallace), with whom he is a bit obsessed.

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And who can blame him, with her face always being perfectly lit, even in shadows

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When Lowell tries to kill herself, Diamond finally has an opportunity to talk to her in her hospital bed. Not entirely conscious, she keeps muttering about someone named “Alicia,” but when she regains consciousness, she cannot say who Alicia is (or was).

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To the investigation-mobile!

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Mr Brown does not take kindly to Diamond’s interest in him, or his experiments with a lie-detector, so he kidnaps his nemesis, tortures him, and then pours him full of alcohol.

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Pictured: fun new ways of using a hearing aid!

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However, inventive torture devices do nothing to dissuade the investigator, who only increases his efforts to put the criminal behind bars. Following a hunch, Diamond goes out to prove that Brown is a killer, but what he finds is not quite what he expected.

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He does find time to snuggle with dancer Rita – an unlucky Dame with perfect make-up and low standards

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The Big Combo is dark and atmospheric, with great lighting and music. The characters are taken to the extreme; Diamond is exceedingly righteous and stubborn, while Brown is a sadistic psychopath with few redeeming features, apart from maybe his tongue, judging from the look on Susan’s face in one infamous scene.

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Her heart may regret getting involved with a gangster, but her body thinks otherwise…

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We loved the lighting, the smoke and the angles, the jazzy music and the use of sound around a pivotal moment in McClure’s life (which we will not spoil). The Big Combo is also surprisingly progressive sexually, with the aforementioned scene with Susan and Brown, as well as the heavily implied relationship between henchmen Fante and Mingo both being unusually explicit for the time.

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It’s (more than) guy love between two guuuuys

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Definitely worth watching, especially if you’re into noir films with lots of sexual undertones.

What we learned: Even gangster henchmen can find love in each other.

Next time: The Court Jester (1955)

#130 Kiss Me Deadly

Watched: August 27 2017

Director: Robert Aldrich

Starring: Ralph Meeker, Albert Dekker, Paul Stewart, Maxine Cooper, Juano Hernandez, Cloris Leachman, Marian Carr, Nick Dennis

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 46min

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A barefooted girl in a trench coat is running along a road, desperately trying to flag down a car. When one finally stops, she is admonished for almost wrecking the car by driver Mike Hammer (Meeker) before he lets her in. The girl, Christina (Leachman), is unable to speak at first but accepts a ride and gets in the stranger’s car.

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You know you’re in trouble when getting into a car with a grumpy stranger whilst naked is the safest choice

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Mike is not exactly the nicest guy in the world, but he does get Christina past a police blockade looking for an escaped mental patient, which is more than you can usually ask of a total stranger. It turns out he is a somewhat dodgy P.I. with a history of two-timing his clients. However, luckily for the desperate Christina, he’s also the kind of man who doesn’t give up once he’s onto something.

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Even if he’s up against people who like to torture and kill helpless girls

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We say luckily, but for poor Christina there was no luck. The two are captured, tortured and dumped in their car over a cliff. Mike makes it, but his female companion does not. Offended by these events, the Private Dick starts to investigate with the help of his lover/assistant/secretary/bait Velma (Cooper) and various colourful characters. What was Christina running from? Who was after her? And what is important enough to kill for?

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What’s in the box? Spoiler alert: it’s not the soul of Marsellus Wallace.

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Kiss Me Deadly is a Noir, but there are clear influences from horror and sci-fi, with the runaway mental patient and the mysterious glowing box everybody’s after. We went in completely blind on this one and were drawn in from the beginning – the opening scene is great! We loved Nick and Friday, the Gothic and sci-fi elements, Mike’s extreme badassness (though he might be a bit of a sociopath), and the importance of Christina Rossetti.

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A thorough knowledge of classic poetry is as important as a leggy dame, an attitude, a quick wit and a gun when it comes to investigating

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Poetry is important.

What we learned: Don’t pick up hitchhikers. Or, actually, do. Add some spice to your life! Also, breaking records is a surprisingly effective interrogation technique.

Next time: Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

#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)

#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)

#78 The Killers

Watched: January 22 2017

Director: Robert Siodmak

Starring: Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien

Year: 1946

Runtime: 1h 37min

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Two shady characters enter a diner, accompanied by a dramatic opening score. After intimidating the owner, the cook, and the lone guest, they set up for a hit on regular customer Swede (Lancaster). Who fails to show. Rude.

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They also start a time honoured tradition of people in films who order food in diners and proceed not to eat it. Seems very wasteful.

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When it becomes clear that their target won’t show up, the hitmen leave to track him down, and the diner guest, Nick, runs to warn the Swede, hopping fences on the way like an old-timey Simon Pegg. However, when he reaches the soon-to-be victim, the Swede refuses to do anything, stating he deserves his fate because he “once did something wrong”. Nick leaves and soon the hitmen finish their business. True to his word, the Swede does not defend himself. But why not? It is up to insurance investigator Jim Reardon (O’Brien) to figure everything out.

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Guess what? A Dame is involved!

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Reardon starts interviewing old friends and accomplices of Swede and the story of his life is told through flashbacks (naturally, as Lancaster would have ridiculously high billing if he had been killed in the first five minutes, never to be seen again). His first stop is the beneficiary of the Swede’s life insurance policy, an old lady running a hotel in which he once stayed. While she has no idea why he would leave her money, she does remember witnessing some erratic and self-destructive behaviour during his time in the hotel, as well as ramblings about a woman who is gone.

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It becomes clear that the man had some anger issues

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What Reardon finds is an ex-boxer who, when out on a date with another girl, falls in love with a Dame called Kitty Collins (Gardner). Kitty is involved in some shady business, and Swede takes the fall for one transgression, landing him in jail for three years. When released, he gets into even shadier stuff, leading him on a path of crime and destruction, much to the chagrin of his childhood friend who became a police officer.

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The police equivalent of a clown car. We love it!

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The Killers has more investigating and less action than some of the noir films we’ve watched, but it is intriguing and suspenseful. Ava Gardner is great as the double-crossing Dame, and the fact that this was Lancaster’s first film role is very impressive. As is common in film-noir, there’s great use of light and shadow, and the mood throughout the film is bleak and menacing. It’s a great watch for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

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We’re going to leave you with this awesome image.

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What we learned: Don’t hit on other girls while you’re on a date. It’s just not classy. Also, there’s no honour among thieves. And Kitty’s got claws!

Next time: Black Narcissus (1947)

#77 The Big Sleep

Watched: January 22 2017

Director: Howard Hawks

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Martha Vickers

Year: 1946

Runtime: 1h 54min

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Philip Marlowe is back, this time portrayed by (the not very tall, but oh so charming) Humphrey Bogart. Entering the Sternwood residence for an appointment with General Sternwood, he is immediately met by a Dame in the making – young miss Carmen Sternwood (Vickers), who tries to sit on his lap while he is still standing.

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Despite Carmen’s best efforts, General Sternwood is the first member of the family to have our hero undress

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Carmen has gambling debts and her father, the General, is being blackmailed by a man named Geiger. He hires Marlowe to clear everything up, and on his way out, the detective is summoned to the chambers of the older Sternwood daughter, Mrs Vivian Rutledge (Bacall), who is very interested in what exactly Marlowe has been hired to do. The two start measuring each other up (both figuratively and literally) and exchange quips.

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“She has all the usual vices, besides those she’s invented for herself”

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Marlowe starts his investigation in the usual way which comes complete with diagrams on page 47 of how to be a detective in 10 easy lessons correspondent school textbook. That is, he starts snooping around Geiger’s bookshop which he quickly discovers is a front for something else, although he strikes out with the lady working there. He has better luck with the saucy bookseller from across the street, and spends his afternoon with her sharing a drink.

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Yet another great example of how removing glasses and letting one’s hair down transforms a “plain,” bookish girl into an absolute stunner.

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Marlowe follows Geiger and stakes out his house. After a shot and a scream, he enters to find Geiger dead, a hidden camera, and a very drugged out Carmen in a near catatonic state. He takes the girl home, exchanges more banter with her older sister, and returns to the crime scene only to find dead Mr Geiger gone. The plot is very much thickening.

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Also thickening is the sexual tension between the two stars

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To sort out this mess, Marlowe and Rutledge (who’s divorced, by the way, so their relationship is completely on the up-and-up) have to work together. There are more dead bodies, more blackmail, more Dames and other cool women (such as Marlowe’s taxi driver), shady characters, quips and banter, silly henchmen, a fairly complicated plot (but great scenes, so it doesn’t really matter), and Humphrey Bogart being supercool.

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This is a man completely unaffected by having a gun pointed at him. Though Bacall doesn’t seem too perturbed either, to give her her due.

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There are beautiful clothes, sassy dialogue, and amazing characters portrayed by iconic stars. There’s also murder, intrigue, loose sexual morals, and an infamous restaurant scene we have no idea how got past the censors. It’s a classic for a reason and if you haven’t already checked this one out, you should! We loved it.

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Serious question though: how extremely innocent do you have to be not to read the subtext of this scene?

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What we learned: men in the 1940s were physically unable to see past a pair of glasses on a pretty girl. Also, sometimes personal chemistry works equally well on screen as in real life.

Next time: The Killers (1946)

#70 Detour

Watched: January 08 2017

Director: Edgar G. Ulmer

Starring: Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake, Edmund MacDonald

Year: 1945

Runtime: 1h 7min

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Al Roberts (Neal) is in a diner, irritable and not very sociable. What has happened? He tells his story to the viewer – and it is not a happy tale.

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“Happy? How can anyone be happy? There is no happiness, only darkness and sadness” – Roberts, probably

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Roberts is a pianist in a nightclub where his best gal Sue (Drake) is also employed as a singer. Walking home from work one night, through the (extreme) fog and darkness, she tells him that she’s planning on seeking her fortune in Hollywood. Roberts is not happy about it, though to be fair, he wasn’t exactly a ball of sunshine before she broke the news either.

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This may be the only time he smiles throughout the entire 67 minutes.

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After she moves, he decides to hitchhike from New York to Los Angeles to see her, and it’s all downhill from there. He considers himself lucky when he gets a ride from rich (and misogynistic) Charles Haskell, Jr (MacDonald), but he could not be more wrong. After Haskell unexpectedly dies, Roberts makes a horrible decision to bury the body and pose as the dead man to stay out of trouble. Already here, we can see where this is going, but not just how bad it’s going to get.

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It never gets really bad until you bring a Dame into it…

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Enter Vera (Savage), a bona fide Dame with all the credentials, including previously fighting off the advances of the now deceased real owner of the car. His new angry and disillusioned passenger leads Roberts to make even more terrible decisions than the ones he’s already made, and they keep spiralling towards inevitable doom.

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Who knew a young woman in a lace knit sweater could be so vicious!

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Now, Roberts is made out to be the victim in this film, and in a way he is. However, he is also the one telling the story and as such there’s a chance his narration is a bit on the unreliable side. Perhaps Haskell’s death (and any subsequent ones) weren’t as accidental as he claims, and his decision to rob the dead man may not have been as spontaneous as we are led to believe. Either way, his life is forever altered and his plans are not to be. Poor Sue.

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Seems guys (with big instruments) are already lining up to take Roberts’ place, though. We’re sure she’ll be fine. After all, it’s not like young, attractive women have ever been mistreated in Hollywood.

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What we learned: Film Noir-narration is the best narration. Also, if someone (accidentally) dies in your presence, just go to the police and fess up at once.

Next time: The Lost Weekend (1945)

#67 Murder, My Sweet

Watched: December 18 2016

Director: Edward Dmytryk

Starring: Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley, Otto Kruger, Mike Mazurki

Year: 1944

Runtime: 1h 35min

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We continue our sordid Noir journey with our first encounter with Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler’s private detective who’s made numerous film and TV appearances. In Dmytryk’s Murder, My Sweet, we open with his interrogation for murder as he recounts the events leading up to his arrest.

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For once, it doesn’t start with a Dame, but with a strong simpleton of a man

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A man walks into his office and what a man! Legs up to here and strong as a bull. Moose Malloy (Mazurki) is his name and of course, he’s looking for a Dame. Velma. A redhead. She used to sing. Marlowe (Powell) takes on the case and they go out looking for her. Although finding a girl eight years later isn’t done in a night.

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A bar is never the wrong place to start looking for lost Dames

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It doesn’t take long for Marlowe to be approached by two more clients, one of whom gets himself killed and Marlowe knocked out within hours of hiring him. Luckily he paid in advance. He hires the detective to act as backup while trying to buy back a priceless jade necklace from some robbers, but the deal goes horribly wrong.

Then, finally, a Dame walks into his office.

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The glasses exclude her from being a real romantic interest. Luckily for Marlowe, they were just a disguise.

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Reporter Allison, real name Ann Grayle (Shirley), tries to get information about the jade and when he sees through her ruse, she admits that the necklace was worn by her stepmother when it was stolen. Marlowe goes to investigate and meets the stepmom (Trevor). And she’s a real Dame! Not much older than her stepdaughter, she puts the moves on Marlowe and plays the victim quite well.

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She plays the seductress even better

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From then on the plot thickens. Marlowe is knocked out, threatened with guns and fists, drugged and put in a very amusing dream sequence. He also kisses all the dames and hatches all the plots in order to satisfy those clients he can and bring justice to those he cannot. All the while, his amazing internal dialogue narrates his actions. The similes! The quips! The banter! We need to start talking more Noirish in our daily lives.

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He’s come a long way since Footlight Parade. Though somehow not so far since Dames

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Admittedly, taking the juvenile from all those Busby Berkeley musicals seriously as a hard boiled detective was a bit difficult at first, but he does actually pull it off. That being said, we’re very much looking forward to Humphrey Bogart’s Marlowe in the upcoming The Big Sleep, which is an old favourite of ours. Murder, my Sweet was very good and entertaining though, and we’re very excited about all the Film Noir in this part of the list. Now we just need to practice our banter.

What we learned: stay away from Dames! Also, we need to read more Raymond Chandler.

Next time: Brief Encounter (1945)