Frank Bigelow (O’Brien) has a problem. He has been murdered. However, he is still alive, waiting for the poison in his system to do its job. As any sane man would, he takes it upon himself to investigate his own murder, which leads him into a world of conspiracies, ruthless men and, of course, Dames.
As he starts to uncover the events leading up to the murder, he becomes gradually more desperate as his expiration date is fast approaching. For an accountant he’s a pretty good investigator and he soon starts to find connections between his own untimely death and the apparent suicide of another man.
D.O.A. is another suspenseful Noir thriller told in flashbacks, complete with leggy blondes (our hero’s favourites), psychopathic henchmen and shootouts. And a nice girl, Paula (Britton), waiting at home not being told a thing about her boyfriend’s impending doom. Men…
Our favourite scene was a musical one – Bigelow goes to “The Fisherman”, a jive bar with amazing live music and “jive heads” being enlightened by the musical frenzy.
It’s interesting to watch a man when he has (almost) nothing left to lose. Bigelow, an accountant in “real life” seems to become more alive in his last 48 hour of life than he has been up until this point, and he also gets his priorities straight regarding his girl.
Very tense, very thrilling, and very athmospheric, D.O.A. is definitely worth the watch. Excellent concept and an abundance of dames only add to the experience, and we recommend it to anyone interested in Film Noir. And/or decorative lampshades.
What we learned: Not everyone has the privilege of reporting or investigating their own murder. Also, ’50s dresses are the best dresses.
While the title states this is All About Eve, this classic is in reality all about Margo Channing (Davies), an aging theatre actress, and her circle of friends. The show starts with the eponymous Eve (Baxter) winning a prestigious theatre award with Margo in attendance, looking very much less than impressed. We then flash back to their first meeting and get to see what has unfolded up until this point and what brought them there.
After her show one night, Margo’s friend Karen (Holm) invites a devoted fan backstage to meet her hero. The fan introduces herself as Eve and tells her tragic life story, charming both women in the process. Margo, sympathising with her visitor, offers her a home and a job as a personal assistant of sorts.
As Eve and Margo grow closer, Margo starts to see through Eve’s quiet, unassuming demeanor and realises that she is in fact an ambitious young actress who works on manipulating everyone around her to make it to the top. Coupled with Margo’s own insecurities about aging, this leads to some irrational (but fabulous!) behaviour on her part, as she struggles to convince those around her of Eve’s true nature.
With the exception of critic Addison DeWitt (Sanders), the men are generally bad at seeing through Eve, while the women catch on to her a lot quicker. In a way though, Eve is just manipulating a system made by men in which she has very little actual power. The ageism, especially towards women, in the entertainment industry comes across very clearly in this film and even the strong Margo eventually more or less gives up her career and marries her longtime boyfriend despite teasing her best friend about her life as a housewife.
Despite being almost 70 years old, All About Eve never feels old or outdated. It’s a drama with elements of thriller and a lot of comedy, and the two hour run time flies by. As good, and as beautiful, as Baxter is, Bette Davies is easily the star of the film, and we absolutely loved her. A classic for a reason, this is one of those films which everyone should watch at least once. If this isn’t enough to peak your interest (if you haven’t already heard of the film, you philistine!), there’s also an early appearance from Marilyn Monroe. Should seal the deal, we think.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s the day of the annual party in a small French village and everyone is getting ready, as explained to the viewer by an adorable old lady’s running commentary on their efforts. In the middle of the preparations is François (Tati himself), the local postman and part time village idiot.
The poor man is trying to complete his round, but is sidetracked by the other villagers who recruit him to set up a pole (not a euphemism), get drunk with them and watch a propaganda film about the high-tech American postal service. The latter inspires him to step up his own game, with hilarious consequences.
Jour de Fête is a silly, silly film with loads of throwbacks to old silent movies in the physical humour and slapstick found throughout. There’s also verbal humour though, so it does not stay too much in the silent movie era. Among our favourite scenes were the meeting of the potential lovers with the Western soundtrack playing, the old lady narrator in the beginning, and of course François’ amazing chicken catch. If you have no idea what we’re talking about – watch the film.
We recommend this one to everyone who likes a bit of silly in their lives, although we did feel sorry for François when the other villagers made fun of him all the time. Still, that’s the price you pay for being the village idiot (which is an important position, make no mistakes). We’re looking forward to more Tati in the future.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
Fred C. Dobbs (Bogart) is down on his luck, roaming around Mexico without a penny to his name. After finally being paid by a scam artist he worked for (a beating proved necessary to get the money he was owed), he teams up with Bob Curtin (Holt) and old prospector Howard (Huston) to dig for gold in the Sierra Madre.
They head up into the mountains and within a few minutes of run time (though several days for the characters) they strike it rich. Setting up their operation, Howard warns the newcomers about the effects of gold on a man, but Dobbs shrugs it off, stating that he will never be corrupted. He could not possibly be more wrong.
The three gold diggers stay in the mountains for the better part of a year, and the tension and distrust between them grow exponentially in that time. When a fourth man shows up intent on joining their operation, they unite for a short while in the face of a common enemy, but their comradery does not last once the threat is gone. With each of them, especially Dobbs, growing concerned with the intentions of the others, they are soon fighting for their lives against both the elements and each other.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (or, as our DVD cover says, El Tesoro de Sierra Madre – thank you, Amazon Marketplace) is the first Western on the list and we loved it. There are saloon fights, shoot outs, bandidos, treacherous nature and friends, Indians, and Federales, and it’s tense, dark and dirty. There’s a lot of foreshadowing going on, so from the start you can make fairly educated guesses as to what will happen, but that doesn’t take anything away from the viewing experience. It’s a great watch, and we do love it when Humphrey Bogart plays slightly more villainous characters.
Victoria Page (Shearer) is a young, ambitious ballet dancer who, after a party, is invited by ballet impresario Boris Lermontov (Walbrook) to try out for his company. At the same time, young composer Julian Craster (Goring) gets a job with the same company coaching the orchestra. As Vicky rises to be the new prima ballerina (after the old one got married), Julian also rises through the ranks as a composer. The culmination of both their work is a new ballet, The Red Shoes, based on H. C. Andersen’s classic fairy tale. Julian composes while Vicky dances the lead.
The ballet is a great success, and its two rising stars fall in love, something Lermontov is none too happy about. He fires Julian, and Vicky, though torn, decides to go with her boyfriend. She marries him and he starts composing operas, also to great success. However, despite her meteoric rise to fame in Lermontov’s ballet, Vicky spends the following year out of work.
Next season, Vicky goes back to Monte Carlo on holiday with her aristocratic aunt and runs into Lermontov again. He convinces her to dance The Red Shoes once more, but on the night of the performance, Julian comes and demands his wife choose between him and the ballet. Crazed (or possessed?) by this ultimatum, Vicky loses her mind and her control, just like the protagonist in Anderson’s fairy tale.
It’s clear that Lermontov is supposed to be some sort of parallel to the shoe maker in the fairy tale, but honestly, he’s not the devil here. He encourages her ambition – an ambition that comes from her, not any outside force. Sure, his encouragement comes from mainly selfish reasons, and he may have some ulterior motive of his own, but at least he want her to follow her passion. Julian seems to think she should be content being the wife and muse of a talented composer, despite her own obvious talent which she is unable to develop once they leave the company. In our opinion, Julian is the bad guy here.
This film is spectacular and definitely a new favourite of ours. It’s an intriguing story with great, often eccentric, characters (we particularly love the other members of the ballet company), gorgeous costumes and breathtaking dancing. The performance of The Red Shoes – a ballet within the film – is wonderful and somewhat reminiscent of the Berkeley musicals from the ’30s, beautifully incorporating cinematic effects with amazing dancing to tell the story.
It seems to us that women’s ambition is a dangerous thing (in which case Lermontov is the devil), although we’re not sure for whom. Is it scary for the men who lose control over them, or for the (fragile) women who will crack under the pressure of trying to balance a traditional role (doting wife and house maker) with a professional career? Possibly both, but it seems like women tend to pay the price – especially in morality tales and fiction (let’s not even go into the sexual undertones of this film and, indeed, the fairy tale on which it’s based).
What we learned: A happy and full life should have room for love and ambition. To have to choose is unfair (especially when it’s one gender asking the other to choose while they themselves can have it all..). Also, things haven’t changed much for ballerinas in the last 7 decades, judging from the parallels between this film and Black Swan (2010).