#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)

#66 Double Indemnity

Watched: December 23 2016

Director: Billy Wilder

Starring: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson

Year: 1944

Runtime: 1h 47min

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Oh, the dialogue! If you’re not interested in Film Noir, you should check this one out for the snappy dialogue alone. Old-timey flirting is the best flirting!

Insurance salesman Walter Neff (MacMurray), swings by a client’s house to renew his car insurance, but meets a Dame instead. The Dame is Phyllis Dietrichson (Stanwyck), the client’s wife and winner of History’s Sexiest Name Award, and flirtatious banter ensues.

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“Suppose I can rid you of that anklet of yours?” “Suppose it digs into my ankle”

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Turns out the dame isn’t too fond of her husband after he lost his fortune, and she’s unusually interested in accident insurance for said husband. She invites Walter back when her husband is home, but changes the appointment to make sure the they’re alone. The two start plotting ways to get her husband the insurance without him knowing it and then making sure he has an accident to cash in on. A fatal one.

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So inconspicuous right now!

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Walter and Phyllis do the deed and make very sure it can’t be interpreted as anything but an accident as Walter works with insurance blood hound Barton Keyes (Robinson, of Little Caesar-fame) who is sure to investigate.

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Robinson’s come a long way since his mafia days.

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Now, Phyllis might be a femme fatale (her past certainly seems to suggest so), but Walter is not by any means an innocent man driven to murder by the woman he loves. He tells the story and so we only get his side of it, but it is very clear that he is the mastermind behind the murder. He plans everything to the last detail and Phyllis operates on his orders. This does not mean that she is innocent, but either Walter is the driving force behind the whole thing, or his male ego won’t let him admit that Phyllis was smarter than him and so he makes it look as though he planned the crime. None of those options reflects very well on him.

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She does have a tendency to hover in the background, but we’re sure that’s perfectly innocent

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Double Indemnity is exciting and suspenseful, but the main reason we love it is easily the dialogue and banter! The first encounter between the main characters is amazing. We need to practice our old-timey flirting.

What we learned: sometimes murder smells like honeysuckle.

Next time: Murder, my Sweet (1944)

#7 Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

Watched: August 3 2016

Director: F.W. Murnau

Starring: George O’Brien, Janet Gaynor

Year: 1927

Runtime: 1h 34min

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Warning: This film will toy with your emotions.

This was a new one for us. In a small town, a farmer is having an affair with a woman (read: femme fatale) who’s on vacation. Naturally, she suggests he kills his wife, sells his farm and goes to live with her in the big city. She has the whole plan worked out to the smallest detail, and he goes along with it.

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“Scary ghost mistress lady made me do it. Honest!”

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The farmer’s wife knows about the affair (and is sad yet extremely passive about the whole thing) but when he suggests a boat ride, she seems to think that everything is fine once more. She is, of course, wrong (and naive – even the dog knows what’s up!). Once in the water, the husband attempts to go through with his diabolical plan. However, he cannot do it, and rows them to shore, where she promptly runs away (good girl!) and he chases after her.

Considering trying to murder your spouse will put a strain on any marriage, they deal with it in the best way possible: cake! Also flowers, wedding crashing, photography and dancing. And this is what I meant by saying it will toy with your emotions. The thing is, what he has done is despicable and unforgivable. Yet, the two of them are so sweet and adorable running around the city, drinking wine, dancing, chasing pigs and trying to put a head on a Venus de Milo statue, you end up wanting them to live happily ever after!

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Nothing like attempted murder to spice up a marriage!

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I suppose he realises that it was the lure of the exciting city that attracted him rather than the mistress or something to that effect, because he ends up doing everything the mistress talked about with his wife instead. And they’re adorable, which they have no right to be after what he almost did.

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“Hah! Remember that time you tried to murder me?”

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Now, the film doesn’t end here, but we don’t want to spoil the ending for you. It is worth watching in full, and you can easily find it on Youtube.

The film is beautifully shot with great use of light and darkness (which of course is very symbolic throughout). The wife is completely adorable (though annoyingly passive in the beginning), but the husband we’re not too sure about. The title suggests their humanity and that we shouldn’t judge them too harshly so we won’t. (It also suggests that the mistress is somehow less than human as she is clearly part of the story but it only involves two humans.) Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans is still a bit of a feelgood movie and worth watching for the photography scene alone. Or the dog. Whatever rubs your Buddha.

Next time: Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)