#97 D.O.A.

Watched: April 17 2017

Director: Rudolph Maté

Starring: Edmond O’Brien, Pamela Britton, Luther Adler

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 23min

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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.

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Dames, shady businessmen and psycho henchmen are a must in Noir films. As are decorative lampshades, as pictured in the background.

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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.

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As in all great films, sciency looking men with beakers of strange fluid also make an appearance.

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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.

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We too felt the frenzy. Amazing guys!

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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.

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No. The other one.

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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.

Next time: Gun Crazy (1950)

#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)

#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)

#87 The Fallen Idol

Watched: February 16 2017

Director: Carol Reed

Starring: Ralph Richardson, Bobby Henrey, Michèle Morgan, Sonia Dresdel

Year: 1948

Runtime: 1h 35min

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A recent addition to the list, The Fallen Idol did not disappoint. French ambassador’s son Phillipe (Henrey) is left home alone with his good friend and idol butler Baines (Richardson) and his less pleasant wife (Dresdel) for a few days. Like his namesake (and also ambassador’s son?) in Venom (1981), Phillipe has a penchant for snakes which Mrs Baines is not particularly impressed with.

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For supper: fried snake!

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Mrs Baines quickly establishes herself as an antagonist by killing the boy’s snake, and it comes as no surprise then that her husband is having an affair (she may have killed his snake too, if you know what we mean). Phillipe comes across Baines and girlfriend Julie (Morgan) although he is too young to figure out what their relationship is and assumes that Julie is Baines’ niece.

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Phillipe crashes their secret rendez-vous in a scene very reminiscent of Brief Encounter

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After Mrs Baines denies her husband a divorce, the unhappy spouses each manipulate Phillipe to learn and/or hide secrets and the poor kid is caught in the middle of the sordid affairs of two grown people who should know better than to involve him. As their conflict escalates, so does the situation – Mrs Baines falls down the stairs and dies. Phillipe, having witnessed a fight immediately preceding the fall, runs away and right into the hands of a (very clever and kind) police officer.

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The boy also runs into the arms of a sweet prostitute, but again is too young to truly appreciate the experience.

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Police officers investigate the death of Mrs Baines, and Phillipe, trying to protect his friend, weaves a web of lies which does more damage than good, and the last half of the film is a tense investigative affair which we found almost unbearable. The relationship between Baines and Phillipe will most likely never be the same, and Phillipe’s innocence is also lost forever. And not because of the prostitute.

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Because of the dead-wife-who-Baines-kinda-hated thing

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The Fallen Idol is a great and tense drama, beautifully shot with a very dramatic score. Although we must admit, knowing that Mrs Baines would fall down the stairs (it says so right on the DVD cover), we spent the first half of the film betting on when it would happen. Every time she walked up or down the stairs, we were at the edge of our seats, waiting for her to die (you will not believe the amount of times that woman survives a trip up or down the stairs!). We loved it!

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That poor kid is traumatised for life, though

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What we learned: A great many things. Do not involve children in your sordid marital drama. Admitting to an affair is better than a murder charge. Also, WTF is “Nosegay”? And where can we get some?

Next time: The Red Shoes (1948)

#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)

#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)