#109 High Noon

Watched: May 21 2017

Director: Fred Zinnemann

Starring: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Katy Jurado, Lloyd Bridges, Thomas Mitchell

Year: 1952

Runtime: 1h 25min

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New Mexico Marshal Will Kane (Cooper) is getting married to Quaker girl Amy Fowler (Kelly) and retiring from his gun wielding profession as it goes against his new wife’s beliefs. As the ceremony comes to an end, word comes to their small town of Hadleyville that one of Kane’s earlier arrests has been released from prison (because Northerners are too lenient) and is coming on a train scheduled to arrive at noon.

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Your wedding present is MURDER

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Frank Miller (the bad guy, not the graphic novelist) has his three cohorts waiting at the train station, and the newlywed Kane couple decide to make a run for it before the killings begin. However, despite the theory that Miller may leave the town alone if he does not find Kane there, Kane is not one to run from a fight. He decides to stay and protect his town with the help of his disgruntled deputy Harvey Pell (Bridges) while they await the arrival of their new marshal who is supposed to arrive the next day.

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Basically, the entire plot revolves around bad timing

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New wife Amy and ex-lover Helen (Jurado) both think this is a ridiculously bad idea and team up to skip town by boarding the same train on which Miller is expected. With a clear deadline, Will tries to round up a posse of deputies to help him stand against Miller at noon. However, although most of the town agree that they have Kane to thank for their prosperity, and that Miller deserves a good ass whoopin’, they are reluctant to risk their lives to help their (technically former) marshal out. As noon approaches, Kane awaits his fate in solitude as even the jealous and immature Pell has abandoned him. Shit’s about to go down…

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One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever doooo

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High Noon was a very tense Western and we loved it. It’s very engaging and we felt personally affronted by all the townspeople who refused to help. When the showdown finally came, after about an hour of the town clock moving relentlessly towards noon, it felt as though this could go either way, and we honestly had no idea whether Kane would come out of this alive or die defending his town.

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The filmmakers threw us off by putting the bad guys in different colour hats while the good guy wore black. It was all very confusing.

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All in all, this was a very engaging and enjoyable (almost) first Western on the list. Unlike The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (which we also loved, by the way), this felt more like the Westerns our dad used to watch when we were growing up, with a lot of the same tropes we will undoubtedly see in future representations of the genre. The tension rivaled that of many a thriller and Noir, and our dog loved all the horses on screen.

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Imagine tense score…

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What we learned: We cannot hear the name “Gary Cooper” without Young Frankenstein’s rendition of “Puttin’ on the Ritz” getting stuck in our brains. Also, Lloyd Bridges stayed extremely recognizable for close to 50 years.

Next time: Ikiru (1952)

#108 The Prowler

Watched: May 31 2017

Director: Joseph Losey

Starring: Van Heflin, Evelyn Keyes, John Maxwell, Katherine Warren

Year: 1951

Runtime: 1h 32min

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After a bath, Susan Gilvray (Keyes) sees someone leering through her bathroom window and calls the police who basically chalk it up to hysterical women who should know better than to get undressed in their own homes.

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She should know better than to go near windows while her husband is a work

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One of the police officers, Webb Garwood (Heflin) seems to understand perfectly why a peeping Tom would like to spy on Susan, and he swings by at the end of his shift to check up on her. They discover that they are from the same town and start hanging out together when her radio personality husband is at work, which eventually leads to an affair.

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Because, in this world, “no” apparently means “yes”.

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After a while of cheating on her husband (who we get the impression is more than a little bit controlling), Susan loses her nerve and after some back-and-forths the couple split up. However, Webb, who early on stumbled across Susan’s husband’s life insurance papers, hatches a cunning plan.

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Webb, pictured here hatching

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He decides to get rid of the troublesome rival, get the girl and make a profit in the process. It all goes according to plan, but then another little hiccup appears in the shape of an unplanned pregnancy which could expose them both.

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Luckily, this town is coming like a ghost town and provides a good place to hide

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The Prowler wasn’t at all what we expected. We were prepared for a lot more stalker action and less murderous-psychopath-lover action, but we were far from disappointed. Instead of the basically good man corrupted by the femme fatale we often see in Film Noir, this is the story of a basically good girl who is corrupted by a man (Un Homme Fatal..?) and who must suffer the consequences.

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Him taking the position of her stalker probably should have been her first clue…

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Susan’s fatal flaw is probably her terrible taste in men. Between her controlling husband who locks up everything in his house, including his wife, makes her stay up and listen to his late night radio show and signs off with a slightly ominous “I’ll be seeing you, Susan,” and her new beau who’s a murdering psychopath, she never really stood a chance. Add to the mix the fact that Webb is a master manipulator and Susan is incredibly naïve and easily manipulated, and you have a recipe for disaster.

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She should have walked away the minute he sat down in her house as if he owned the place

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Though not what we expected, we loved The Prowler and we don’t regret the fact that we ended up having to purchase a second, Region A Blu-Ray player in order to watch it (that’s what you get for not checking region codes properly when buying stuff online). At least now we’re no longer limited to buying Region B discs. We’ll pretend it was all part of our master plan all along.

What we learned: Don’t marry your dead husband’s killer.

Next time: High Noon (1952)

#107 Strangers on a Train

Watched: May 15 2017

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Farley Granger, Robert Walker, Ruth Roman, Leo G. Carroll, Patricia Hitchcock, Kasey Rogers

Year: 1951

Runtime: 1h 41min

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Pliable Guy Haines (Granger) accidentally meets creepy Bruno Antony (Walker) on a train. The two start speaking – Guy’s first mistake – and the polite Guy does what most people do when they meet crazy people on public transport – he smiles and nods and generally agrees with his fellow passenger.

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Smile and nod, Guy. Smile and nod.

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Bruno is anxious to rid himself of his father, and he knows, through the gossip columns, that Guy has a wife, Miriam (Rogers), who he wants to divorce in order to marry his new girlfriend Anne (Roman). Bruno also has a theory about how to get away with murder – the trick is to murder someone you have no motive to kill. You know, such as when two people who are otherwise unrelated randomly meet on a train and decide to kill each other’s family members…

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A psychopath he may be, but one cannot fault his taste in shoes

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Guy reaches his destination and thinks no more of the insane stranger on the train until his wife refuses to divorce him now that he’s making money. To make matters even more difficult, she is pregnant by another man and Guy finds himself in a murderous mood which he tells his girlfriend.

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You can see why he’d want to divorce her. She is after all wearing glasses! The ultimate sin of women!

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Guy doesn’t need to worry though – Bruno is there to solve his problems. He follows Miriam and her two boyfriends (possibly? We’re not quite sure) to a fun fair and gets her alone in a secluded spot where he strangles her.

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At least he got rid of those pesky and unattractive glasses for her!

 

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While this helps Guy out of one predicament, it get him into another. Bruno now expects the favour returned – for Guy to kill his father. When Guy refuses, Bruno inserts himself into his life and threatens to frame him for Miriam’s murder.

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Meanwhile, to avoid suspicion, Bruno goes around randomly strangling society women

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Strangers on a Train is a classic Noir thriller with a great premise and a very creepy, menacing and completely insane antagonist. The other characters are a bit less interesting, particularly the boring protagonist, although there are some perceptive women, such as Anne’s little sister Barbara (Hitchcock), Anne to a certain degree, and of course the manipulative and morally speculative Miriam. Also, just in case you care, our favourite characters were the little boy on the carousel and the old man crawling under it.

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This guy

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It’s a suspenseful and interesting thriller which every Hitchcock fan should watch, and we loved re-watching it.

What we learned: Never talk to weirdos on public transport. Also, definitely don’t try to placate them by agreeing with everything they say!

Next time: The Prowler (1951)

#99 In a Lonely Place

Watched: April 24 2017

Director: Nicholas Ray

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy, Martha Stewart (no, not that one)

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 34min

In a Lovely Place

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Dix Steele (Bogart) is a successful screen writer whose career is in a bit of a slump. He is about to adapt a novel into a screenplay, and as he cannot be bothered reading the source material, he invites the adorable Mildred (Stewart) home to tell him the story. She cancels her date and goes home with him, and at the end of the night he gives her money for a taxi and sends her on her way.

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Dix is too busy creeping on his neighbour to pay attention to the girl in his apartment

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When Mildred turns up dead the next day, Dix becomes the prime suspect; he was the last one to see her alive, he has a violent temper and also a somewhat unsettling fascination with murder. In addition, he doesn’t really seem too bothered by the whole affair, which is always a red flag for law enforcement (we have learned through movies). However, his neighbour Laurel Gray (Grahame) provides an alibi as she witnessed Mildred leaving the writer’s apartment, and the police let him go.

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Seems the whole creeping-on-the-neighbour-thing went both ways

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The two start a relationship (which is kind of a bad idea since she’s basically the only thing standing between him and a lengthy prison sentence) and quickly start spending all of their time together with Laurel working as Dix’s secretary/assistant. While their relationship seems to be mostly good, Laurel is gradually exposed to her boyfriend’s explosive temper and, as in Suspicion, starts doubting his innocence and her own safety.

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Not the face of a happy woman

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We won’t reveal too much of what transpires, but In a Lonely Place is a captivating Noir thriller and we never tire of watching Humphrey Bogart being super cool and somewhat menacing, though here also strangely vulnerable. Gloria Grahame is also excellent and holds her own with her iconic co-star.

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In between the tension and doubt there are also sweet and romantic moments

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It’s an excellent film with a compelling (though ultimately fairly unimportant) murder mystery and a very intriguing relationship. The characters are flawed and deeply human, and while their choices may not always be good, they are understandable.

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They could have been so good together…

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What we learned: First chance we get, we’re legally changing our names to Dix Steele.

Next time: #100! Los Olvidados (1950)

#98 Gun Crazy

Watched: April 21 2017

Director: Joseph H. Lewis

Starring: Peggy Cummins, John Dall

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 26min

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Barton Tare (Dall) has been obsessed with guns (although incapable of killing anything) ever since childhood, when he was arrested for trying to steal one and sent to reform school. As an adult, shooting is his only real skill, and after seeing the alluring Annie Laurie Starr (Cummings) show off her marksmanship in a travelling circus, he joins them as a sharp shooter and goes on the road.

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We can’t really blame him for going. Anyone capable of pulling off this look is surely worth risking it all for.

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After a short stint with the circus, the two are fired for falling in love while Laurie “belongs to” the circus owner. (Yup, we know…) The lovers go on the road, get married and spend their savings quicker than they probably planned. Laurie has an idea of how they can earn a living and, very much inspired by Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, they go on a crime spree, robbing banks, shops and factories.

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Some are more trigger happy than others. See “Deadly is the Female” – original (spoiler) title

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While Bart has a strict no-killing policy, Laurie isn’t as scrupulous. After a factory hold-up gone slightly awry, Bart discovers that Laurie killed two people in the robbery and he is less than pleased.

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“Bitch had it coming though, criticizing my slacks!” – Laurie, probably

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Despite their difference of opinion regarding the value of human life, Bart is unable to leave the woman he loves, and as the FBI gets involved in the manhunt for the robbers-turned-killers, they take increasingly desperate measures to escape the law.

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They even resort to wearing *gasp* GLASSES!

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Gun Crazy was amazing (despite the fact that it pretty much put all the blame for Bonnie and Clyde’s crimes on Bonnie). Laurie may be the Fatalest Femme we’ve encountered so far – not because she is necessarily the most devious one, but because Bart is probably the most “innocent” Noir (anti-)hero in many ways. Sure, he has an unhealthy obsession with guns and firepower, but at the same time he is almost boyishly naïve and truly seems to believe they’ll be able to conduct a series of robberies without hurting anyone. Or he’s just telling himself that, which is the more likely scenario.

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She wears the pants AND drives the car. And he won’t even shoot police officers for her…

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A new favourite for sure, we thoroughly recommend this one, and we’re looking forward to Bonnie and Clyde (1967).

What we learned: Women are soulless creatures who will corrupt good boys. Also, boys who’ve never been exposed to girls are easily corrupted…

Next time: In a Lonely Place (1950)

#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 atmospheric, 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)

#95 White Heat

Watched: April 02 2017

Director: Raoul Walsh

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

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 54min

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

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

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

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“It’s guy love between two guuuuys”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next time: All About Eve (1950)

#86 Rope

Watched: January 30 2017

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger, Douglas Dick, Joan Chandler, Edith Evanson, Cedric Hardwicke,

Year: 1948

Runtime: 1h 20min

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We continue our journey through film history with this classic Hitchcock thriller, filmed in glorious technicolor. Brandon (Dall) and Philip (Granger), old school friends, decide to kill a third friend and throw a dinner party for his family with the body hidden in the room. This is what an Ivy League education will do to your sense of morality, apparently.

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Who needs morals when you have unlimited access to alcohol and this penthouse view?

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They also invite their old housemaster (whatever that is. Some sort of teacher?) Rupert (Stewart), who Brandon idolizes (and quite possibly is in love with on some level). The idea behind the party is to stroke their egos (particularly Brandon’s) by convincing themselves they have committed the perfect murder. For Brandon the party is exhilarating, while for Philip it’s excruciating.

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One of these men have less of a conscience than the others…

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As the (very tense) party progresses, we learn that the murderous philosophies so taken to heart by Brandon originate in Rupert’s fascination with Nietzsche and similar thinkers. They both think that there are differences between people and that some have more right to live than others. In fact, they go so far as to claim that it is the superior people’s right to take the lives of others. For Rupert these are simply thought experiments – not anything to be put into action. However, Brandon takes everything his hero says quite literally and drags his rather more weak-willed friend down with him.

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Guess which one is the dominant one! Hint: it’s not the one doing the actual killing…

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Rope is tense and exciting – a sitting room thriller with great long shots and a truly chilling character in Brandon (although, to be honest, there are many movie murderers who surpass him in creepiness). The long shots help build the tension quite well – especially when Mrs Wilson is tidying the chest containing the body after dinner. Philip gradually melts down until his Tell-Tale Heart-moment which reveals Rupert’s true feelings about the philosophies he spouts.

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Turns out, Rupert has some opinions about the difference between theory and practice.

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We love Rope – it’s a classic we’ve watched several times before, and we thoroughly recommend it to anyone who loves a good suspenseful melodrama. And a good murder. Which we do. There are also clear parallels to the real case of Leopold and Loeb, but we find fictional murders infinitely more satisfying than real life as we’re not total psychopaths…

Extra fun fact for you: “Farley” (as in actor Farley Granger) pretty much means “dangerous” in Norwegian. So, from a purely Norwegian linguistic point of view, he should have been the one to play Brandon. For some reason, Hitchcock did not take this into consideration when casting the film.

What we learned: Thinking oneself superior is a dangerous thing.

Next time: The Fallen Idol (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)