Film Review: Crossfire (1947)

Release Date: July 22nd, 1947 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Edward Dmytryk
Written by: John Paxton
Based on: The Brick Foxhole by Richard Brooks
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Gloria Grahame, Sam Levene

RKO Radio Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“My grandfather was killed just because he was an Irish Catholic. Hating is always the same, always senseless. One day it kills Irish Catholics, the next day Jews, the next day Protestants, the next day Quakers. It’s hard to stop. It can end up killing people who wear striped neckties.” – Police Captain Finlay

Crossfire is a pretty unique film-noir, as it is a very socially progressive movie for its time. The main crime in the film surrounds the murder of a Jewish man and it is discovered that the murder was inspired by bigotry and hatred. This was pretty heavy stuff for 1947 but kudos to RKO Pictures, Edward Dmytryk and John Paxton for putting this picture together. No, not the John Paxton that helped lead the Chicago Bulls to many NBA championships in the 1990s, he spelled his name “Paxson”. This John Paxton was a screenwriter that breathed life into film-noirs like Cornered and Murder, My Sweet.

This film also stars the three Roberts of film-noir: Young, Mitchum and Ryan. Okay, Young wasn’t in a lot of noir but Mitchum and Ryan lived in the genre. Plus, you also have Gloria Grahame, one of the queens of noir. Sam Levene also pops up in this but I feel like he is in almost every noir picture of the 1940s and 1950s. Then again, Elisha Cook Jr. probably has him beat.

Crossfire, despite its star power and its interesting premise, isn’t as good as I had hoped it would be. It’s not a bad movie but it just sort of exists and plays out without a lot of real suspense or tension.

The Academy thought it was pretty damn good though, as it was nominated for five Oscars. Plus, it won the award for Best Social Film at Cannes that year. But awards are typically political statements, even in the 1940s, and the people who hand out awards have always had a bias towards socially conscious cinema. From an accolades perspective, Crossfire greatly benefited from its subject matter.

I don’t mean to sound like I am in any way bashing the picture. It just wasn’t Oscar worthy, in my opinion. Especially in a year where we had Kiss of DeathThe Lady From ShanghaiNightmare AlleyBrute Force and Out of the Past. And those are just some of the film-noirs that I would rank higher not to mention all the other great films from other genres.

The three Roberts all put in solid performances though, as did Grahame. Edward Dmytryk is also a very good director. This is a very good film but when one has to compare it to what else was coming out at the time, it just isn’t on the same level as the films I mentioned in the previous paragraph.

If you love film-noir and any of the actors in this movie, it is still worth your time. I liked the picture and I would certainly watch it again but probably as part of a double feature or marathon.

Film Review: The Brasher Doubloon (1947)

Also known as: The High Window (UK)
Release Date: February 6th, 1947
Directed by: John Brahm
Written by: Dorothy Bennett, Leonard Praskins
Based on: The High Window by Raymond Chandler
Music by: David Buttolph
Cast: George Montgomery, Nancy Guild, Conrad Janis

20th Century Fox, 72 Minutes

Review:

“[narrating] I was sore at myself for coming all the way out to Pasadena on a day like that just to see about a case. And how I hate summer winds – they come in suddenly off the Mojave Desert and you can taste sand for a week. I knew it was the voice of the girl on the phone that had got me and I was reminding myself how often your ears play a dirty trick on your eyes – but this time there was no let down…” – Philip Marlowe

It’s no secret that I love private dick movies, especially those featuring the character of Philip Marlowe, the James Bond of P.I.s. The Brasher Doubloon is the weakest of any of the Marlowe pictures I have ever seen though.

This came out in the heyday of film-noir and with other classic noir versions of Marlowe stories: The Big SleepLady In the Lake and Murder, My Sweet, I expected more from this picture.

It is far from an awful experience but it just doesn’t have the heart of Marlowe or the gravitas that one should expect. It is also really friggin’ short and doesn’t have all the twist, turns and tension that the other Marlowe pictures had. Honestly, the narrative feels rushed and this is the most predictable out of all the Marlowe movies I’ve seen.

George Montgomery was a decent Philip Marlowe but he didn’t have the presence of Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell or Robert Montgomery. Robert Mitchum’s Philip Marlowe from the 1970s also stands on a higher pedestal.

The weird thing about this film, is that I really liked the premise and the setup, which sees Marlowe trying to track down a missing coin from a rich woman’s collection. You feel as if a strong tapestry has been woven but immediately, it’s like someone pulled on a thread and the thing came crumbling down.

If you are a Marlowe fan and a completest, then definitely check this film out. Even if you don’t like it, the film is only 72 minutes.

Top 100 Classic Film-Noir Pictures of All-Time

Over the past month, I have celebrated Noirvember here at Cinespiria. While film-noir is a style that I have always enjoyed and many of the classics have been favorites of mine for decades, I have never delved as deep into it as I have over the past month. I have found new favorites and discovered classics that slipped under my radar. In some way, I wanted a big send off so I thought that a power ranking would be a good way to do that.

Granted, this is just my opinion and there are some things that others might question as being true noir. I have included some of those Val Lewton horror pictures because at their core, the ones listed are very much film-noir.

There are no movies after the 1950s listed because I wanted to make this exclusive to classic noir that came out during the two decade span of the style’s height in popularity. I have, however, included Frtiz Lang’s 1931 film M because even though it predates film-noir by a decade, after seeing it, I can’t not consider it noir.

Anyway, these are my top one hundred film-noir motion pictures of the classic era.

1. M
2. Gun Crazy
3. The Third Man
4. Sunset Boulevard
5. In A Lonely Place
6. He Walked by Night
7. Raw Deal
8. Double Indemnity
9. The Killing
10. Touch of Evil
11. The Maltese Falcon
12. The Big Heat
13. Criss Cross
14. The Stranger
15. Scarlet Street
16. The Asphalt Jungle
17. Laura
18. Cat People
19. The Big Sleep
20. The Window
21. Detour
22. Strangers On a Train
23. Sweet Smell of Success
24. Nightmare Alley
25. D.O.A.
26. Out of the Past
27. Side Street
28. White Heat
29. The Set-Up
30. The Prowler
31. Murder, My Sweet
32. Night and the City
33. The Lady From Shanghai
34. The Killers
35. Stranger On the Third Floor
36. Key Largo
37. Leave Her to Heaven
38. The Woman In the Window
39. Kansas City Confidential
40. Brute Force
41. Ace In the Hole
42. Dark Passage
43. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
44. On Dangerous Ground
45. Notorious
46. The Big Clock
47. Mildred Pierce
48. Shadow of a Doubt
49. Possessed
50. Lured
51. Thieves’ Highway
52. Act of Violence
53. 711 Ocean Drive
54. Black Angel
55. The Naked City
56. Dead Reckoning
57. Kiss Me Deadly
58. Gilda
59. They Live by Night
60. The Seventh Victim
61. Champion
62. Moonrise
63. Lady In the Lake
64. Pickup On South Street
65. Rope
66. Phantom Lady
67. Odds Against Tomorrow
68. T-Men
69. Born to Kill
70. The Blue Dahlia
71. The Spiral Staircase
72. Crossfire
73. The Leopard Man
74. Scandal Sheet
75. Border Incident
76. Shield For Murder
77. Force of Evil
78. The Postman Always Rings Twice
79. Fallen Angel
80. Deadline at Dawn
81. Journey Into Fear
82. 99 River Street
83. The Big Combo
84. Framed
85. Shockproof
86. Smash-Up – The Story of a Woman
87. Where Danger Lives
88. Tension
89. The Breaking Point
90. They Won’t Believe Me
91. Tomorrow Is Another Day
92. The Blue Gardenia
93. Pushover
94. The Threat
95. City That Never Sleeps
96. This Gun For Hire
97. Pitfall
98. Fear In the Night
99. The Glass Key
100. The Brasher Doubloon

Film Review: The Killers (1946)

Also known as: Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers, A Man Alone
Release Date: August 28th, 1946
Directed by: Robert Siodmak
Written by: Richard Brooks, Anthony Veiller, John Huston (uncredited)
Based on: Scribners Magazine short story The Killers by Ernest Hemingway
Music by: Miklós Rózsa
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Ava Garner, Edmond O’Brien, Sam Levene

Mark Hellinger Productions, Universal Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“If there’s one thing in this world I hate, it’s a double-crossing dame.” – Big Jim Colfax

In the 1940s, Robert Siodmak made some of the most memorable film-noir motion pictures. The Killers is considered to not just be one of Siodmak’s best but one of the best films of the noir style and of the decade.

The Killers is really high up on a lot of the noir lists I have looked at from top critics, blogs, books and magazines. I thoroughly enjoyed it but I wouldn’t say that it was my favorite Siodmak noir, as of now, that honor goes to Criss Cross. However, I still haven’t seen Phantom Lady or The Dark Mirror yet.

I have enjoyed Siodmak’s work for a long time but as a kid it was primarily in the form of Son of Dracula and The Crimson Pirate. I was much more into horror and swashbuckling back then but my experience with those films had me enthused when I realized that the guy who directed both of those films, had a handful of noir movies wedged between them.

This film stars Burt Lancaster, a regular of Siodmak. This was also his debut on the big screen and for a first time performance, Lancaster knocks it out of the park. He was teamed with film-noir regulars Edmond O’Brien and Sam Levene. However, it was his scenes with the elegant and fascinating Ava Gardner that helped to set this guy’s career on a long and fruitful career that saw four Academy Award nominations and a win for his part in Elmer Gantry.

The Killers is based on a short story by Ernest Hemingway. However, the Hemingway story only really comprises the first twenty minutes or so of the movie, which shows the contract killers arrive and murder Burt Lancaster’s “Swede” Anderson. Where the film begins to follow Edmond O’Brien’s Jim Reardon, as he investigates the murder, the plot is wholly original and works as an expansion on Hemingway’s story. It was said, by Hemingway’s biographer, that The Killers “was the first film from any of his works that Ernest could genuinely admire.” John Huston, also an accomplished film-noir director, contributed to the script. He wasn’t originally credited for his contribution due to his contract with rival studio, Warner Bros.

With crime dramas running rampant in the 1940s, this is one that wasn’t a cliché on celluloid. While I love film-noir and I honestly have a hard time trying to find truly bad ones, sometimes the rehash of tropes, over and over and over again, can get mundane. The Killers, like Siodmak’s Criss Cross, is one of the films that lifts the cinematic style to a higher level. Plus, with a score composed by Miklós Rózsa, you can expect a lot of energy, excitement and a real soul within the film.

I love The Killers, it is hard to deny its greatness between the solid direction, iconic performances and its pristine look.

Film Review: Farewell, My Lovely (1975)

Release Date: August 8th, 1975
Directed by: Dick Richards
Written by: David Zelag Goodman
Based on: Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler
Music by: David Shire
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Charlotte Rampling, John Ireland, Sylvia Miles, Anthony Zerbe, Harry Dean Stanton, Jack O’Halloran, Joe Spinell, Sylvester Stallone

ITC Entertainment, Avco Embassy Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“[opening lines] This past spring was the first that I felt tired and realized I was growing old. Maybe it was the rotten weather we’d had in L.A. Maybe the rotten cases I’d had. Mostly chasing a few missing husbands and then chasing their wives once I found them, in order to get paid. Or maybe it was just the plain fact that I am tired and growing old.” – Philip Marlowe

Farewell, My Lovely is the first of two pictures where Robert Mitchum plays the famous literary private dick, Philip Marlowe. This is also a remake of 1944’s Murder, My Sweet, as both films were adaptations of the Farewell, My Lovely novel by Raymond Chandler.

Additionally, this came out during the 1970s, when neo-noir was starting to flourish, as a resurgence in the noir style began with the success of Roman Polanski’s 1974 masterpiece Chinatown. Plus, period gangster dramas were also gaining popularity for the first time since the 1930s and 1940s due to The Godfather films by Francis Ford Coppola.

Robert Mitchum, a man who was at the forefront of film-noir during its heyday, finally got his chance to play the genre’s most notable male character. He is also the only actor to get a chance to play Marlowe more than just once, as this film was followed up by 1978’s The Big Sleep, a remake of the iconic 1946 film with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

In regards to the narrative, there really isn’t all that much that is different from this picture and Murder, My Sweet. Sure, it is more violent and some details have changed but it is essentially the same story. It even has a weird drug trip sequence similar to what we got in the 1944 film.

There really isn’t much to sink your teeth into with this movie. It feels like a pointless and fairly soulless attempt at a reboot of the Marlowe character. The art direction and the cinematography are decent but the only real thing that holds this picture above water is Robert Mitchum, as well as some of the other actors.

Charlotte Rampling is decent but she doesn’t have much to do. Harry Dean Stanton appears but he doesn’t have enough meat to chew on. You also get to see a young Sylvester Stallone and Joe Spinell play some henchmen. The only real standout, other than Mitchum, is Jack O’Halloran as the Moose Malloy character.

I had high hopes for this movie but was pretty much let down once seeing it. I’ll still check out its sequel but this is not one of the better neo-noirs of the 1970s.

Film Review: Night and the City (1950)

Release Date: June 9th, 1950 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Jules Dassin
Written by: Austin Dempster, William E. Watts
Based on: Night and the City by Gerald Kersh
Music by: Franz Waxman
Cast: Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney, Googie Withers, Herbert Lom, Stanislaus Zbyszko, Mike Mazurki

20th Century Fox, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Harry. Harry. You could have been anything. Anything. You had brains… ambition. You worked harder than any 10 men. But the wrong things. Always the wrong things… ” – Mary Bristol

I was glad that I got to catch this on a recent episode of TCM’s Noir Alley. I wasn’t really familiar with Jules Dassin’s work until recently, while delving deep into the vast ocean that is film-noir.

This film, among the seemingly endless noir-scape, stands out, stands strong and hell, it’s got professional wrestling in it: giving Mike Mazurki a character close to who he actually was and providing a great role for wrestling legend (and former world champion) Stanislaus Zbyszko of the famous Zbyszko wrestling family.

The film primarily stars Richard Widmark and man is he a friggin’ entertaining weasel in this. He is also accompanied by one of the queens of film-noir, Gene Tierney. Unfortunately, she isn’t in this film as much as I would have liked because she is truly an enchantress of the silver screen.

Night and the City follows Widmark’s Harry Fabian, a hustling con man type that is always looking for a way to get to the top, regardless of who he has to screw over in the process. Obviously, he’s a man in over his head, barking up all the wrong trees while digging his own eventual grave. When he starts a scheme involving professional wrestlers, he is in deeper water than he can even fathom.

The film takes place in London and was filmed there due to director Jules Dassin moving to the UK after being blacklisted over communist fears. His career still flourished, even if he had to escape Hollywood and Night and the City is a great example of how the director didn’t miss a beat, despite his misfortune during the McCarthy era witch hunts.

Widmark’s performance is tremendous as he traverses through all the twists and turns in the film’s plot. He has a charm and an insane enthusiasm that almost feels like the gangster version of the comic book Joker before he fell into that vat of acid. Hell, he could have been a great Jack Napier and Joker had they made a Batman film in the 1950s with a serious tone.

The highlight of this film for me was seeing the two wrestling legends square off: Mazurki and Zbyszko. Their physical fight in the film was pretty damn realistic and grueling as hell to witness. It was well shot, well executed and certainly effective.

The cinematography was handled by Max Greene, who had a lot of experience with his work on dozens of films before this. His visuals were accompanied by the great music of Franz Waxman. With Dassin’s direction, we had a Holy Trinity of cinematic masters combining their best efforts on a film that should probably be better remembered than it is, at least outside of film-noir fan circles.

Film Review: The Blue Gardenia (1953)

Release Date: March 27th, 1953 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Written by: Charles Hoffman
Based on: Gardenia a short story by Vera Caspary
Music by: Raoul Kraushaar
Cast: Anne Baxter, Richard Conte, Ann Sothern, Raymond Burr, Nat King Cole, George Reeves

Blue Gardenia Productions, Warner Bros., 88 Minutes

Review:

“How about you slip into something more comfortable, like a few drinks and some chinese food.” – Harry Prebble

Man, Raymond Burr is in so many noir pictures. I really enjoyed him in this one, even if he does meet a quick end, being the murdered victim that sets the story in motion. Regardless, it was nice seeing him not play the evil heavy for once.

The star here though, is Anne Baxter, an actress who I am really starting to appreciate more, as I discover a lot of her old films. When I was younger, I really only knew her as Egghead’s (Vincent Price) criminal girlfriend Olga, Queen of the Cossacks on the 1960s Batman television series.

She also shares a lot of time on screen with Richard Conte, a guy I like, who shows off his charisma in this. You also get a small part by Superman himself, George Reeves, and a musical cameo by Nat King Cole.

The film is directed by the magnificent Fritz Lang and even though it goes to serious and dark places, it isn’t a film devoid of lightheartedness and plays like a comedy, at times. The opening of the film is quirky, as we see the life of Anne Baxter’s Norah and her roommates.

In this film, Norah is dumped by her G.I. boyfriend through a letter. She then decides to go out with the flirtatious Harry Prebble. They have a good time, she ends up at his home and later wakes up hungover. However, during her blackout, Harry was murdered. Norah is the prime suspect as some of her personal effects were left behind in Harry’s apartment. She has no memory of what happened but we’re pretty sure she didn’t do it. The rest of the film follows her on the run, trying to get help from a media personality (Conte) and evading the police until everything is properly sorted out.

This isn’t a noir with a lot of twists but it has just enough to keep things interesting. Noir pictures could often times get over complicated and convoluted but this is almost like noir light.

The Blue Gardenia is a fun movie. Sure, it’s dark and it involves murder but it doesn’t become as dreary as the cinematic style typically suggests. And maybe, by 1953, Fritz Lang was tired of doom and gloom and wanted to craft something a little more upbeat and playful.