The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

An ongoing survey of the Criterion Forum membership to create lists of the best films of each decade and genre.
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domino harvey
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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#701 Post by domino harvey » Wed Oct 03, 2018 1:25 pm


Recent viewings, mostly duds edition

A Strange Adventure (William Witney 1956)
Robbers take a young pup and some errant government workers hostage as all hole up in a federal retreat for the winter in this very, very minor but not unenjoyable Republic noir. Jan Merlin does his best Richard Widmark impression here as the main baddie, but he like the rest of the component parts of the film come off as generic, store-brand versions of good noirs. Once TV started siphoning all the noir talent to smaller screens in the fifties, big screen noir suffered tremendously, and you can see clean-cut TV production-style all over this even if it was trying to present larger thrills for a theatrical audience.

A Woman’s Devotion (Paul Henreid 1956)
Lackadaisical Acapulco-set color noir with Ralph Meeker as a vet struggling with PTSD, which inconveniently manifests as some kind of woman-killing thing. This movie’s scenes are paced so poorly that it’s often oddly fascinating-- Henreid is about as gifted behind the camera as he is in front of it, ie not. Beyond the beautiful colors on Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray, which surely looks nice because no one has wanted another print made from the neg since it was released, this is just typical poverty row garbage with nothing of real value in it. Do not trust anyone who attempts to bolster this film up for presenting an early portrayal of “battle shock” without actually seeing what Meeker does with it.

Down Three Dark Streets (Arnold Laven 1954)
One of the many pro-G-man noirs, this one at least has a novel idea: rather than focus on one story, it shows how FBI agents are often juggling several cases simultaneously. Broderick Crawford is out to find the killer of his agent pal, and to find the murderer he must look into the three cases the agent was working on: an extortion plot involving Ruth Roman, an escaped gangster’s moll who may know where her boy is hiding, and a blind woman who is being terrorized by her husband’s thug cronies. Unfortunately all three stories remind us why noirs were called crime melodramas at the time, and “solution” to the mystery of who is trying to get Roman’s money is pretty easy to figure out given the suspect has a distinct voice, even when masked.

Five Miles to Midnight (Anatole Litvak 1963)
Sophia Loren’s abusive husband Anthony Perkins dies in a plane crash and she stands to receive big bucks from the flight insurance he purchased. One small snag though: He survived the crash and wants to hide out at their apartment until she claims the check, at which point he’ll finally leave her alone… or will he dot dot dot question mark. This is a thoroughly stupid movie, with three truly awful performances in descending order of badness by Loren, Perkins, and Gig Young. Loren is so, so, sooooooooo terrible in this, good God. By the time that last fifteen minutes come around and we’re being asked to sympathize with Loren’s disproportionate actions, I was amazed that for as much as I hated the film already, it somehow found a way to get worse.

Highway Dragnet (Nathan Juran 1954)
Richard Conte is wrongly accused of strangling a woman he was seen drinking with the previous night. He evades the cops and takes up with Joan Bennett and Wanda Hendrix in this cheapie notable, I guess, for featuring Roger Corman’s first on-screen credit for co-writing the script. The movie is standard issue b-string noir stuff with the world’s most obvious Real Culprit, but the film has one original idea in its finale, which is set in an abandoned house in the middle of a flood plane. It’s a visually striking locale, and even though the film doesn’t do much with it, it’s a nice touch.

I, Jane Doe (John H Auer 1948)
A woman shoots a man to death and refuses to give her name to the police. She is tried as Jane Doe and is sentenced to death. However, the victim’s widow decides to defend her in a retrial because, well, this is a stupid movie. Lots of flashbacks abound at this juncture. I could sympathize, as I also spent most of this movie thinking about anything else but the present.

Maigret tend un piege (Jean Delannoy 1958)
Jean Gabin unimaginatively embodies Georges Simenon’s popular detective Jules Maigret in an unnecessarily long movie about Maigret’s plot catch a Jack the Ripper-ish serial killer. Since at two hours the movie runs a good 45 minutes longer than any slim detective feature like this should, it allowed me more time to think about the plot, which is not a good thing. The movie belabors every step of the process and hinges on a detective following a completely unsuspicious woman and making a connection that no one could possibly have made without more evidence at the outset. For what is alleged to be a popular figure, I found Maigret as embodied by Gabin to be a complete bore, with no interesting beats whatsoever. It just looks like Gabin rolled out of bed after eating an entire Christmas ham before filming every one of his scenes— serious late-period Spencer Tracy vibes abound here. There’s a second film following Gabin as Maigret, and unless someone has a compelling argument for changing my mind, I suspect I’ll never see it.

the Man Who Cheated Himself (Felix E Feist 1950)
Policeman Lee J Cobb covers up a murder committed by his married girlfriend Jane Wyatt, only for his kid brother, a rookie detective, to figure it all out. The set up is creaky, but the movie is light and Cobb lucks out when the gun he thinks he safely ditched ends up being used in another murder, which is a novel complication. John Dall’s high school basketball team starter aww shucks-ness is put to good effect as the brother, and there’s a nice finale set at a familiar San Francisco landmark that is only marred by a truly lame conclusion. The lovely little last scene does its best to wash out the bad taste left by it, though. Enjoyable, slight, and certainly not worth the $40 Flicker Alley wants for it on Blu-ray.

the Man Who Died Twice (Joseph Kane 1958)
Mad props to this film for spoiling its twist in the title, but that’s about all the praise I can dole out for this inexplicably ‘Scope (nee Naturama) cheapie about the cop brother of a dead gangster who tries to sort through his brother’s affairs and finds, gasp, dope-dealing! Lots of square-jawed men in this one, to give you some idea of what I managed to come up with while searching for anything of value in this to report back on. [P]

the Wrong Guy (David Steinberg 1997)
Dave Foley plays a corporate idiot who discovers his murdered boss’ dead body and subsequently incriminates himself in an absurd fashion. He goes on the lam, not realizing that the actual murderer was filmed committing the act and in fact no one thinks Foley did it. That’s a funny idea, but the constant supply of functional idiocy it requires to sustain a narrative becomes tiring, especially when Foley abandons it to go for jokes that require slightly more self-awareness. The film is funny, and I chuckled quite a bit, but there are precious few big laughs. I think it’s because the movie hits every joke you could predict as soon as a given scenario is presented. What works best are the moments that, as in good sketch comedy, startle us with a fresh complications. Sadly there are only a few such bells rung here, like the character clearly modeled on Burl Ives in the Big Country, who gets a big laugh just from the ominous treatment given even to his name. The three credited writers all have their own unique baggage and public comic voice— Foley from the Kids in the Hall, David Anthony Higgins from Higgins Boys and Gruber, and Jay Kogen from the golden era Simpsons— and there is some fun to be had in identifying who wrote what joke, which isn’t as hard as you might think. This movie merits the lamest quasi-recommendation I can muster: I laughed, it was okay, I never need to see it again, and you probably wouldn’t be upset if you had to sit through it. Sold, right?

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#702 Post by jbeall » Mon Nov 12, 2018 8:05 pm

'A pas de deux of sex and violence': a poet's guide to film noir
Robin Robertson wrote:These classic 40s and 50s movies – which seem like a distinctly American art form, like blues or jazz – were mostly not made by Americans but by emigres: Jewish directors and cinematographers who had fled Nazi Germany and ended up in Hollywood, bringing their expressionist aesthetic and their deep terrors to celluloid. These refugee artists were among the “huddled masses” that built America; the kind of people that are now, it seems, unwelcome.

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#703 Post by dustybooks » Tue Nov 13, 2018 1:44 pm

I feel downright ignorant but I just saw Gun Crazy for the first time a couple of nights ago and, while it seemed to owe a good bit to Lang's You Only Live Once, it's a perfect example of a film that cuts like a knife through every perception the general public may have of "old movies." The gunfire throughout felt like it was popping out of the screen at me, and I was watching on a laptop! Also fascinated to see John Dall in something besides Rope (and Spartacus); he's so much lower-key here that it serves to retroactively make his performance in the Hitchcock film even more interesting, because you know his melodramatic flair and smugness were completely intended as character traits. I thought his presentation of coexisting lust and fear in Gun Crazy was excellent. And those long takes! What a thrill.

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#704 Post by domino harvey » Wed Nov 14, 2018 1:56 pm

I looked him up after seeing your post and I was shocked at how few films Dall was in-- he lucked out that three of the handful of films he appeared in withstood the test of time and remain relatively well-seen. Haven't seen the Corn is Green yet, curious now to move it up since he earned an Oscar nom for his debut in it

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#705 Post by HJackson » Sun Jul 21, 2019 3:21 pm

Went through the first volume of VCI’s Hammer noirs over the last few days. All the flicks are watchable but only Stolen Face is actually positively good - and that mostly rests on the off-the-wall premise and the fun Lizbeth Scott has with the role. There’s a smug face she pulls while indulging in a touch of klepto that is simply perfect. But even that one feels rushed, especially in the third act when the inevitable complication Henreid has to face emerges - rushed endings are a theme with these, which is the downside of the fun-sized runtimes.

The Hollywood stars add something I think, and it’s nice see more of Dane Clark. Peter Reynolds is interesting from the other side of the pond in Man Bait, as a kind of English Dan Duryea. Tony Wright is quite good in the physical sequences in Bad Blonde, but stinks to high heaven in the more dramatic scenes. That one has a great murder scene that feels like something from the late silent era though.

The star of the show though must be the crappy DVD menus, introduced by an elaborate and very 1990s computer generated video of a Prohibition era car driving down a rainy street and getting shot to pieces by a smirking babe with a tommy gun - which is a classic noir image, apparently. Richard M Roberts is fun with the brief intros to the films and again the production is lovably crappy, with his voice accompanied by a slideshow of publicity stills arranged with absolutely no regard for what is being said and with instructions like “cut here and I’ll go back” totally ignored and left in the track.

Certainly scratched an itch and at this value I’ll grab the other eight in the second set. All of these felt noir to me (wish I could translate Roberts’ reading of the word from the extras here in text form...) which doesn’t sound like the case with VCI’s Forgotten Noir series, which is a shame if true.

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Re: The Noir List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#706 Post by Finch » Tue Dec 31, 2019 10:14 pm

I watched The Scar/Hollow Triumph 1948 for the first time today, via Film Detective's upload of their Blu-Ray transfer to their Youtube Channel. I only remember Paul Henreid from Casablanca so it was nice to see him play a gangster on the run, and the film also hugely benefits from John Alton's cinematography and another no-nonsense performance from Joan Bennett (the second film of hers I've watched lately, after The Woman in the Window).

I appreciate that other people's mileage will vary with the, shall we say, too convenient plotting such as
none of Bartok's staff pick up on Muller's scar being on the wrong cheek, Muller getting too good at impersonating Bartok too quickly
and I would agree that the film doesn't exploit the full potential of the twist enough but the combination of Henreid, Bennett and Alton elevates the film for me above other noirs like, say, Kiss of Death, not least because The Scar has a bleak ending which to me, feels more natural to a noir.

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