Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Human Target 1.8

So, as the new Fall season is coming, I'm catching up on episodes I missed, and that includes the last 5 episodes of Human Target. This looks like a key episode, looking toward the past. The villain is the eponymous Baptiste, an assassin trained by Chance himself. We learn more about Chance's past, and who Katherine is, as well as bring back Agent Barnes from Episode 3 (I toldja we'd see more of her) and Layla from Episode 6 (pleasant surprise). More fun action and fist-play. Enjoy for the next couple of days!

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Big Steal (1949)

It's a convoluted plot, no matter what you do, but here's what AFI starts with:

"As he is about to sail from Veracruz, Mexico, Duke Halliday is confronted at gunpoint by Capt. Vincent Blake. While Blake is searching Duke's luggage, however, Duke knocks him out and steals his identification papers. Duke then shoves his way through a crowd and is chastised for his rude behavior by disembarking American Joan Graham. Leaving Duke at the pier, Joan finds Jim Fiske, her double-crossing fiancé, in a hotel room and demands that he return the $2,000 he "borrowed" from her. The smooth-talking Fiske promises to return the money as soon as he makes a paid delivery, but while Joan is taking a shower, he slips out with the valuables. Duke then walks into the room looking for Fiske and identifies himself to Joan as Capt. Blake. Feigning nonchalance, Joan dismisses Duke, but then finds Fiske in the hotel garage and tells him about Duke's visit. Just then, Duke appears and begins fighting with Fiske. Fiske gets away, and Duke and Joan are brought to the local police station. Once again Duke identifies himself as Blake and tells Inspector-General Ortega that he is pursuing a fugitive. The amiable Ortega allows Duke and Joan to go their separate ways, but immediately orders a tail put on them."

There was a definite character that Robert Mitchum played for the most part. Jeff Bailey from OUT OF THE PAST and Harry Powell from NIGHT OF THE HUNTER were more exception than rule. Typically, as in this film, Mitchum was the good guy in the bad world. We are introduced to Mitchum in this film without a character name, beating on a guy who shows a badge. Thrust as we are in the middle of this mess, Mitchum is a criminal, on the run and resisting arrest. As the film unfolds, we find out the real situation and the real criminals are revealed. But, until that point, we've got pretty effective (and in the hands of director Don Siegel) quickly-paced noir. It also features a re-teaming of Mitchum with his OUT OF THE PAST femme fatale, Jane Greer. I recommend it, and you can find it in the Warner Bros. 4th DVD Film Noir set.

Judgment: Noir

Friday, August 20, 2010

I Write Like...

I saw this neat little internet tool on The Rap Sheet, and I was working on an article for the NoirCon program at the time. I've finally finished it, and subjected the first paragraph for analysis. According to the interwebs...

I write like
Arthur Conan Doyle

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Then I took the text from the first chapter of the last novel I worked on and got this:

I write like
William Gibson

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Heady company, to be sure. I wonder if they want me to buy something from them?

Want to see who you write like? Try it here: http://iwl.me/

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Strangers on a Train (1951)

From AFI:
"On a train, wealthy, neurotic Bruno Antony recognizes tennis player Guy Haines and strikes up a conversation. While using Guy's cigarette lighter, Bruno notices it is inscribed "From A to G," and guesses that "A" is Senator Morton's daughter Anne, whom Guy intends to marry after Miriam, his current wife, divorces him. Over lunch in his compartment, Bruno describes to Guy his hatred of his father, and suggests a plan for a perfect murder. He proposes that two strangers, who each want someone in their life killed, swap murders. In that way, each has murdered a perfect stranger and is unlikely to be apprehended. For example, Bruno says, he could kill Miriam, and Guy would then return the favor by killing Bruno's father. Believing Bruno to be a harmless crank, Guy agrees that the theory is viable and disembarks from the train at his home town of Metcalf, unaware that he has left his distinctive lighter in Bruno's compartment. In Metcalf, Guy proceeds to the music store where Miriam works. There, Miriam tells him that although she is pregnant with another man's baby, she has no intention of divorcing him. In full sight of the other employees, a furious Guy brutally shakes her, then calls Anne and, still angry, shrieks that he would like to strangle his wife. Meanwhile, Bruno, at his parents' home, overhears his father threaten to institutionalize him, and decides to put his plan into action immediately."

Hitchcock is so good. He's the kind of good that, even when you've seen a film a couple of times, and have read a good deal about it, that you can go back to the film a few years later and still get swept up. And of course, he's a top-notch formalist, using images to not only tell the story, but to create emotional impressions that are not easily forgotten. It is this that truly gives the film an everlasting quality, like the shot of the murder reflected in the glasses or the sight of an out-of-control merry-go-round, that bastion of childhood safety for decades. Guy Haines never really acts like a killer, though I guess it could be argued that he was an accessory, but there sure is a lot of guilt to go around, he even addresses it directly in a conversation with Anne, and that guilt, and the possibility that he could actually do the deed bring this into the noir frame. Go see it if you haven't already.

Judgment: noir

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Crime Against Joe (1956)

From AFI:
"Frustrated young artist Joe Manning smears his portrait of a woman with red paint because he is disappointed by his lack of skill. Afterward, his mother Nora, who supports him, chides Joe for over-idealizing women, both on canvas and in real life. Joe decides to go on a drinking binge and, a few evenings later, a still drunk Joe visits his friend, Frances “Slacks” Bennett, at the drive-in coffee shop where she works as a carhop. Slacks urges him not to drive, then admits she had a fight with her boyfriend, taxicab driver Red Waller. Joe calls for a cab and specifically asks for Red, a former high school friend, then makes plans to meet Slacks at a nightclub later. Red drops off Joe at the Pago Pago nightclub, where he flirts with the singer, Irene Crescent. After Joe insults Irene by saying she is not a “nice girl” and warns that she will regret it, the bartender, Harry Dorn, throws him out and, after striking him, leaves him on the sidewalk. When Joe later finds Christy Rowen sleepwalking in the street, he takes her to a house in the direction where she was heading. Christy’s father Philip answers the door and thanks Joe for bringing her home. Later that night, police detective Hollander surveys the site where a murdered Irene was left and a local high school pin appearing to belong to her killer found beside the body. The next day, Joe is taken to the police station where he is questioned by Hollander and District Attorney Roy. Asked about his high school pin, Joe is unable to recall its location, but states he was at the Rowen house at the time of the murder. When Philip is questioned, however, he claims to have never met Joe."

Another wrong man film (from the same year as the Hitchcock film) that plays it straight for the camera. Joe is falsely accused, but instead of panicking as he would in a film noir, the drunk, sensitive Joe keeps his cool and does a little investigating on his own, shaking loose some clues that end up helping him out. Sure, everybody thinks he's a criminal, but he never once starts to act like one. There is no journey to the dark side for Joe, and thus:

Judgment: not noir

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Rogue Cop (1954)

From AFI:
"Christopher Kelvaney, who has been on Beaumonte's payroll for years, demands to know why a small-time criminal like Fallon merits such intervention by the mob, but Beaumonte refuses to answer him. That evening, Christopher meets his brother in a nightclub where Eddie's girl friend, Karen Stephanson, works as a singer. Christopher presents Beaumonte's offer, warning that Eddie will be killed if he does not recant his identification of Fallon, but Eddie flatly refuses to be bought. Karen joins them, and while Eddie is away, Christopher remarks that they met two years ago, in Miami. Christopher then goes to Beaumonte's penthouse apartment, where the crime boss is meeting with his colleague Ackerman. To buy his brother time, Christopher tells the men that Eddie will cooperate, and Ackerman instructs him to bring Eddie by the following night."

This is the basic setup for ROGUE COP, one of a string of "bad cop" noirs that seem relegated to the early '50s, including ON DANGEROUS GROUND and WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS. Again, there is little of the formalistic style that you normally think of associated with film noir to be found in this work, more evident as I see more films from the '50s, but it certainly falls into the narrative framework of a criminal protagonist that finds himself in a difficult situation. The films is actually quite engaging. I don't know much about Robert Taylor, but he was effective as the rogue cop, and the more I see of George Raft, the more I want to champion his overlooked work. Janet Leigh is always fine, and Anne Francis was a great blonde bimbo. The skipper was a goon? Say it ain't so.

Judgment: noir

Friday, August 13, 2010

Big House, USA (1955)

From AFI:

"At a summer camp in Colorado's Royal Gorge National Park, young Danny Lambert suffers a severe asthma attack after running in a race. Terrified by nurse Emily Evans’ attempt to give him an injection, Danny runs away and is found the next day by a passing stranger. The man, Jerry Barker, claims that he heard about Danny’s disappearance on the radio and takes him to an abandoned fire lookout tower, which he says will be a safe place for the still-ailing boy to wait while he goes for help. Meanwhile, at the park’s headquarters, Chief Ranger Will Erickson attempts to calm Danny’s hysterical father, wealthy businessman Robertson Lambert. Lambert visits the park’s restaurant and there receives a call from Barker, who has already left a note for him that Danny has been kidnapped but will be released for a $200,000 ransom. Lambert agrees to Barker’s terms and promises not to tell the authorities, and later, finds Danny’s jacket in his car, along with instructions about dropping off the ransom money the following morning. When Barker returns to the lookout tower, he discovers that Danny had wandered outside, and the decrepit railing gave way, causing Danny to fall to his death. Barker cold-bloodedly tosses Danny’s body into the gorge, and the next day, Lambert, as instructed, gives the money to a passing, uninvolved motorcyclist, who leaves it at the pre-arranged spot. That afternoon, Lambert, frantic that Danny has not been returned, tells Erickson about the kidnapping, and the ranger calls the FBI. Special Agent James Madden is sent to investigate, while the rangers continue to interrogate tourists leaving the park. When an unregistered pistol is found in a truck belonging to a man named Hanson, the man is brought in for questioning, and his story that he was fishing at a particular lake heightens Erickson’s suspicion because there are no fish in that lake. After a small amount of the ransom money is found in the truck, the FBI in Washington discovers that the man is actually Barker, a wanted extortionist. Despite Madden’s certainty that Barker kidnapped and killed Danny, Barker claims that he merely found the lost boy and took advantage of the situation by demanding money from Lambert. Without either Danny’s body or the rest of the ransom money as proof, Barker is convicted only of extortion, and is sentenced to one to five years at Cascabel Island Prison in the Gulf of California."

And this is only the first half of the movie. The second half of the movie involves Barker and his cellmates Lon Chaney, Jr., Charles Bronson, and William Talman (of "Perry Mason" and THE HITCH-HIKER). You see, they all want a piece of Barker's $200,000, so they're going to break him out, whether he wants to or not. And suddenly it's a prison break film. That's the problem with this film, is that it doesn't have an identity, or it changes identity often. The film starts out from Danny's point-of-view, then moves to Barker's, and then to Madden's, utilizing a voice-over that details the progress of the investigation. It is, at different times, a kidnap film, a federal agent story, a prison film, a prison break film, and a heist movie. but all of this confusion is not germaine to whether or not the film is noir. Does it take us into the psyche of a criminal and detail his journey from light to dark? No. Which is not always the "kiss of death," look at CROSSFIRE, for instance. But while that film transcends the genre by showing us American society as the noir protagonist, this film falls into a pretty standard crime film where the good guys win through hard work and smarts. Entertaining, especially with the cast in prison, but ultimately...

Judgment: Not Noir

Thursday, August 12, 2010

99 River Street (1953)

From AFI:

"After Ernie drops [his wife] Pauline off at the florist shop where she works, he seeks advice from his best friend, dispatcher Stan Hogan ... Aspiring actress Linda James joins the men at a drugstore lunch counter and shares the good news about her upcoming audition for a Broadway play. At the florist shop, meanwhile, Pauline plans to run away to Paris that night with her lover, thief Victor Rawlins, after he closes a $50,000 deal. Ernie drives up to the shop hoping to smooth things over with Pauline, and sees her kissing Victor. When Victor attempts to hire Ernie’s cab, unaware that the driver is Pauline’s husband, Ernie angrily drives away. Pauline is terrified because Ernie has seen them together, and tells Victor that she fears for her life. ... At the cab company, Stan attempts to curb Ernie’s explosive outburst about his wife’s betrayal, even after Ernie unintentionally slams him against a car. Ernie agrees to finish his shift, but is waylaid by Linda, who says she killed the play’s producer when he tried to force himself on her. Linda takes Ernie to the apparently empty theater to see the body, and after she dramatizes the event, Ernie reluctantly agrees to dump the body in the river. To his horror, the “body” gets up, after which several people, including the play’s director, Waldo Daggett, the writer, Lloyd Morgan, and the publicist, appear from the dark house to congratulate Linda on her performance. Ernie then learns that Lloyd arranged the ruse to prove Linda’s acting ability to Daggett. Linda gets the part but loses her friend Ernie, who is so infuriated by the practical joke that he strikes Morgan when the playwright attempts to pay him off. Several other men get involved in the fray, but Ernie overcomes them and leaves. The publicist then calls the police in hopes that even negative publicity will help the play. ... In another part of town, Pauline accompanies Victor to his apartment, where he convinces her to call Ernie and arrange for him to meet her at a nearby bar. After she hangs up, Victor wraps a scarf around Pauline’s neck, in an apparent loving gesture, but continues to pull it tight until it strangles her. When Pauline fails to show at the bar, Ernie returns to their apartment and packs his belongings. Linda arrives soon after to apologize. After assuring him she has quit the play, she warns Ernie that there is a warrant for his arrest for assault and battery. Although Ernie is still angry at Linda, she refuses to leave his side and when they climb into his cab, they discover Pauline’s dead body in the back seat."

This is only about half of the synopsis from AFI, but it's a very convoluted plot, and I didn't want to give away the ending. This film definitely falls into the "hero forced into criminal action" arena, and its most interesting aspect is that our main character is forced to act like a criminal for two different crimes he didn't commit: the murder at the theater (which never happened) and the murder of his wife (which did). And he's led into these frames by two different women, femmes fatales, if you like, although I'm not sure how well that definition fits over them. John Payne, of MIRACLE ON 34th STREET is quite good in the lead, and Brad Dexter is creepy again (as he was in ASPHALT JUNGLE). Evelyn Keyes does her best wide-eyed Audrey Totter and performs that weird sex dance that seems to be relegated to the early '50s. There isn't much of the chiaroscuro lighting, or even the clever mise-en-scene of Otto Preminger, and it's interesting to note that the more noir I see, the less I see noir. Is style as important to the genre as I've believed so far? It is a question to be answered later. Anyway, if you want to watch the film, it's on Hulu until September 1. Watch it here:

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dear Blog -

I know I haven't written much recently, but I've been really busy. I just finished an article for publication. My parents were in town, plus I went to the Baseball Hall of Fame induction. I've seen a lot of films for research, plus I have that whole day-job thing going on. Please understand that my neglect is not malicious. I still love you, and I still need you in my life. Please stick around, and I promise I'll take better care of you.