Crime & Passion: Pool of London (1951)

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To view Pool of London click here.

I, along with some of my fellow StreamLine colleagues, have been modestly building a case for the reassessment of Basil Dearden’s career during the past year by spotlighting many of his films including Sapphire (1959), The League of Gentlemen (1960), Victim (1961), All Night Long (1963), Frieda (1947), The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970) and The Captive Heart (1946). Despite the fact that the British director has been the subject of a Criterion DVD box set, Dearden is still relatively unknown in America outside of academic circles where he is typically regarded as a message filmmaker or competent craftsman. I think his body of work merits more consideration so I decided to dive into another Dearden film recently and came away even more impressed by his ability to combine challenging social commentary with dynamic filmmaking.

In Pool of London (1951), Dearden explores the shadowy environs of the London docklands where sailors from around the world mix, mingle and struggle to make a decent living. We get to know two of these sailors intimately; an American merchant seaman named Dan (Bonar Colleano) and his Jamaican pal Johnny (Earl Cameron). This noir-infused drama unfolds during a shore leave excursion where the mischievous Dan gets entangled with some unsavory smugglers and sensitive Johnny becomes smitten with a sweet-natured blond (Susan Shaw). Dan’s dilemma becomes increasingly difficult as the film spirals towards its nail-biting conclusion but Johnny’s interracial romance comes with its own set of problems.

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Double Noir: Laura (1944) and Fallen Angel (1945)

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To view Laura click here.

To view Fallen Angel click here.

In retrospect, Otto Preminger has never been included in the pantheon of iconic Golden Age directors—Ford, Hitchcock, Welles, Hawks, Wilder, Capra. Sometimes, his career is covered in film history texts, largely because of his work in the 1950s. Preminger’s career ended with a few disappointing and strange choices (Skidoo, really?), which perhaps accounts for a fading reputation even in his lifetime. It’s time to embrace the dictatorial director with the bald pate—despite Skidoo (1968)! FilmStruck is offering “Early Otto,” a selection of films from his studio years. For today’s post, I suggest a perfect Preminger double feature; next week, I will follow through with a broader discussion of his work.

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Three’s a Crowd: Daisy Kenyon (1947)

Daisy Kenyon (1947) Directed by Otto Preminger Shown: Joan Crawford

To view Daisy Kenyon click here.

Daisy Kenyon (1947) is a rarity. It’s a romantic Hollywood movie made for adults that refuses to sentimentalize its subject and treats all its characters respectfully despite their failings and their flaws. Joan Crawford stars as Daisy, an ambitious commercial artist who becomes involved in a complicated love triangle with two very different men. Her longtime paramour is a cocksure married lawyer (Dana Andrews) who has a moral compass that seems to ebb and flow with the changing tides. Her new lover (Henry Fonda) is a shell-shocked war veteran, bereaved widow and onetime naval architect trying to find his footing in postwar New York. Daisy must choose which man she wants to spend the rest of her life with but the decision is not an easy one and director Otto Preminger ratchets up the tension by shooting this somber melodrama as if it were a film noir. In Daisy Kenyon love is a mystery that the resilient heroine must solve but a clear-cut solution remains frustratingly out of reach.

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A Brutal Film Noir: Cavalcanti’s They Made Me a Fugitive (1947)

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To view The Made Me a Fugitiveclick here.

Brazilian filmmaker Alberto Cavalcanti had quite an interesting career. After several years directing films in France, the director signed a contract with the prestigious Ealing Studios in England. While Cavalcanti only made a handful of films at the studio before departing due to a contract dispute, his tenure helped to establish his career as a director. During his time at Ealing, Cavalcanti directed Went the Day Well (1942), Champagne Charlie (1944) and a vignette in the mysterious and creepy Dead of Night (1945), which is best described as a sort of proto Twilight Zone (1959-1964). Immediately following his stint at Ealing, Cavalcanti made three more films in the UK, all in 1947: Nicholas Nickleby, The First Gentleman and They Made Me a Fugitive, which is arguably Cavalcanti’s finest cinematic achievement.

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Bigotry & Bloodshed: Sapphire (1959)

SAPPHIRE (1959)

To view Sapphire click here.

A beautiful young woman named Sapphire (Yvonne Buckingham) has been murdered. Her bloodied corpse was found in London’s Hampstead Heath park. A seasoned detective (Nigel Patrick) and his young partner (Michael Craig) are called on to investigate the case but as they try to piece together the puzzle of this post-war whodunit the mystery only deepens. Behind her tweed skirts and pale complexion, Sapphire was keeping many secrets including the fact that she was the biracial child of a black mother and white father. Did race play a part in her murder? Is a family member involved? Or was she killed by one of her male suitors? Before the killer is unmasked, this curious mystery takes some surprising twists and turns. In the process viewers get a firsthand look at London’s vibrant city streets undergoing a tectonic shift as denizens of white working-class pubs and black jazz clubs mix, mingle and occasionally fall in love. We also get a taste of the revolting racism quietly simmering underneath this modern cultural melting-pot.

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Sudden Fear (1952): Joan Crawford’s Shock to the System

SUDDEN FEAR (1952)

To view Sudden Fear click here.

As the first season of water cooler sensation Feud has recently finished airing, it’s funny to reflect how certain movie stars tend to surge in public interest at random intervals. Case in point: Joan Crawford, whose films have been TCM and home video favorites among younger viewers and who is now enjoying her biggest pop culture awareness since Faye Dunaway turned her into a domineering camp icon in Mommie Dearest (1981). It’s become common for movie fans to pigeonhole much of Crawford’s work as campy or, more commonly, as “women’s pictures,” which tends to fence them off into some kind of minor category apart from all those war films and biblical epics.

Well, the joke’s on those critics considering how little Crawford’s films have dated and how many people still watch them. You can certainly be amused by Joan’s more outrageous ventures into the surreal, e.g. Torch Song (1953), but she was a woman who could grab that camera and hold your gaze stronger than just about any other movie star out there. Fortunately she had a work ethic that wouldn’t quit and made loads of films both within and outside the studio system, which means you can spend much of your love stumbling on a Crawford film that doesn’t get regular play. [...MORE]

“Isn’t that enough?” The American Friend (1977)

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To view The American Friend click here.

Tom Ripley only ever wore a cowboy hat once. In Hamburg. And Wim Wenders loved it. Playing Tom Ripley, Dennis Hopper dons the hat as he roams about, confused and paranoid, running an art forgery scheme to make money off of ignorant investors. At one of those art auctions he’s introduced to a framer, Jonathan Zimmerman, played by Bruno Ganz, and gets the cold shoulder. Anyone who knows Tom Ripley knows that’s a mistake. Ripley is many things, from con man to sociopath, but he is, above all else, unstable. Tom Ripley never forgets a slight. That initiates a series of events that sets in motion Wenders’ 1977 thriller, The American Friend, based on Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley’s Game.

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John Alton and Film Noir: Painting with Light and Shadow

RAW DEAL (1948)

To view Raw Deal click here.

A shadowy, expressive photography defines film noir. It creates the kind of heavy mood and atmosphere that the German Expressionists called stimmung. The genre seemed to bring out the best in cinematographers, but two have been singled out by scholars and historians—Nicholas Musuraca and John Alton.

Musuraca photographed noir favorites such as Out of the Past (1947) and The Hitch-Hiker (1953), while John Alton’s work in the genre was in B-movies for directors Steve Sekely (Hollow Triumph [1948]), Joseph H. Lewis (The Big Combo [1955]), and Anthony Mann. Alton shot six films for Mann; five of them are streaming on FilmStruck, including the noir Raw Deal (1948).

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Joan Bennett: Fritz Lang’s Muse

SCARLET STREET (1945)

Joan Bennett got her start in Hollywood as a lovely, demure, fair-haired ingénue but made her mark as a sexy, feisty, dark-haired femme fatale. Her transformation was atypical in Tinseltown where many natural brunettes such as Carole Lombard, Lana Turner, Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, found success after becoming bottle blonds. Bennett’s makeover happened during the production of Trade Winds (1938), an amusing crime-drama where she plays a woman on the run from the law who is forced to change her appearance. She looked so striking as a brunette that she was inundated with fan mail after the film’s release and got approval from national hairdresser associations who publicly admired her exotic new ‘do. Critics disapprovingly compared her to Hedy Lamarr but according to the actress’s autobiography (The Bennett Playbill), she relished the idea of escaping the “bland, blond, innocent” image that had dogged her and the change of appearance brought about a newfound personal and professional confidence. Afterward Bennett became politically active, fell in love with producer Walter Wanger and began a creative partnership with director Fritz Lang that would forever alter the trajectory of her career.

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On Film Noir, Poetic Realism and “The Myth of Gabin”

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If you are a fan of film noir, and who isn’t, I suggest checking out the French film movement from the 1930s known as Poetic Realism. Noir fanatics are attracted to the genre’s dark romanticism with its haunting fatalism, melancholy mood and doomed characters—conventions shared with Poetic Realism. Until the end of February, FilmStruck is streaming seven films under the theme French Poetic Realism, including three featuring Jean Gabin. Gabin has been compared to Humphrey Bogart, not because they resemble each other, or employ similar acting styles, but because both became icons of the silver screen. In France, Gabin in his working-class cloth cap is an icon representing Poetic Realism, while Bogart in his fedora and trench coat is the face of film noir.

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