Vigilante Justice: The Big Heat (1953)

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William P. McGivern created Harry Callaghan, better known as Dirty Harry. Not literally. He created the literary environment that made Harry Callaghan possible, as well as Paul Kersey, the vigilante at the center of Death Wish (1974). McGivern was the writer who gave us The Big Heat (1953) and Rogue Cop (1954), both made into movies in the fifties and the former, The Big Heat, gave us the character of Detective Sergeant Dave Bannion, the cop at the heart of the film who fights against a corrupt system outside the lines, quitting his job to pursue vigilante justice on his own. It’s a good story but is Dave Bannion a good guy? Is there a good guy in the story? Maybe.

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Take Time for Time Without Pity (’57)

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Isn’t Michael Redgrave simply marvelous? No matter the role, Michael Redgrave brings a sort of respectability and class; he commands the screen. Take his brief performance as the unnamed, mysterious uncle in Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961). The few minutes he is on screen, sharing a scene with that naive, inexperienced governess played by Deborah Kerr, Redgrave dominates, casting an unsettled tone over the film from the very start. The uncle never reappears in the film, his character only being mentioned occasionally in passing conversation. And yet, his domineering presence is felt until the last haunting moment of the film. Or how about Redgrave’s performance in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938), a great thriller surrounding mystery, missing persons and intrigue. Then there is Redgrave’s performance in the wonderfully bizarre Dead of Night (1945), which tells its interesting story in a series of vignettes; Redgrave’s insane ventriloquist character being absolutely terrifying. I recently discovered Redgrave’s masterful performance in the little known Time Without Pity (1957), now available on The Criterion Channel of FilmStruck (and coming to the FilmStruck portion of the service on February 10, 2017). Directed by blacklisted American expatriate Joseph Losey, Time Without Pity is an effective, taut noir thriller.

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Nippon Noir: Celebrate #Noirvember with FilmStruck

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Thanks to Turner Classic Movies’ Social Media Specialist Marya Gates (@oldfilmsflicker) November is now known as Noirvember among many classic film fans who enjoy watching Film Noir throughout the month and discussing it on social media sites using the hashtag #Noirvember. This month-long celebration of criminal activity, dangerous dames, desperate men and shadow-lined surfaces is coming to a close but before it does I thought I’d highlight a few of the interesting Japanese crime films currently streaming on FilmStruck. If you’re celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday at home this year, it’s a great opportunity to play catch up with a genre I like to call Nippon Noir.

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Robert Mitchum as The Face of Film Noir

blogeddie5A tough week for America. After a long, bitter election year, the end game is a divided and angry country. Disillusioned with both sides, I find escape—and solace—in a pair of moody film noirs in which a cynical, jaded Robert Mitchum encapsulates how I feel.

In The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), Mitchum plays Eddie “Fingers” Coyle, a small-time gunrunner who is barely making ends meet on the margins of the underworld. The last of his luck runs out when he finds himself facing another long stint in prison. He weighs his loyalty to his criminal associates against snitching on them to the cops, which would keep him out of prison.

TV writer Paul Monash adapted the screenplay from a novel by George V. Higgins, a real-life assistant DA. Higgins captured a detailed, intimate view of the lifestyle of street criminals. The corrupt, dog-eat-dog world of the novel easily translated to film noir. Gloomy, with only a minimal amount of action, The Friends of Eddie Coyle wraps itself in melancholy, a tone that Mitchum could so easily express in his baritone voice, somnolent expression and minimalist acting style.

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Angie Dickinson in Cry Terror! (1958)

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Angie Dickinson in 1958
Angie Dickinson takes center stage in TCM’s ongoing Summer Under the Stars programming today. The leggy mid-western beauty first achieved widespread general and critical attention for her role in Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo (1959) airing 10 PM EST/7 PM PST. Hawks often referred to the actress as his “discovery” but in truth, Dickinson had appeared in a number of films and television dramas before making Rio Bravo. One of her most interesting early roles can be found in the low-budget crime thriller, Cry Terror! (1958) also airing early Friday morning at 4 AM EST/1 AM PST.

In Cry Terror! Dickinson plays the no nonsense Eileen Kelly, a dangerous dame who plants a bomb on a plane as part of a deadly extortion scheme mastermind by Paul Hoplin (Rod Steiger). A weapon-wielding thug (Jack Klugman) and pill-popping rapist (Neville Brand) comprise the rest of this terror inflicting goon squad who frame an innocent man named Jim Molar (James Mason) for their crimes. When their plans start to unravel, they kidnap Molar’s young daughter (Terry Ann Ross) and wife (Inger Stevens), forcing them to take-part in their nefarious plans. Amid all the chaos, a crack team of FBI investigators (Kenneth Tobey, Barney Phillips & Jack Kruschen) is called in to help put the extortion gang behind bars.

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Blood Money: Too Late for Tears (1949)

ct-too-late-for-tears-20140828 After viewing Too Late For Tears (1949), I would advise all couples against accepting cash-stuffed valises of mysterious origin. Sure, it would be nice to be raised up out of your dead-end middle-class marriage, but there is the whole issue of the money’s origin, and the pile-up of bodies that keeping the cash may entail. Too Late For Tears is a vicious little film noir with a flinty, sociopathic performance by Lizabeth Scott, but it had been in public domain purgatory for decades, circulating in muddy transfers under its re-release title Killer Bait. The Film Noir Foundation has lobbied for its restoration for years, and with the help of a Hollywood Foreign Press grant, the UCLA Film and Television Archive was able to reconstruct the film from a 35mm nitrate French dupe negative, a 35mm acetate re-issue print, and a 16mm acetate. The result can be seen in a superb new Blu-ray from Flicker Alley, complete with Alan K. Rode audio commentary and a highly informative essay by Brian Light. [...MORE]

Searching for Old Hollywood: The TCM Tour

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Once again, I attended the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood with my partner in crime, Maryann. Part of our ritual is to spend the Thursday afternoon before the fest combing the streets, cemeteries, and movie palaces looking for the last vestiges of old Hollywood. This year our quest led us to the TCM Movie Location Tour, which took us from Hollywood to downtown Los Angeles. A large screen inside the bus showed clips from movies shot in L.A., while the driver eased by the actual locations, and a knowledgeable tour guide offered fun facts and amusing anecdotes.

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Beware of Birds: Crow Hollow (1952)

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Actress Natasha Parry, star of Crow Hollow (1952)

Crow Hollow (1952) is a little seen low-budget British B-movie typically categorized as Film Noir in the few books where I’ve seen it mentioned. After catching up with it recently I discovered that it had much more in common with Gothic mysteries, Gaslight (1940) inspired thrillers and classic “Old Dark House” movies. Directed economically by Michael McCarthy, who excelled in television and made a number of suspenseful WW2 dramas such as The Accursed (1957) and Operation Amsterdam (1959), the film lacks the stylish flourishes and sophisticated set pieces that the material cries out for. But it is held together by some sharp performances and a twisty plot based on a book by Dorothy Eden and it’s Eden’s involvement that drove me to watch Crow Hollow.

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Revisiting ‘The Maltese Falcon’

blogopener2TCM in conjunction with Fathom Entertainment celebrates the 75th anniversary of The Maltese Falcon on February 21 and February 24, exhibiting the film at participating theaters. John Huston’s masterpiece, which shows at 2:00pm and 7:00pm on both days, will be introduced by Ben Mankiewicz in a brief filmed commentary. Check the Fathom website for more details.

Last fall, I showed The Maltese Falcon as part of a course on film noir. Though it is considered one of the earliest examples of noir, and therefore important as a foundation, I struggled with whether to show a film I had seen so many times. I thought of showing the less-familiar Stranger on the Third Floor, because it would be more interesting to me. But, I knew that the majority of the students had not seen The Maltese Falcon. As I began to pull together the course material, I grew more excited at the implications of introducing them to such an iconic film. This was their introduction not only to The Maltese Falcon but also the genre of film noir. They would be seeing it with the freshness and excitement of first-time viewers, and I had a part to play in that.

Film noir developed in the studio system during the Golden Age, and yet it defied many of the norms and conventions of that era. It was the genre that broke the rules—a big deal considering how entrenched certain norms, conventions, and formulas were during the Golden Age. For young people unfamiliar with the systems and practices of the studio system, noir’s defiance of those systems and practices would not be readily apparent.

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Nippon Noir: Snow Trail (1947)

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Senkichi Taniguchi’s Snow Trail aka Ginrei no hate (1947) begins with a bang. A montage of shadowy figures and fragmented images bombards viewers during the film’s opening credits while guns fire, alarms ring, windows break, trains whistle and sirens scream. We soon discover that three desperate men (Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura and Yoshio Kosugi) have just robbed a bank and in a bold attempt to dodge authorities, they make a dangerous trip to Northern Japan where they hope to lose their pursuers in the snow-covered Alps. None of the men are prepared for the hard climb ahead of them and they sorely lack the survival skills needed to endure a harsh winter outdoors. When they’re forced to seek shelter at isolated ski lodges and in abandoned ranger stations, it only complicates their dire situation. As the stress of their predicament begins to overwhelm them, tensions grow and soon the three outlaws are bickering among themselves. Their shaky solidarity gives way to fear, distrust and unrepentant greed but one man will eventually find bitter redemption amidst the demanding mountains.

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