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Archive for the ‘Whit Bissell’ Category

He Walked By Night

22 Aug

He Walked By Night – Directed by Albert Werker & Anthony Mann. Crime Drama. A sociopathic cop killer turns invisible until the L.A. Police doggedly track him down. 79 minutes Black and White 1948

* * * *

The picture begins rather flatly, even photographically, though shot by the mysterious John Alton. Then, except for a few scenes here and there, it takes off, and one detects the hand of Anthony Mann running the entertainment at us with his welcome and usual ruthless competence. Roy Roberts has the lead as the police chief in charge of finding the brilliant and elusive killer. He is assisted by Scott Brady playing the dumb cop who finally gumshoes the clues into the light of day. The film is an all-male suspense thriller, and it is riveting. On one side it is documentarian, but on the other, strange scenes follow one another in rapid order, creating a skewed sense of a loose-cannon killer holding a cannon – for instance, the long odd scene in which the killer enters the house of someone he knows, Whit Bissell, and beats him up for money. and a scene where the killer operates on himself to remove a bullet. These scenes and Alton’s treatment of them give the killer an unhinged interior for which Richard Basehart is perfectly cast, since he always looked nuts anyhow. (His apogee as an actor was the screwy tightrope clown in Fellini’s La Strada.) Here he is ingrown, mean, paranoid, and resourceful in all situations. Like the big chase scene at the end of Side Street, Mann mounts a stupendous chase through the storm sewers of Los Angeles. The excitement of these scenes completely obscures the fact that one does not care a fig for any of the characters, and that the director’s interest in the killer, signaled by the fact that only his own dog loves him, is purely for his entertainment value as someone as extreme in his attack in the film as the director is with the film itself.

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Side Street

20 Aug

Side Street – Directed by Anthony Mann. Crime Drama. A down-on-his-luck young man steals a cache of cash from two gangsters and gets into no end of trouble. 83 minutes Black and White 1949.

* * * *

Farley Granger was housed at the Plaza when he played this impoverished young married guy, and he, having just broken off his affair with Shelly Winters, was having an affair with Leonard Bernstein. Does it show? There’s a quality in Granger as in a willow tree, alluring but flaccid. David Thomson characterizes him as “pretty but dull, innocent but fallible, wronged but petulant,” and all this makes him perfectly cast as the poverty row New Yorker who steals $30,000 thinking it is $200 for his pregnant wife’s maternity care. He plays his scenes of shame and flight superbly, which enables one to set aside that he is supposedly good-looking in order to concentrate on his talent, which actually exists. Anthony Mann once again casts the leading lady with a weak actress, Cathy O’Donnell, but Granger liked her personally and liked acting with her, and they have the same size of temperament opposite one another, which makes them believable as husband and wife. The shabby streets of New York City in its Golden Age are filmed magnificently by Joe Ruttenberg, who never shoots anything head on, but always askew, lending the story an obbligato to the moral imbalance inherent in it. Conrad Nervig has edited it perfectly, and the script by Sydney Beohm is first class. Anthony Mann was not a great director because he did not choose great material. It’s really that simple. But, now at MGM, he has available a crew of supporting players whose talent was unexceedable, in this case, among others, the great Jean Hagen as the airhead alcoholic girlfriend of the psychopathic strangler He-Of-The-Beautiful-Voice James Craig. The aerial shots of New York, particularly those of the chase scene at the end in lower Manhattan, obviously done some Sunday morning in the summer, are spectacular and could never be done again. Mann is a very good director and holds one’s attention throughout. It’s not noir, but noirish, and I defy you once you start watching to stop.

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