Archive for the ‘MURDER MYSTERY’ Category

Miss Pinkerton

21 Jun

Miss Pinkerton – directed by Lloyd Bacon. Murder Mystery. 66 minutes Black And White 1932.
The Story: A hospital nurse takes on a police case in a creepy mansion.
Joan Blondell is the face of the ‘30s. Big-eyes open to life, quick of tongue, game, pretty, and strong as an ox. Not Crawford or Shearer or Hepburn or Lombard or Arthur, but this lower-class tootsie, Joan Blondell, a little too susceptible to love, but up for any role, any case, any dance. She was the world’s greatest tonic for The Great depression. As lovable as she was skilled.

She played leading roles sometimes, such as Miss Pinkerton, but she was not a leading lady but a jolly soubrette.

Here she plays a bored-to-death hospital nurse who is assigned the care of an old woman in whose grisly mansion a shooting has occurred.

So many plot twists and angles and changes and characters interlope on her attention that you wonder how the makers of the picture are ever to solve the murder. I’m not sure they ever did.

The film is beautifully shot, and imaginatively directed by Lloyd Bacon. He keeps us guessing and off balance, yet leaning forward still into what is going on.

The picture is 1932, a year in which Blondell made nine films, and is advertised as pre-code. While it has nothing risqué in it that I could tell, it sure has a lot of love twisters. And more meaningful looks than a bathhouse. And it has the suavely smirking George Brent as the likeable detective assigned to crack the case. He has a voice like a cast iron radiator. Smooth-talker that he is, he soft-soaps her into his arms consistently and, of course, at last. She is eager.

This is Warner Brothers cheap entertainment, which does not mean it is bad entertainment. Not at all. Coney Island is good entertainment, because it is well done. So is this.

We passed the time with Blondell in many a movie in those days, and she went on acting (in over 100 pictures) right until the end.

She was sexy, funny, ripe, and vulnerable. A fast-talking dame, she could dish out the snappy dialogue with the best of them. To Cagney she delivered the renowned put-down: “You’re the biggest chiseler since Michelangelo!” He never recovered – in that movie anyhow.

We watch her in this one with complete sympathy, interest, approval, and concern. But she saves herself from doom every time. No one could scream on camera like Joan Blondell. No one was ever so simply likeable.


Gone Girl

24 Oct

Gone Girl ­ – directed by David Fincher. Drama. 140 minutes Color 2014


The Story: The wife of a man disappears unaccountably, and the community is in arms.


This piece has the opening beauty of a Hitchcock picture: a wrong-man-accused is his most frequent theme. But Hitchcock knew such a theme could not be dragged out at this length, for we have to wait over two hours for this shaggy dog to stop wagging its tail.

Ben Affleck is the lug whose wife has disappeared, and, as usual, he is completely credible. The wife is played by Rosamund Pike and she is equally credible because she plays a part of a woman who likes no one and therefore one is not obliged to care whether she lives or dies. Perfect casting: January Jones country. Kim Dickens is particularly effective as the policewoman striving to sort the case out as is Carrie Coon as Affleck’s twin sister and Lola Kirk as a low-life lady Pike meets on her way, and Tyler Perry as Affleck’s powerhouse lawyer.

The picture is effective in its opening two acts but falls asleep on itself as it generates nightmares to jack itself up. We are asked to enter into unnecessary, unsupportable complications, whereas all we care about, after a point, is Will the villain be trapped or not and how. Once the perfidy is arranged for us, we need no further perfidy to crown it. It is a film that does not realize that third acts always needs to get on with it.

The production is sumptuous, but the producers have made one stupid error, which is to hire the author of the novel to write the screenplay – for the reason the film exhausts itself is her jamming everything in the book into it. The interest of the neighbors and the press, for instance, would be better felt than seen. So would the episodes with Neil Patrick Harris. All we need is the scene in the hospital with her afterwards. How she did it is of no interest at this point. That she did it is everything, and all we need to know to put ourselves in the shoes of Affleck.

For film is not an imaginative medium. Which is to say, literature requires reading and reading requires one to fill in the lacunae with one’s imagination – how people look, sound, gesture, and how crowds are, one makes up for oneself as one reads.

In film the work of the imagination is done by everything being shown. Unless, even better, it is not shown. That is to say in film no imagination is required; so what is left unshown counts enormously to sustain interest, humor, and tension. Film narration, at least in suspense film, depends upon what is left out. And most films are suspense films.

Too bad here.

Vulgarity, as MGM long ago proved, consists in showing everything.

As to whether it is necessary for you to see this film I leave it out; yes, I leave it to your imagination.




Cold In July

18 Jun

Cold In July – directed by Jim Mickle. Thriller. 109 minutes Color 2014.


The Story: A small town merchant kills a housebreaker in his home and there are many consequences.


Why doesn’t it wash?

We have four wonderfully skilled and properly chosen actors to perform it, Nick Damici, Michael C. Hall, Don Johnson, and Sam Shepard. They all give tremendous value, and one of the problems might be the focus on that value. For the director has allowed each of them the time to reveal themselves in normal fashion in circumstances which are not normal at all.  Has he turned, or tried to turn, the instruments of a Thriller into the personnel of a Tragedy?

And if all this is true, why is the part of the wife a thankless role? Because it’s not well written, that’s why. It refuses to set the wife in anything but TV-acting opposition to the practices of her husband. Instead she whines or gathers her youngster up from the restaurant and walks out. Or canoodles. She is never allowed to be intensely interested in him as a human being. She is never allowed to try to see through him. Or she hasn’t the imagination to do so.

The piece begins in a bloodbath and, of course, ends in one. And very good blood baths they are too. But between them, all I see is circumstances that would play very well in a novel. In a novel you must imagine what you are told, so the focus of your imagination screens off the improbable. In a movie everything’s right there in front of your eyes, and imagination is fatal.  In a novel you can’t see the anomalies.

You can’t see that those men’s leaving that drugged ex-con on the railroad tracks is sure to lead back to them.

You can’t believe that in the dead of night with headlights ablaze a car could follow two other cars out into the country without those other cars tumbling to it.

You can’t believe that the FBI would permit the occupants of a safe house the liberty to consistently make snuff porn.

The secret of a Thriller is that the emotion shown has to be so tight and constricted in its range that you are never allowed to look elsewhere in your mind for human inconstancy.

But these four men’s performances are full of human inconstancy. They are beautiful performances. They are Oscar worthy performances.

But do they belong in a Thriller?

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Posted in CRIME DRAMA, Don Johnson, Michael C. Hall, MURDER MYSTERY, Sam Shepard, THRILLER


Snow Falling On Cedars

06 Feb

Snow Falling On Cedars –­ directed by Scott Hicks. Mystery. 127 minutes Color 1999.


The Story: A Japanese fisherman is accused of the murder of an American fisherman, and the former lover of the Japanese fisherman’s wife may know the truth.

The movie opens with an alluring shot of the American fisherman out at sea barely visible in a thick fog. Into it one peers, with all the need to know one possesses.

Other scenes follow – a still boat on a bay of Pudget Sound surrounded by still trees and colossal skies.

Other scenes equally exquisite follow one upon the other.

Yet none of the expectations continually before us in these displays of beauty are supported by the material underlying them in the human interactions also displayed.

The principal fault is not just the casting of Ethan Hawke who does not have sufficient character to carry a film. (I confess, I also find his face hard to look at.)

Everyone else is perfectly cast, John Cromwell as the canny judge, Richard Jenkins as the hemming-and-hawing sheriff, and Sam Shepard as the editor with probity. James Rebhorn as the hard-driving D.A., Youki Kudoh as the loyal wife, and the ambiguous-eyed Rick Yune as the accused fisherman. Max Von Sydow is delicious as his defense lawyer.

The director has also co-written the piece, and therein lies the fault, for he is blind to see that the Japanese are all presented from the outside, and that this cannot be. They must be presented from the inside. The TV series Tremé is a perfect example of a movie in which exotic cultures are presented inside-out; you see them in relation to the world around them. But presenting the ill-treatment of the Japanese-American population during and after World Ward II from the outside never invites us in and reduces their tragedy and their story to a polemic. Oh, too bad, we say. What we need to say is nothing: we need to be them. We need to say, “Ow! That hurt!”

A good deal of time is given over to the romance of Hawke and Kudoh when young, and because all of it is conventional none of it convinces. It has plenty of environment and no eccentricity. Without this properly established we cannot much care what Hawke is going through.

The director points out three mysteries in the film, but he is telling a whopper. There is only one. He also points out that Hawke has only one arm. Because the presentation of it was not properly introduced, we had to be told. These are things we shouldn’t have to be told. They should be self-evident. Instead, we are betrayed by the allusive. The title is one such allusion. Snow? Yes. Cedars? Where? Perhaps that’s the fourth mystery.



21 Sep

Matador – written and directed by Pedro Almovódar. Murder Melodrama. A guilt stricken young man tracks down the real murderers. 110 minutes, Color 1986.


The insane religiously obsessed mother we are to see in The Law Of Desire impels the same actor, Antonio Banderas, to different sexual insanities. His only problem is that he is not guilty of anything, but wishes he were, because it would mean he was a sexual being, which is the one thing his mother decries anthem-like in her every day sermons to him. So he confesses to crimes he has not committed.

The interesting thing is that he is also clairvoyant, so he actually knows where the real bodies are buried. Trouble is he faints at the sight of blood, so he couldn’t have killed a soul.

All this is a comic substrata like something out of a Preston Sturges comedy, while the main and particular story deals with the addiction to slaughter – or slaughter as sex – a compulsion shared with Banderas’ lawyer and with the retired Matador played with utter conviction by Nacho Martinez. They love killing people, and they mate over it. So one is not quite sure whether one is watching grand opera or grand guignol.

Everyone is wonderful – as is usually the case in Almodóvar films. Banderas plays the youth quite simply, so one does not really have to worry about his Mother-Church mother and whether he will recover from her. We are glad to know the mother will never recover, that is all.

There is a crazy Duel In The Sun death at the end which is quite enjoyable, and as is sometimes the case with Almovódar, one feels King Vidor is more in charge than Almodóvar is, but that does not matter.

What matters is all those poster paint colors which countermand everything we see, thank goodness, and give the uplift which turns melodrama into satire in a wink. We are so grateful for Almodóvar for this. He is a tonic for our times.


Another Man’s Poison

19 Nov

Another Man’s Poison –- directed by Irving Rapper. Murder Mysery. A famous female mystery writer offs her hubby and gets her comeuppance. 88 minutes Black and White 1952.


Bette Davis had a big technique. She also had beautiful hair. And it is interesting to see them both in operation as tools of glamor power in a film where she is surrounded by a story, a cinematographer, a director, and a cast who are in a different league entirely.

This does not always mean that they are in a lesser league, only another one. For here she plays with first class English character actors, Edna Morris as her Yorkshire housekeeper and Reginald Beckwith as the town shopkeeper. Both actors are open, vulnerable and real. It is fascinating to see how different Davis’ work is from theirs, she imperious in every way and always physical, which is not to say she throws herself around, but still, when she walks through the door Somebody Has Arrived. Davis has entered her persona years. What she is offering as an actress is a formula, highly responsive, certain, lawless.

Although in some cases they are in a lesser league. The direction handled by Hitchcock would have made a small masterpiece of the material. The film is uninterestingly filmed virtually in a single set, and lacks any sense of narrative style. And the material is from a routine stage play.

Davis is also faced with an actor who is an amateur, Garry Merrill, who was Davis’ husband at the time. They had the notion that they would become a Tracy and Hepburn or Lunt and Fontanne. Wouldn’t that have been fun, for she is 44 at this time and could have done with a boost, but no. His performance is not acceptable by any low standard that I know of. This she refuses to allow to bother her.

The point about Davis as an actress when you see her here next to Emlyn Williams as the nosy neighbor or Reginald Beckwith and Edna Morris is not even so much as that she is in another class, but that she is in a class by herself. She created something the like of which in acting terms did not resemble any other type or degree of actor. It doesn’t mean she can’t act with other actors, for she can, she always could when they were good, and even when they were not. But it does mean that she is a freak. For the sake of her craft, she has made herself like no other human being.

She is a freak –– particularly of sexuality, which she wields like the riding crop she holds. She seduces her secretary’s fiancé, the gorgeous Anthony Steel, with a beckoned pinky. But she had reached the age when her sexual power, displayed by her hair, here as in All About Eve, can only barely distract from her broadening waistline and wattle.

And so this picture marks the start of the end of her career as an actor. For forty-seven years more she would continue. It’s longer by seventeen years than the career she already had. She went on, movie after movie, until the month she died. But she never gave a performance or made a movie of any consequence again. From now on she was no longer the big top but, like Gargantua, merely a famous side-show. It’s what she had made herself into. A tiny figure, she stood alone, but there was no story to tell with it any more.

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The Formula

25 Jun

The Formula – directed by John G. Avildsen. International Espionage. An L.A. cop sets out to find who murdered his friend and his search leads him to higher echelons of European big money.117 minutes Color 1980.


James Crabe was nominated for an Oscar for his beautiful filming of it, a skill which bring coherence and life and meaning to the entire piece. The director and particularly Steve Shagan, who also wrote it and produced it, talk well about it as it goes along, praising the minor actors handsomely and Crabe particularly, but also leaving us enlightened as to the behavior of George C. Scott while it was in production. I leave it to you to dive into the special features for those tasty anecdotes. They hired Marlon Brando because he was perhaps the only actor who could stand up to Scott, and so he does by making his character a sort of lolling baby – this, mind you playing a man who is one of the most merciless oilmen alive. It’s a daring and imaginative choice and Brando is choice in the role. He does something with his lower lip that is so odd and right. He is in his late fifties here and willing to take on character leads. The story involves a mysterious murder which Scott sets himself to solve. The murder seems to revolve around a secret formula for turning coal into fuel oil, which the Germans managed to do for the duration of World War II. It is a telling account of the international oil trade, as apposite today as when it was shot. My daughter went to the same school as Nancy Marchand’s children, many years before The Sopranos. She was an actor I liked a lot. One day, walking down the inside stairs I passed her and asked if she had seen George C. Scott’s TV performance the night before. “No, “ she said, “I don’t think he’s going to show me anything new.” Nor is what he does here new. I first saw him on the Broadway stage in The Andersonville Trial, playing a lawyer. He was very exciting in the emphaticness of his growl, and he was the best Shylock I have ever seen. He was brand new in those days. Later I saw him on stage in Uncle Vanya. He was no longer new. In him what we are faced with, unlike Edward G. Robinson, is a perpetual ire. He is always a sten gun about to go off. And so, seen-one-seen-them-all. The public tired of him. It’s a shame, for here he is quite good, and looking at his work now, piecemeal and years later, it does not weary one as, in its repetition, it did at the time. Indeed it impresses one with its force and intensity. He has tremendous reserves of insult and intention, great timing, the ability to focus and be still, the ability to not show his hand, and the ability to deliver his stuff full force and absolutely mean what he says. He can charm and be dangerous on a dime. You might say he plays everything the same way, but it does not matter so much here, since the story convolutions are what gather our attention in. Marthe Keller is just grand as the partisan love interest he falls in with, and John Gielgud gives great value as a dying chemistry professor, and Richard Lynch deserved an Oscar for his German general. There are three racetrack scenes, one with female jockeys and one racing on ice, and the final one played out between Brando and Scott in Brando’s office in front of Degas’ jockey scene, all of them captivatingly captured by Crabe, whose filming is a lesson in point on the art of lighting, color agreement, exposure, and how to shoot people walking while talking, of which this film has many examples. The film is a classic instance of how a cameraman alone can make a story cohere. In this case there are other coherences to count on. And of course, the presence of the greatest acting genius of the 20th Century.




Keeper Of The Flame

10 May

Keeper Of The Flame – directed by George Cukor. WW II Melodrama. A gigantic American hero dies and a foreign correspondent tries to uncover the truth about him through questioning his wife.


To say George Cukor was a so-so director is not to stretch the bounds of praise. He had no sense of narrative proportion. He so loved the beauty and truth of actresses that he lumbered his films with scenes lengthened to glamorize them. For he loved women. What he did not love was men and women. He had no sense of the sexual energy between them, and you will find that most of his films are not about mating. This one certainly is not. So, as a follow-up of Woman Of The Year, by a director who certainly loved men and women, George Stevens, it is a baffling folly. However, in glamorizing Katharine Hepburn it is a triumph – one she carries admirably. With her carved visage, slim figure, and large hands, she is a goddess, not in the sense of a deity but in the sense of something carved out of stone. Indeed she enters the film draped by Adrian, in white like sculpture. It is one of the great opening scenes for an actress ever shot. And that is because the great William Daniels is filming it, lighting it, and choosing the floor-up angle to exalt it. The creator of Garbo in silents and sound, he is a photographer who could make every movie he shot look like a concerto. You’re not consciously aware of it, but each scene in the picture becomes alive and important because he is filming it to make it look like a Greek Tragedy. Which Greek Tragedy? The one in which, as E.B. Browning once said, Cassandra smells the slaughter in the bathroom. It is pointless to expatiate now how this picture could be improved (only to warn the viewer parenthetically that the idea of a fascist threat inside America during WW II was hooey). What one can say is that Hepburn plays all her scenes quietly, her cheeks held still, her sometimes grating volatility left outside the door. She exudes a convincing, mysterious and necessary calm. Excellent is what she is. And for that we can credit Cukor. Spencer Tracy plays the world-famous reporter, her part in Woman Of The Year, and again he is up against Hepburn’s devotion to a cause greater than anything that could lie between them. As in Woman Of The Year with Dan Tobin, she is almost under the control of her assistant Richard Whorf. Both men are played as fruits, which confuses their treachery with their sexual orientation, a combination which is truthful to neither. Are we supposed to hate fruits because they are treacherous or hate traitors because they are fruits? You see the absurdity of the matter. A strong supporting cast is put to abuse; Frank Craven as the doctor, Stephen McNally as the investigative journalist, Margaret Wycherly as the balmy mother of the great man, Howard Da Silva as the doorkeeper whom he saved and who hates him, Percy Kilbride as the smug yokel, Forrest Tucker as the great big jock, Donald Meek as the meek little hotel manager, and Audrey Christie as the newspaper dame whose sexual sallies tell us Tracy is not interested in women of any kind at all. During production, Hepburn and Donald Ogden Stewart the adapter fought badly over this story’s treatment and she won. Too bad. She fancied herself as a writer, but if you read her autobiography, you can see she was not one at all. As with Summertime and other ventures, her interference in the area of story are almost always wrong. It comes out of her desire to control, also known as, wanting to make things better, but in her case it springs from a fear at no place evident in this fine performance, which ends with one of the longest monologs ever to be given to the temptation of an actress to venture out upon. As she emerges from the shadows to do it, Tracy retreats into them. And William Daniels, quite right, has his way.


D.O.A. [1950]

09 Mar

D.O.A. [1950] — directed by Rudolph Maté. Crime Drama. A businessman finds himself poisoned, and he has only a short to find out why and by whom. 83 minutes Black and White 1950.


Two world famous photographers made this, and made it well. Ernest Laszlo actually shot it, while Maté directed it. So it’s well worth seeing. Not noir, but shot as though it were, of course, for that was cheap and fun. It’s star, the poisoned, is played by Edmund O’Brien. It’s not easy to think of him as a leading actor. In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Charles Laughton version, he is young, slim, handsome, and luscious as the poet Villon. But that’s not how we remember him. We remember him like he is here, as a guy with a cockeyed face, stout, jowly, pompadoured, and never-could have-been-handsome. And yet here he is, as he often was, in a leading role and eventually to win an Oscar. You have to ask yourself how this could have come to pass. But then all you have to do is to place him next to Pamela Britton as his gal Friday. What do you get? He is a born film actor. She is not a film actor at all. And it’s true she was actually a road company touring actress in Broadway musicals, and her technique is exactly that. Which is to say infuriating. Always over-extended, falsely vulnerable, routine. Always counting on the role rather than the character. You wonder how O’Brien could have endured long scenes with her, but he plays them as a human sacrifice. For, while the story is marvelous, the screenplay is over-written, and so we have, for instance, a long, wordy love-scene that would make you rather die of poison than marry the girl. But the story itself is well told, though it should have been cut by those European directors. When you think what makes a top director, you must turn to those who rewrote what they darn well pleased the morning of the shoot: Hawks, Walsh, Stevens. That’s what pushes them over into greatness. Something emerges on the sound stage that day that is more real than what is on paper. Dimitri Tiomkin scored it with his usual slow marches and swells, so we are never left in doubt as to what we are to feel. If you see it, tell me this: in the scenes where O’Brien learns he is poisoned, would he not better have played it completely the opposite to the way he does? You see, instead of watching him, I watched the doctors who are watching him, and they are doing nothing but watching him. Suppose O’Brien had gotten much stiller. A drinker and a philanderer, I think he might have become baffled or thoughtful, or very quiet somehow. Just a thought. The actors’ choices…mmm… particularly in a script where the emotion is extended over long passages of dialogue. Is the first qualification for a screen actor the ability to be a quick study? I wish someone would do a quick study of the matter. Quick studies: Spencer Tracy, John Wayne, Henry Fonda. Slow study: Jimmy Stewart. Help me, someone! Anyhow, D.O.A. is not a waste of time, and if you’ve run out of noir, take a gander, why doncha?



03 Feb

Rashomon – Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Drama. Four participants in a violent criminal deed, each tell it from their particular point of view. 88 minutes Black and White 1950.

* * * * *

You will never forget it. And you will wonder what you really saw once you leave the theatre. I remember when it first appeared. It was, with the early films of Vittorio De Sica and S. Ray, the opening stroke of the introduction of international film to American audiences. They all were startling, indifferent to Hollywood style, profound, gutsy, and beautiful, none more so than Kurosawa. The acting style was Japanese in that it was intense, raw, highly emotional, contained, melodramatic, stylized, and firmly and deeply lodged in voice production; one had never seen humans like this before in a picture and never had one seen anyone oriental as the focus of a serious film. Mifune was first seen by U.S. audiences in this picture, playing with bold, sudden, unaccountable strokes. How he got the part is extraordinary: a friend of Kurosawa told him to come to the stodgy institute’s auditions because someone was tearing the place apart; Kurosawa came and saw that one of the greatest actors in he world, although completely unknown, was before him. He inveigled the institute to accept Mifune. Watch him: he’s the fastest actor in human response ever to appear in film. He can turn on a yen.  There is no one like him for contained anger but Brando. The woodland scenes are completely free, the scenes on the sets completely imprisoned. Does it hold up? Masterpieces do. This time round all these years later, I watch the commentary, and I recommend it highly; the critic is a master of his craft; he knows the picture in its 450 scenes, by heart. See it with your friends. If ever a film was a community experience, it is this one.




Lady Of Burlesque

27 Sep

Lady Of Burlesque – Directed by William Wellman. Murder Mystery. A burlesque queen and her colleagues are beset by a backstage slaying. 91 minutes Black and White 1943.

* * * * *

Every student of film and every person fascinated by its craft could not do better than to watch William Wellman’s management of crowd movement in this back-stage whodunit. The set is spectacularly real in terms of its seediness, dusty props, crumby dressing rooms, and crowdedness. The film is alive with imaginative motion. Which stops dead when the inspector calls to examine the personnel and everyone has to gather in a dressing room that allows of scarcely any motion at all. So the movie lurches effectively between the hurly burly and hustle of the shows and the standstill of these scenes. Michael O’Shea plays the two-bit fool who woes the heroine, and he is perfectly cast because he is lower-class, and so is Barbara Stanwyck, a Brooklyn girl from way back. She is not physically convincing as a Burlesque Queen; she is not voluptuous, she does not have the machine-gun heart or the powerful double-entendre of a Gypsy Rose Lee who wrote the story, but otherwise she is marvelous, for three reasons. She is a person of determination: her walk is like a destroyer surging across a duck pond. She had great humor, and she had the common touch. Iris Adrian adds her piquant lip to the burley-que life, which was coarser than what we see here, but the casting of the girls with their snappy slang brings out the necessary, as do the costumes organized around their bodies not to reveal their sexuality but to astound by exaggerating it symbolically. A G-string tells less than a three-foot hat! Highly entertaining, Wellman was a master of scene management — and rain, which occurs in many of his films. His scenic management alone, although one is not aware of it, is a treat, a delight, an encouragement, and a reassurance here. Check it out, It’s fun.




Gorky Park

24 Jul

Gorky Park – Directed by Michael Apted. Police Procedural. A Russian cop discovers an international smuggling plot and his true love in it. 2 hours 8 minutes Color 1983.

* * * * *

William Hurt certainly is a curious bloke. He gives off the same brain-dead emanation as John Malkovich. This quality serves him perfectly in the plot of this superbly suspenseful and remarkably well-directed piece. Filmed in Moscow itself, Helsinki, and Stockholm, we are never on the pinpoint of a sound-stage but always believe we are in the full impersonal latitudes where the film shows us to be. This is not film noir in color. Film noir is mostly every-spare-has-been-expensed, made on the cheap, that black lighting arranged to shade out the paltry sets. Here instead we have the big and unsettling panoramas of foreign unvisited countries and the ominous fall of snow. All exquisitely filmed by Ralf T. Bode. The set decoration by Michael Seirton and the costumes by Richard Bruno are splendid. And all this fortifies the distractions needed to veer us off course as the characters veer off course in proving what we know from his first appearance before us that Lee Marvin is the evil doer. How could it be otherwise? His self-possession is unequalled in all Christendom. I liked the way the story spreads out. It’s not based on concentration of scent, as in Sherlock Holmes, but on the appearance of random elements in a landscape ultimately making sense as belonging there. Michael Dennehy and Richard Griffiths lend their substance to the doings, and one roots for them. Ian Bannen brings his kindly presence to the task, and Ian Mcdiarmid nibbles the scenery nicely as the strange professor. I felt well-treated by the movie. As I opened its continually unexpected wrappings, I was always held by the next unfoldment, and the next, and the one after that.





In Her Skin [I AM You]

17 Jul

In Her Skin [I Am You] – Written and directed by Simone North. Family Drama. A lovely 15-year-old girl goes missing, and her family refuses to give up on finding her, while a neighbor girl knows where she is all along. 108 minutes Color 2009.

* * * * *

Guy Pearce is the finest male actor his age, meaning 42. Essentially he is a character lead, remarkable in The Hurt Locker, The Factory, Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, rather than a leading man or matinee idol, and he is not usually cast as a pater familias, but here he is. The role is essentially a silent one, and one wonders why he took it. The noisy part is given to Miranda Otto who is very capable as the mother of the daughter who disappears. It is a true story, and all the originals, but one, are alive, and all but two were available for Otto and Pearce to meet and learn from. Sam Neill is first class as the father of the neighbor girl. He makes the man as understanding and forbearing as anyone could be. For no human being could put up with this girl or know how to treat her or wish to be with her: she is a creature of murderous self-indulgence. Ruth Bradley, at 21, plays this remarkable human, the 19-yar-old Caroline, the neighbor girl, and the company was lucky to have this actress, and by what miracle they secured her I cannot imagine, for she is Irish, and the film was shot in Australia. She bares herself to the role above and beyond the call of duty. The remarkable family to whom this catastrophe happened appears in the extras, which offer interviews with Sam Neill, Miranda Otto, and an extensive one with Guy Pearce. You will cease to wonder why he took the role when you come to the scene of hyperventilation on the bed. There are moments in films which penetrate me; such a moment occurs later on the same bed as he slowly places a kiss on Miranda Otto’s temple. You may not find it so. But for me a great actor is one who in the odd moment always finds exactly the right thing to do.








In The Heat Of The Night

24 May

In The Heat Of The Night – Directed by Norman Jewison. Police Procedural. A Negro detective from the North is waylaid in a Southern town to solve a murder. 109 minutes Color 1967.

* * * *

The police procedural aspects of this film fall flat as the plot brings on a bunch of over-acting tertiary players as thugs, the town tart, and an impossible culprit, thus ending it in inconsequential confusion. It should have stuck to its genre and completed its obligations honorably. It would have better served the inner shift in the principals, played by Rod Steiger and Sydney Poitier, both of whom grow up into humility because of one another.  Still one follows along. The secondary actors are superb: Lee Grant (as usual, always mistakenly wearing a wig that looks like a wig), William Schallert remarkable as the mayor, Warren Oates as a dumb Kopf cop, Larry Gates as he who gets slapped, and Beah Richards, trim and crafty as the abortionist/conjure woman. Steiger won an Oscar. So did the film. So did its sound. So did Hal Ashby who edited it. Sterling Silliphant, who won the Oscar for screenwriting, wrote it in a series of hills and dales which are disappointingly similar to one another. But along the way he enters some wonderful byways, such as the scene in Steiger’s house where Poitier and Steiger share confidences. Haskell Wexler also won an Oscar for filming it, and he has a great many interesting things to impart in the Extra Features. Steiger was the most self-indulgent actor to ever draw breath, and he draws it, as usual, far too often in scenes of competitive rage, which never work because they are technical and unmotivated. It is not those scenes for which he won the Oscar, but for scenes of doubt, dismay, embarrassment. It’s lovely to see him in these –­ to see what sort of an actor he could be. Poitier is not a great actor. He is very beautiful, of course, which counts for a great deal. But what he actually does is something else. What he does is produce A Presence, which remains the same from film to film, a star turn, if you will. He does so by establishing a few eternal constants within him. They consist, first, of his eyes, which are always seeking, no matter what the scene may be. And he does so also by always remaining in reserve, which gives him a dignity that plays off against his seeking eyes in a combination that produces a tension in him and, for us, a waiting to see who will or will not take offense at him. This confines him somewhat vocally, and we are never in the presence of one who is vulnerable, which is all right, but it does limit his chances to actually act. Thank God for him, though. He remains the Jackie Robinson of movies, exactly the right person for the job, for he can hold the screen like nobody’s business. The blatant extremes of racial prejudice here now look goofy; they were probably no help then, either. Only in Larry Gates’ orchid scene do you see a subtle alternative. Otherwise the racial conflicts are garish. The film, however, operates on another level, and still works very well as two men coming to maturity in one another’s natures, both of them smart, ruthless, and alone.






On Dangerous Ground

03 May

On Dangerous Ground. Directed by Nicholas Ray. A rogue cop is exiled from the city beat to solve a rural crime, which turns out to be altogether something else again.81 minutes Black and White 1952

* * * * *

Ida Lupino said of this piece that it was well produced but had a poor script. This remark is actually true only of her part, that of a blind woman. The rest of it, the first half, that is, is a compelling, well-written, police procedural, with Robert Ryan as a cop blinded with rage. So the piece is about two blindnesses. We don’t know why Ryan is blind and we do not have to know. Nor do we know why Lupino is. Ryan’s blindness is taken over by a worse blindness, that of Ward Bond’s, who, if you can believe it, is just terrific in the part of an incensed, bereaved father. The outdoor snow scenes are tops, and Ray’s direction mines areas of the unexpected, such as the fact that Ryan races through the freezing wilderness entirely in a business suit, but his direction is also bafflingly banal in other passages. The problem with the piece, she was right, is in the writing of Lupino’s part. It is written as The Blind Girl, as though that defined a personality, a character, a soul, and as though our attitude toward blindness were a given as Let’s Pity Her And Not Push Her Into A Ditch. It’s bland, it’s boring, and Lupino cannot supply the deficiency. All she can do is keep things modest, which she does, particularly in her funeral speech. It’s too late to offer suggestions, but had her character been rather wily or shown an intense instinct for survival (after all, what is she living on?) or a certain biting humor about her condition, we might have had something for the romance between Ryan and Lupino to dig into in one another. As it is all we have is Ryan’s personal mess. He’s very very good. There are shots of his face, his eyes, his mouth that are telling and mysterious and captivating, because one sees that, much as one would wish to, one does not have a prescription for this person’s woe. The story the movie tells is excellent. It never falters. It is always real in terms of human possibility and capability. It is not noir. I recommend it.



Charlie Chan In Egypt

20 Mar

Charlie Chan In Egypt — Directed by Louis King — Murder Mystery. The sage jade inspector journeys to a tomb whose buried treasure is being stolen, only to find much worse than that. 73 minutes Black And White 1935.

* * * * *

I watched this picture, from the teen-age beginning of her career, the same night I watched The Naked Zoo at the trash-crash end of it. Here she is before her hairline was raised. Here she is a black-haired beauty playing an Egyptian parlor-maid. She has very few lines. She mainly brings on tea and takes it off again. And her name was Rita Cansino then. Looking at her, there is perhaps no shot willing her into the fame of the most flamboyant sexual creature ever seen in film. At one point she eavesdrops between Venetian blinds, and, there, the remarkable symmetry of her face registers for a moment or two. Rita Hayworth. She began in pictures playing adult roles when she was thirteen, as did Betty Grable, Ann Miller. (Even her cousin Ginger Rogers was making films as a teenager.) All these ladies but Hayworth were charged by strong mothers, but Hayworth alone had no stage parent, and so she married a man much older than she when she was a teenager herself. The picture is an A-class B-picture, well produced and told, with tomb sets that are convincing enough for all normal purposes and a story line that holds one’s attention till the denouement. Our Charlie Chan’s Warner Oland was, of course, not Chinese but Swedish. But then, of course, Rita Hayworth was not Egyptian. I give it five stars. I rate all films not in relation or comparison or contrast to some ideal film or other or some ideal experience I have had in my life seeing a film. I rate pictures by other standards, and one of those is: Did the picture accomplish what in my judgment it seems to have set out to accomplish? This one, I should say, did so. It is a picture with an Oriental hero; it would be a mistake to expect Kurosawa.



A Shriek In The Night

08 Mar

The Thirteenth Guest — Directed by Albert Ray — Murder Mystery. Who will be the next to be bumped off at this creepy-house, creepy house-party anyhow?  69 minutes Black and White 1932.

* * *

Well, here we have Ginger Rogers aged 20 — and, of course, she’s not bumped off at all. This flick is a sort of Necco Candy, a period confection which I would only devour in a movie theatre and which drew from me all the brainless attention it was meant to. It’s a murder mystery complete with all the spider-webby appurtenances of the genre: a secret peephole, an inner sanctum, and a suave private eye. And there is Ginger, slender and pert and blond, and, since she is young, she is entirely fool-proof as the target of the dastardly murderer. Now, of course, we know there is no nourishment in a Necco wafer so we should not expect any from a B flick with which a really already experienced performer paid the rent. She had made 19 movies before she made her first musical with Fred Astaire at 23, she had toured on the road as a star since she was 14. And here, as usual, she makes hard work look easy. She gave a lot, did our Ginger. All hail to her!


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