The Lessons From A Screenplay YouTube Channel spends a satisfying 10 minutes examining the noir roots and tropes behind Ridley Scotts 1982 masterpiece, and soon to be latter day sequel-ized, Blade Runner. This is not just your run-of-the-mill lesson in aesthetics, but rather the core aspects of noir, normalization of crime, police corruption and death. Enjoy it as we are only a few days away from Denis Villeneuve’s spin on the world, and it will be interesting if he and his screenwriters can capture that tone.
Director: Elia Kazan
Screenplay: Richard Murphy, Daniel Fuchs, John Lee Mahin (uncredited), Philip Yordan (uncredited)
Based on a story by: Edna Anhalt, Edward Anhalt
Starring: Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel Geddes, Jack Palance, Zero Mostel
Running Time: 96 min
BBFC Certificate: PG
I‘ve long been a bit of a hypochondriac/germophobe. If anyone’s ill in my circle of family or friends I’m always terrified of catching something and try everything in my power to avoid contact or obsessively clean my hands any time I get close to them. As such, I’ve always found films about disease particularly disturbing. So a film like Elia Kazan’s Panic in the Streets plays into my fear as the best thrillers do.
The film opens with a group of unsavoury characters playing cards in a New Orleans bar. One of them looks rather unwell and wants to leave, but the others, including tough guy Blackie (Jack Palance) and his nervous accomplice Raymond Fitch (Zero Mostel), think he’s putting it on to avoid paying what he owes. They chase him down when he does leave and end up killing the man and dumping him in the docks.
The authorities find the body the next morning and perform an autopsy. It seems pretty clear the man died of a gunshot wound, but the doctor discovers he actually had pneumonic plague. This is a highly infectious and fatal disease, so Lt. Commander Clint Reed (Richard Widmark), a doctor with the U.S. Public Health Service, is called in to handle the situation. He believes that the murderer is key to containing the situation as he was obviously in contact with the dead man and must have got his blood on him as he carried the body to the docks. So Reed figures he and the police have got 48 hours to figure out who the killer is before the plague spreads out of their control. Reed also believes the outbreak should be kept from public knowledge as they don’t want the murder to leave New Orleans in a panic. This controversial decision has some repercussions down the line though as Reed and the lead police officer on the case, Capt. Tom Warren (Paul Douglas) begin to crack the case.
Director: Robert Aldrich
Screenplay: James Poe
Based on a Play by: Clifford Odets
Starring: Jack Palance, Ida Lupino, Wendell Corey, Rod Steiger, Jean Hagen, Everett Sloane
Running Time: 111 min
BBFC Certificate: PG
Robert Aldrich is a director I’ve admired a great deal in the handful of his films I’ve seen (although the less said about The Frisco Kid, the better – http://blueprintreview.co.uk/2015/09/gates_of_video_hell_frisco_kid/). So I was keen to check out Arrow’s re-release of The Big Knife, a film I must admit I’d never heard of until now.
It tells the story of Charles Castle (Jack Palance), a popular movie star who’s grown unhappy with his position. He’s stuck in a rut of making low rate Hollywood trash, when he longs to make something more meaningful. Unfortunately, he’s held firmly under the thumb of tough studio head Hoff (Rod Steiger), who is pressuring Castle to stay there, using a potentially scandalous incident as leverage against him. Adding to Castle’s troubles is a crumbling relationship with his wife Marion (Ida Lupino), who is fed up of her husband’s inability to stand up against Hoff. The only chance Castle has of saving his marriage is to refuse to sign Hoff’s latest contract, but the boss’ blackmailing tactics prove too strong. Hoff’s later insistence that Castle helps with some darker studio ‘business’ is the last straw though and events reach boiling point in a powerhouse of a final act.
Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Starring: Martin Landau, Woody Allen, Alan Alda, Mia Farrow, Anjelica Huston
Running Time: 89 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
What’s been great about reviewing a handful of Arrow’s re-releases of Woody Allen’s back catalogue is that it’s made me realise how much I love his work. I’ve largely been cherry-picking supposed ‘on-form’ Allen movies, but they’ve never failed to impress or entertain me. I watched Cafe Society the other week and was less enamoured by it, but perhaps watching all of these upper tier Allen titles mere days previously raised my standards a little too high. It certainly didn’t put me off exploring more unwatched titles from his hefty filmography though. Crimes and Misdemeanors was next up and I’d heard very good things about it, so expectations were high.
Crimes and Misdemeanors tells two stories. One sees happily married ophthalmologist Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau) tormented by threats from his mistress Dolores Paley (Anjelica Huston) to tell his wife about their affair. Judah has grown weary of Dolores and realised he loves his wife Miriam (Claire Bloom), so he doesn’t want her to be hurt and leave him. When it all gets too much for Judah and the threats get more serious, the solution suggested by his mobster brother Jack (Jerry Orbach) is to have Dolores killed. The film’s second central story is that of Cliff Stern (Allen himself). He’s an unhappily married, unsuccessful documentary filmmaker who’s offered a chance to make some money making a film about his successful TV comedy writer brother-in-law Lester (Alan Alda). He hates the job, but is consoled by the fact that he meets a woman he falls madly in love with, Halley Reed (Mia Farrow). Having recently got divorced, she’s reluctant to start another relationship though. Undeterred, Cliff stays close to her as a friend and gets her involved with the more respectable documentary he’s trying to produce on the side, with the hope that she’d be swayed eventually into his arms.
Director: Robert Wise
Screenplay: Abraham Polonsky (as John O. Killens), Nelson Gidding
Based on a Novel by: William P. McGivern
Starring: Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, Ed Begley, Gloria Grahame, Shelley Winters, Will Kuluva
Running Time: 96 min
BBFC Certificate: 12
Robert Wise has had a fascinating and hugely successful career. He may not be the household name some of his director contemporaries are, but if you look back at his CV, you’ll see how we cut his teeth as a sound effects editor on some classic mid-thirties films such as two Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers vehicles, The Gay Divorcee and Top Hat, as well as John Ford’s The Informer. He then moved up to the role of editor, cutting classics such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) and the great Citizen Kane. After being drafted in by the studio to direct some additional sequences for Orson Welles’ butchered The Magnificent Ambersons, Wise went on to direct his own films. Starting off with B-movies, he proved his worth with classic genre films such as The Day the Earth Stood Still. Throughout his career he worked on a bizarrely diverse series of films, many of which were immensely successful, from Somebody Up There Likes Me, to West Side Story, The Sound of Music, The Andromeda Strain and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It’s interesting that he’s not as highly regarded as you’d think someone with that many hits under his belt would be. He’s not a director with a clear signature style, so perhaps he’s seen more as a director-for-hire than an auteur, but it’s hard to push him aside when he made films as cherished and popular as he did.
Odds Against Tomorrow is another interesting addition to Wise’s CV. Seeing the director tackle the film noir genre, it’s also especially interesting as it tackles issues of race alongside the usual noir/heist movie tropes. Executively produced by and starring the pop-singer/actor Harry Belafonte, it’s clearly a labour of love for the star, who wanted to make something important and powerful (he was very politically active at the time, supporting the Civil Rights Movement and other humanitarian causes later in life). This makes the film a perfect addition to the BFI’s Black Star season, a selection of films celebrating the range, versatility and power of black actors.
Director: Byron Haskin
Screenplay: Roy Huggins
Starring: Lizabeth Scott, Dan Duryea, Kristine Miller, Don DeFore, Arthur Kennedy
Running Time: 99 min
BBFC Certificate: PG
As promised, here’s my review of Too Late For Tears, Arrow Academy’s other recent film noir re-release, alongside Woman on the Run. Like the latter, Too Late For Tears was not a financial success at the time of its original release and its production company later went bankrupt. This lead to the film being relatively lost, hovering around only in poor quality public domain copies. Luckily, the UCLA Film & Television Archive got their hands on a French 35mm nitrate Dupe Picture Negative (where the film was named La Tigresse), the only preprint element known to survive. They polished up the film and Arrow Academy are releasing it to us lucky folk in the UK on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD.
Too Late For Tears opens with a preposterous but nevertheless enticing premise. Husband and wife Alan (Arthur Kennedy) and Jane Palmer (Lizabeth Scott) are arguing whilst driving down a windy road at night. They almost crash into someone then get a mysterious bag thrown into their back seat. They soon realise the bag is filled with cash and decide to drive off with it, shaking off the rightful owner’s car that quickly appears behind them. Once home, Alan thinks they should give the money in to the police, but Jane disagrees. She’s clearly not happy with the way her life is going at the minute, but the surprise arrival of all this money revitalises her. Determined to a frightening degree, she will stop at nothing to keep the money. Even the arrival of Danny Fuller (Dan Duryea), whose car the money should have fallen into, doesn’t dissuade Jane. In fact, she manipulates him into helping her get the money from Alan, who has put it away in a locker for safe keeping before calling the police.
Of course, it’s not going to end well for anyone…
Director: Norman Foster
Screenplay: Alan Campbell, Norman Foster
Based on an Original Story by: Sylvia Tate
Starring: Ann Sheridan, Dennis O’Keefe, Robert Keith, Ross Elliott
Running Time: 77 min
BBFC Certificate: PG
I love a good film noir. So much so I didn’t scour my usual sources to see what the reviews were like for Woman on the Run before requesting a copy to write my own, I just asked for a screener because I knew I’d enjoy it to some extent due to the genre. Also, I wanted to help promote Arrow Academy’s release of this (and Too Late For Tears which I’ll also be reviewing soon) because I feel like the UK have had a bit of a raw deal for classic film noir releases over the years. I rarely see any titles other than the big names show up in my local HMV and many haven’t made an appearance on DVD, let alone Blu-Ray, other than in horribly transferred cheap releases from those films now in the public domain. So I hope if Arrow sell a few copies of these they’ll mine the vaults for more gems to polish up to their usual high quality.
Woman on the Run was released in 1950, right in the midst of the genre’s heyday. It begins with Frank Johnson (Ross Elliott) taking his dog out for a walk when he comes across an argument in a parked car. The argument soon becomes a murder and the trigger man takes a couple of pot shots at Frank before he drives away. Frank gives the police a brief statement on the scene, but when he learns that the man killed was due to testify against the notorious gangster Smiley Freeman, he gets scared and runs away. The police, on top of wanting his statement to help lock up Freeman, are worried for his safety so go to Frank’s wife, Eleanor (Ann Sheridan), for help in finding the man. She’s not keen on doing the police any favours though, as it’s clear the couple aren’t enjoying a happy marriage. However, she does want to find him herself, so heads off into the heart of the city (San Francisco) to track him down. The police of course put a tail on her and the tabloid journalist Dan Legget (Dennis O’Keefe) tags along to get a big scoop. The latter ends up helping Eleanor out as she gets further along in her investigation, but his intentions gradually become rather suspect.
There was a lot of conversation in the comments for our previous episode regarding the genre of Marvel’s Jessica Jones – particularly, is it film noir? Is it a superhero show? Is it neither, or both? The Matts have opinions on what makes those genres genres, and what genre means, genre-ally. Listen in!
Director: Jules Dassin
Screenplay: A.I. Bezzerides
Starring: Richard Conte, Valentina Cortese, Lee J. Cobb, Millard Mitchell
Running Time: 94 min
BBFC Certificate: 12
Jules Dassin directed an amazing run of film noir/crime classics between the mid-40’s and 50’s. These include Brute Force, The Naked City, Night and the City and perhaps most famous of all, Rififi. Nestled right in the middle of these hard boiled thrillers is the unusual, less well known but nevertheless equally as tough thriller Thieves’ Highway.
The film sees war veteran Nick (Richard Conte) return home from overseas with money, gifts for his family and a promise of marriage to his sweetheart Polly (Barbara Lawrence). However, he finds his trucker father has lost his legs after being swindled by an infamous dealer called Mike Figlia (Lee J. Cobb). Nick vows to get his father’s money back and hurt Figlia financially or otherwise. First he must get his father’s truck back though. Ed Kinney (Millard Mitchell) had promised to buy it off him, but took the truck without paying. When Nick confronts him about it, Ed offers him a chance to make some good money and possibly get back at Figlia. Ed knows the whereabouts of a huge crop of golden delicious apples and the two of them agree to drive two trucks worth to San Francisco (where Figlia operates).
Along the way, Nick’s inexperience almost costs him his life, but with Ed’s help he makes it to San Francisco where his troubles grow exponentially whilst Ed trundles behind in Nick’s father’s rusty old truck. On Nick’s back is Figlia and his goons, whilst a couple of rival truckers tail Ed to get in on the apple action. Things can’t end well and adding a twist in the tale is femme fatale Rica (Valentina Cortese), who is initially hired by Figlia to sidetrack Nick, but may or may not get swayed by his charms.
This film takes strange subject matter for a noirish thriller, fruit trading, and uses it to craft a surprisingly tough and gripping film. Every character, even Nick at times, is in it for the money and greed drives everyone to desperate and unsavoury actions. There are some impressively tense action sequences on the road, but it’s the tapestry of untrustworthy and hard to second guess characters that keep you watching. They may seem broadly drawn at times compared to today’s standards, but even the smaller roles are interesting to watch, largely because none of them seem totally on the level with each other.
Director: Elia Kazan
Screenplay: Richard Murphy
Based on an Article by: Fulton Oursler
Starring: Dana Andrews, Jane Wyatt, Lee J. Cobb, Arthur Kennedy
Producer: Louis De Rochemont
Running Time: 88 min
BBFC Certificate: PG
Elia Kazan is a fascinating figure in the history of American cinema. Not only did he direct a number of cast iron classics such as On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire, but he was pivotal in bringing method acting to American cinema through his co-founding of The Actors Studio. His films made stars out of James Dean and Marlon Brando among others and he made powerful, socially conscious films, which were rare at the time in Hollywood.
However, his career is often overshadowed by the fact that in 1952 he testified to the HUAC (House Committee on Un-American Activities), naming a number of colleagues and friends as being Communists. Kazan was open about being a member of the Communist party earlier in his life, but had left, so he came to the HUAC as a “friendly witness”. His reasons for doing so aren’t perfectly clear, but it clearly tarnished his reputation amongst a number of his contemporaries. Even though every name he gave was already known to the Committee it was still seen as unforgivable to many and, close to 50 years later in 1999, when Kazan was given an honorary Oscar at that year’s Academy Awards, a notable portion of the audience still refused to applaud, let alone give him a standing ovation.
This didn’t stop him making some of the most famous and critically acclaimed films of his career following this event though. I must admit I’ve only seen On the Waterfront before now. I’m a big fan of that film though so I was keen to check out Boomerang!, an early noir-tinged courtroom drama from Kazan, which is being re-released as part of Eureka’s superb Masters of Cinema collection.
Director: Claude Sautet
Writer: Claude Sautet, José Giovanni, Pascal Jardin
Based on a Novel by: José Giovanni
Starring: Lino Ventura, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Sandra Milo
Country: France & Italy
Running Time: 109 min
BBFC Certificate: PG
When you’ve been a bit of a film buff/lover for a long time, it’s rare that older titles can come out of nowhere and surprise you. There are of course thousands upon thousands of films out there for people to discover, but most of the classics which are still available to audiences have been so well discussed that you’ll often know what to expect from a film before you get around to watch it. When my friends at the BFI sent a press release over for Classe Tous Risques, I must admit I hadn’t heard of it though. Other than supporting actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, none of the names in the cast and crew jumped out at me either. I gave it a quick scan on IMDb and it sounded right up my alley so I took the plunge and luckily it resulted in that rare thing, a true ‘pleasant surprise’. Not that ‘pleasant’ is the right way to describe a hard boiled film noir like this.
Classe Tous Risques, which was based on a novel by actual jailbird José Giovanni (who also helped adapt it for the screen), tells the story of Abel Davis (Lino Ventura). Aided by his right-hand man Raymond (Stan Krol – a former cellmate of Giovanni), Abel pulls off a daring daylight robbery and attempts to flee to France. The perilous chase results in tragedy and Abel ends up stranded in Nice with his two young sons in tow. He asks his old gang for help in getting back to Paris and hiding him and his family, but gets snubbed. A friend of Raymond’s, Eric Stark (Jean-Paul Belmondo), shows up to take Abel to Paris though and the two become partners as Abel attempts to redress the balance and do best for his boys whilst evading the police.