Blu-Ray Review: Kiss of Death

Director: Henry Hathaway
Screenplay: Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer
Based on a story by: Eleazar Lipsky
Starring: Victor Mature, Brian Donlevy, Richard Widmark, Coleen Gray, Taylor Holmes, Karl Malden
Country: USA
Running Time: 99 min
Year: 1947
BBFC Certificate: 12


I hit another of Signal One’s film noir re-releases this week with Henry Hathaway’s Kiss of Death. Hathaway is a director with quite a few classic titles to his name (True Grit, How the West Was Won, Niagara), but he’s hardly a household name. Looking through his filmography, his work is largely in typically ‘macho’ genres like westerns, war movies and film noirs. Kiss of Death falls into the latter category and came close to the end of a string of noirs he’d directed, including acclaimed titles like 13 Rue Madeleine, The Dark Corner and Call Northside 777.

Kiss of Death sees Victor Mature play Nick Bianco, a criminal that goes to prison after a jewellery store heist goes sour. He gets an offer from Assistant D.A. Louis D’Angelo (Brian Donlevy) to avoid jail time if he squeals on his accomplices that got away, but turns it down. When he finds out his wife has committed suicide after cheating on him with one of those accomplices, leaving his two young daughters in an orphanage, he has second thoughts about the offer though. D’Angelo talks Bianco into an elaborate ploy to put the psychopathic killer Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark) in jail, which he accepts, getting him put on early parole and back with his kids and new wife Nettie (Coleen Gray). Unfortunately things don’t go quite to plan though and Bianco and his family’s lives are put in danger.

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Sunday Video Essay: Blade Runner’s Noir Influence Is The Essence Of It’s Science Fiction

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.

Trailer: Wind River

Taylor Sheridan wrote Sicario for Dennis Villeneuve and Hell or High Water for David Mackenzie. Now, he’s directing one of his own screenplays, a wintry noir called Wind River. An FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) teams with the town’s veteran game tracker (Jeremy Renner) to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation. Canadian veteran actor Graham Green is the local police presence, and Canuck rocker Hugh Dillon (The Headstones, Hard Core Logo) also has a small part. I’m a sucker for procedural crime movies set in the winter (from Fargo, to Insomnia, to Smilla’s Sense of Snow) and this looks superb in that ‘no nonsense’ Sheridan fashion.

Wind River will be getting a semi-wide release from The Weinstein Company on August 4th.

Blu-Ray Review: Experiment in Terror

Director: Blake Edwards
Screenplay: The Gordons – Gordon Gordon and Mildred Gordon
Based on a Novel by: The Gordons – Gordon Gordon and Mildred Gordon
Starring: Glenn Ford, Lee Remick, Stefanie Powers
Country: USA
Running Time: 123 min
Year: 1962
BBFC Certificate: 12


I always thought of Blake Edwards as a comedy director, and looking at his CV on IMDB, he did pretty much solely direct comedies (at least away from his early TV work). However, somewhere in between Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Pink Panther, he made the mystery thriller Experiment in Terror as well as the drama Days of Wine and Roses. The former is being re-released on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD by Powerhouse Films as part of their excellent new Indicator label. Intrigued, and being a fan of a good thriller, I couldn’t resist giving it a try.

Experiment in Terror stars Lee Remick as Kelly Sherwood, a bank clerk who is terrorised by an asthmatic assailant (later revealed to be Garland Humphrey ‘Red’ Lynch, played by Ross Martin). He wants her to steal from the bank where she works. If she doesn’t, he says he will kill her and her younger sister, Toby (Stefanie Powers). Despite a physical attack when she first attempts to contact the police, Kelly secretly enlists the help of the FBI and G-Man John ‘Rip’ Ripley (Glen Ford) is put on the case.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Lady From Shanghai

Director: Orson Welles
Screenplay: Orson Welles
Based on a Novel by: Sherwood King
Starring: Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles, Everett Sloane, Glenn Anders, Ted de Corsia
Country: USA
Running Time: 88 min
Year: 1947
BBFC Certificate: PG


Orson Welles blew everyone away with his ‘official’ directorial debut Citizen Kane (he made Too Much Johnson before that, but it was only originally produced to be integrated into a stage show and was never screened in cinemas until its rediscovery decades later). OK, it didn’t particularly make waves at the box office, but it was critically acclaimed and made people sit up and take notice of the precocious young director. However, Welles didn’t have much luck following that. From his follow up The Magnificent Ambersons onwards, his productions were plagued by interference from studios and he never managed to strike gold in the same way due to this. In an early review – http://blueprintreview.co.uk/2011/11/touch-of-evil/, I argued that Touch of Evil might be a better film than Citizen Kane, but I saw the ‘director’s cut’ which had been re-edited in the 90’s from the original studio released version.

The Lady From Shanghai is one of these studio tampered films, with the original cut presented to the producers coming in an hour longer than the version we have today. Welles was also particularly vocal about his dislike for the score by Heinz Roemheld (a 9-page memo he wrote detailing changes which were never made can be found in this handsome dual-format set). Nevertheless, the film is regarded as one of the better studio films he made, so a Blu-Ray re-release like this is more than welcome. I’ve seen the film once before, but couldn’t remember a lot about it so was keen to revisit it.

The Lady From Shanghai opens with Irish rogue Michael O’Hara (Welles) happening across the beautiful Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth) and soon after saving her from the hands of some muggers. They share a sexually charged horse carriage ride, following which Elsa offers O’Hara a job on her yacht. He initially refuses this as he discovers she’s married, and to a criminal lawyer to boot. However, her husband Arthur (Everett Sloane) comes to see O’Hara and persuades him to take the job. O’Hara and the audience can smell something fishy, but the hard-headed Irishman decides to risk it and heads along on the couple’s cruise. Of course, he gets into a mess of trouble as Arthur and his associate George Grisby (Glenn Anders) drag him into a faked murder plot.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Big Heat

Director: Fritz Lang
Screenplay: Sydney Boehm
Based on a Newspaper Serial by: William P. McGivern
Starring: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Jocelyn Brando, Lee Marvin, Alexander Scourby, Jeanette Nolan
Country: USA
Running Time: 90 min
Year: 1953
BBFC Certificate: 15


I almost didn’t take up the offer from Powerhouse to review The Big Heat as I figured I already had the film on DVD, so could watch it in my own time. However, being a fan of film noir and director Fritz Lang, it’s a film I’ve been keen to see for a while, so I figured this would force me to finally get it watched. And thank God I did, because The Big Heat is even better than I had hoped.

Based on a Saturday Evening Post serial (very closely according to the commentary included here), The Big Heat opens with the suicide of Tom Duncan, a man we soon learn is a police officer. His wife Bertha (Jeanette Nolan) comes down the stairs after hearing the fatal gunshot, but rather than collapse in shock or distress, she takes a look at his suicide note and heads to the telephone. She doesn’t ring the police or hospital though, she rings crime lord Mike Lagana (Alexander Scourby) to tell him what happened.

Det. Sgt. Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) is given the case and is all set to sign it off as a straightforward suicide, before he is told by Duncan’s mistress Lucy Chapman (Dorothy Green) that it certainly wasn’t. This piques Bannion’s interest, but he isn’t fully sold on Chapman’s theory until she ends up dead. When he digs deeper, his cosy family life is attacked and the case becomes a mission for revenge more than a need to solve the mystery.

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Blu-Ray Review: Mildred Pierce – Criterion Collection

Director: Michael Curtiz
Screenplay: Ranald MacDougall
Based on a Novel by: James M. Cain
Starring: Joan Crawford, Ann Blyth, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Eve Arden, Bruce Bennett
Country: USA
Running Time: 101 min
Year: 1945
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘ve got a confession to make – one that I only just realised when I started to write this review. Other than a viewing of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? when I was too young to remember it, I’ve never seen a Joan Crawford film. I think that might be a crime for someone like me who claims to love classic cinema. Probably her most famous role and the one that snagged her her only Oscar, was playing the title character in Mildred Pierce. Being a highly regarded film noir, a genre I love, it’s long been on my radar but I’ve never got around to actually watching it. Partly I think I was worried by the fact I’d heard it’s more of a melodrama than a noir. Nevertheless, when I was offered a chance to review the forthcoming Criterion Collection Blu-Ray release of the film, I never hesitated to take it up.

Mildred Pierce opens in spectacular fashion, with the gunning down of Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott), whose last words are “Mildred”, the name of his wife and presumed killer. Soon after, Mildred lures an old friend, Wally Fay (Jack Carson), to the scene of the crime and tries to frame him for the murder. As she’s questioned by police however, she learns that they’ve arrested her first husband Bert Pierce (Bruce Bennett) instead. So she decides to tell them (and the audience) the story of what led to Monte’s murder and why Bert couldn’t have done it.

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Friday One Sheet: Oppression

Nbodoy puts Naomi in the closet! This French poster is sending out confusing noir-ish signals with its slanted blinds and almost completely unsaturated palette, to go with its ‘trapped’ vibe, and artisanal screen-printed textures. It is a wee bit reminiscent of one of the great all time posters of this century, which also featured Naomi Watts.

Despite its muddled genre cues (Blue Velvet with gender reversal? Halloween On South Street?) and title confusion (it is called Oppression in France, and Shut In in the USA?), I still give the poster a few points for simplicity and minimalism.

Blu-Ray Review: Cry of the City

Director: Robert Siodmak
Screenplay: Richard Murphy
Based on a Novel by: Henry Edward Helseth
Starring: Victor Mature, Richard Conte, Fred Clark, Berry Kroeger, Shelley Winters
Country: USA
Running Time: 95 min
Year: 1948
BBFC Certificate: 12


After moaning about a lack of film noir releases in the UK a couple of months ago, I’m now being spoilt by a wealth of them. I even passed on the chance to review a couple Arrow are releasing soon (largely because I already own them on DVD though). The latest noir offering to take a spin my Blu-Ray player is Richard Siodmak’s 1948 film, Cry of the City. The director was one of the many German directors who fled the country when the Nazis came into power in the mid-thirties. After living with Billy Wilder in Paris for a few years and making films there, he left for America in 1940. There he grew to become one of the most famous film noir directors during the genre’s heyday, responsible for classic titles such as The Spiral Staircase, The Killers and Criss Cross. Cry of the City wasn’t as successful as those at the time, but these days its reputation has grown, so I was keen to check it out.

Cry of the City opens to show us Martin Rome (Richard Conte) at death’s door in a hospital. As his family hold a tearful vigil by his bedside, two policemen – Candella (Victor Mature) and Collin (Fred Clark), and a lawyer – Niles (Berry Kroeger) are skulking around, wishing to speak to him before he dies. For one, he died in a shoot out with the police which ended in the death of one officer, but also Niles wants to get him to confess to a crime his client is due to go to the chair for, the DiGrazia murder. Rome manages to survive the night and is transferred to a prison hospital, where Candella and Niles continue to hassle him to get answers. Rome keeps his mouth shut, but is concerned for the safety of his innocent girlfriend, Teena (Debra Paget), so breaks out of the hospital to try and get her to safety, whilst getting to the bottom of the DiGrazia case. There’s little chance for a happy ending for Rome though as the driven Candella closes in on him and his life-threatening wounds aren’t given chance to heal on the run.

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Trailer: Manhattan Night

Adrian Brody can get a lot of mileage out of his facial expressions and tics. Here he plays a reporter that gets caught in the web of a story involving a femme fatale, sexual obsession and blackmail – one that escalates in sleaze to threaten his job, his marriage and his life. The trailer for Manhattan Night just popped on line, and while there is a certain sleepy vibe to the whole affair, the fact that this kind of eroticized thriller is an increasingly rare animal might be enough to get me into the cinema. Also, the leading lady, Yvonne Strahovski, seems to be doing her darndest in channeling Rosamund Pike’s performance from Gone Girl.

Trailer: The Lady In The Car With Glasses And A Gun

Attention all trailer cutters. This is certainly one way to do it. The right song, the right rhythm, and beautiful cinematographic imagery to tease and delight anyone who like as a good noirish time at the movies. The Lady In The Car With Glasses And A Gun is a French-Belgium co-production, and for a more English speaking audience, Magnolia, offers it dialogue free, which was usually a sign of being dishonest with the audience about the films spoken language, but here, the perfect and only line of dialogue in the trailer, owns it. Bravo, I say, Bravo.

Based on the novel by Sébastien Japrisot (who also wrote A Very Long Engagement which was adapted into a film Jean-Pierre Jeunet), the trailer reminds me of a recent Canadian film called 88 which despite my affinity for Katherine Isabelle and Christopher Lloyd, is unfortunately a sloppy, and rather uninspired, piece of crap. The Lady In The Car With Glasses And A Gun looks like quality all around; just the kind of Hitchcock/DePalma sensual-sleazy gumbo I like.

Curiously, this is not the first time someone has adapted this novel into a film, and the 1970s version from Colombia Pictures stars Samantha Eggar and Oliver Reed. If you want a lesson in two eras of trailer cutting, and are not afraid of copious spoilers, you can find the original it is here. Fun Fact: Eggar and Reed would go on again to star together in David Cronenberg’s divorce cult classic The Brood

A beautiful secretary steals her boss’ sports car to go joyriding in this stylish psychological thriller. She goes to visit a seaside town she swears she’s never been to, but everyone knows her name. And when a body turns up in the truck of the car, she is suddenly the lead suspect in a murder she knows nothing about. Is she going crazy?

The 2015 film will be getting a day and date release in the US on December 18th.