Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Blue Dahlia (1946), George Marshall.

Dark, man dark. Plus que noir. Great writing, Chandler.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Tonight or Never (1931), Mervyn LeRoy.

Hello front desk? I can hear the happy couple next door kissing, dammit!

This film revolves around one central event: lonely opera diva Gloria Swanson arrives on the doorstep of a stranger (and, rumour has it, gigolo to another, aging opera star) in hopes of a romantic evening. I suppose what the Hays Code would have washed out, if this had been made a few years later, would be a fairly straightforward and mature depiction of female loneliness and desire.

Don't know if 1931 movies are considered "early talkies" -- there's a noticeable lack of music, aside from a delightful zither performance on the banks of the Danube. Early treat to see how Gregg Toland (Citizen Kane cinematographer and creator of the "deep focus" technique) places the camera so that we get a visual underscore of what is going on in the script. See below for a particularly vivid example! The only thing I have ever read about Toland has been a great article by Hinton Als in the New Yorker (June 19, 2006); in it, Als points out that as early as the mid-30s, Toland "began producing his most resonant work, shooting actors with an impressionistic flair." Please write a full biography, man!

Friday, April 17, 2009

I Walked With a Zombie (1943), Jacques Tourneur.

Young Canadian nurse from Ottawa leaves snowy winter behind and accepts position in the Caribbean. OK, well, I was hooked...

So what if the locals sing calypso songs about how your new boss is from a messed up English family who keeps a zombie trapped in a tower? Think about the palm trees! Go for a swim!

Very moody and atmospheric, a slowly unraveling romantic mystery. Somehow very soothing and enjoyable. I'm going to go pour me some rum now.

The Body Snatcher (1945), Robert Wise.

Even when the sun shines in Edinburgh it's easy to feel trapped in a stone maze surrounded by ghosts. This film, based on Robert Louis Stevenson's short story of the same name, captures that atmosphere quite well. This shows how resourceful Val Lewton and his crew could be, because this was not shot anywhere near Edinburgh but in California, using scraps of old movie sets including one for the Hunchback of Notre Dame! Lewton's Bs demonstrate how creativity can overcome budget limitations. Just compare this with The Devil Commands, which also stars Boris Karloff, and tell me audiences didn't get way more bang for their buck. In this one, Karloff escapes from playing one-note monsters. His grave robbing Cabman Gray is played so well that even this bullying, menacing character manages -at least for one split second- to seem sympathetic. He is an excellent adversary for the story's central character, a respected but morally conflicted physician played by Henry Daniell.

This DVD, from the Val Lewton Horror Collection, has an enjoyable commentary by director Robert Wise who sheds light on how Bs worked. Wise explained that studios would have produced around sixty films a year, of which forty-odd were B's. Although he had only been a film editor up to that point, Wise was offered to direct this film because the current director had been unable to stay on the tight schedule that such an output demanded from B directors. While perhaps not an environment conducive to self-indulgences, the Bs seemed to have been a place where those who were willing to play the game could transform their careers.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Tin Star (1957), Anthony Mann.

Good Ol' Doc McCord's message of owning up to responsibility apparently also means that women should shut up and produce sons!

Anthony Perkins stars as a timid young man who clings to his sheriff's badge and Henry Fonda appears as his balls. Mentor? Sure, OK, Henry Fonda is a crusty old bounty hunter who takes a liking to Perkins and acts as his mentor. Kind of formulaic and predictable; Fonda's gunslinger-in-the-shadows character reminded me a bit of Alan Ladd's Shane, which came four years before this. In both movies, I figured it could be possible that both Ladd's Shane and Fonda's Morg could be interpreted - even at a bit of a stretch - as figures of the imagination. Passable Saturday afternoon western. Perkins is a kind of lily-livered sheriff; if I lived in this town I would be on the next wagon out just to be on the safe side. This movie has a lingering odor of misogyny wafting through it, emanating from the new if dull and moralizing world of lawfulness.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Ghost Ship (1943), Mark Robson.

Ooh, a good one! What do sailors need all these knives for, anyway? Short little B that manages to keep you biting nails while examining concepts like the limit of authority and whether man is essentially good or evil. Young new officer finds himself reporting to philosophical, fatherly captain (Richard Dix, who speaks in completely measured tones the entire film) but things get interesting quickly.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Leopard Man (1943), Jacques Tourneur.

A little flabby, a little sluggish. Set, strangely, in a little open-air nightclub in Mexico that caters to American tourists. Dull but pretty Jean Brooks brings a leopard on a leash into her act in an attempt to upstage her more talented colleague, a spicy flamenco dancer. Leopard gets away and begins chewing on the local folk. Features flaky museum curator, who philosophizes that life is much like a ball floating in a fountain jet: "we know as little about the forces of the universe that move us as that ball does." Uh, OK professor. Interesting to see the same ingredients for B-movie horror (exotic setting, strange evil presence, rational/scientific authoritative figure) but slightly rearranged.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Lost Weekend (1945), Billy Wilder.

Is it just me, or is the lighting in that apartment really harsh?