Category Archives: Film Noir

Chinatown (1974)

Let me explain something to you, Walsh. This business requires a certain amount of finesse.

— JJ Gittes

Roman Polanki’s Chinatown is currently #68 Film of All-Time on IMDb. It is one of the those films that everyone in the entire world has seen except for yours truly. It was nominated for eleven Oscars and only won for Original Screenplay. I knew very little about the movie when I started watching it. I don’t know if it was a good thing or bad that I went in blind, because I felt little cheated with the movie.

A cocky private detective, JJ Gittes (Jack Nicholson) looks into the lives of unfaithful spouses when the wife (Diane Ladd) of the Chief Engineer of the LA Water Company, Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling) wants to hire him to see if her husband is cheating on her.

Gittes takes the case and follows Mulwray throughout his day which included a city council meeting to approve a proposed dam  to help with the drought the city is currently in. Following Mulwray, Gittes sees a man going to different waterways to see if he makes the right direction opposing the measure.

Gittes is about the give up on the case when one of his associates, Duffy (Bruce Glover) tells him that Mulwray is in Echo Park with a young blonde, Katherine (Brenda Palmer). News of the affair is front page news across the city. The trouble is the real Mrs. Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) comes to Gittes office to serve him papers.

Gittes believes that he was setup to expose Mulwray indiscretion to make him look like a fool. Mulrray suddenly disappeared and winds washed up in a riverbed. While looking over the body in the morgue, Gittes picks up a pattern of high-powered people at the water company are being drowned. He wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery before he could be the next victim.

If I knew that this movie was be about water conservation, I would have laughed in your face. That is the mystery. who would kill the chief engineer of a water company. I thought that I was going to hate this movie, but there was something with chemistry between Nicholson and Dunaway that made hold on.

Judgment: I thought the mystery itself was ridiculous and too much soap opera plots for me. 

Rating: 7/10

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The Third Man (1949)

The Third Man is one the those classic movies that is on people’s top ten lists. This movie comes in as the #65 Film of All-Time on IMDb.  I wanted to see this movie, because it was taunted as one of the greatest mysteries ever. The movie won an Oscar for Best Cinematography and it was well deserved. I cannot get the feeling that I was disappointed with this movie.

The setting takes place in post war Vienna where the city is divided into four sections; French, British, Russian and American. An American comes into the city, Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) with the promise of a writing job from his friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles). It turns out that Harry recently died from a car accident and he was being buried the day that he arrives.

Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) questions Martins about his relationship with the departed Lime. He clues him in over a couple of drinks that Lime was being investigated for racketeering. He allegedly dabbled in selling black market penicillin to hospitals and having the recipients of the medicine die as a result.

Martins hears that Lime was killed in an accident. An acquaintance of Lime’s, Crabbin (Wilfrid Hyde-White) tells a completely different story that what has been told. He said that Lime was murdered instead. Martins’ Porter (Paul Hörbiger) said that Lime was alive when three men carried his body away from the scene. It was Dr. Winkel (Erich Pronto) and a Romanian, Popescu (Siegfried Breuer) with a mysterious third man.

Martins meets up with the girl that he saw at the funeral, Lime’s main squeeze, Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli). She is an actress with a play in a local theater. During their time together, Anna warns Martins not to get in too deep with the investigation that he wants to launch into the mysterious circumstances of his friend’s death. He feels that the investigators are not handling the case the way that they should.

Major Calloway and Sargent Paine (Bernard Lee) are thinking that Anna may have something to do with Harry’s death. When one of the people who Martins talked to ends up dead, he becomes public enemy number one.

I heard a couple of a things about the movies. I guess I might have misinterpreted them. The movie started out like a comedy of errors with Holly Martins being a sloppy drunk mess, then it’s supposed to be intriguing with the swirling mystery. I was a bit bored with the movie. I was thinking, “Okay. When is the part that something is supposed to blow me away?” And then it came with Orson Welles as Lime. He was very charismatic as the arrogant bastard of the story. He saved the movie for me.

Judgment: The mystery thriller was bogged down with too much for my taste.

Rating: 6.5/10

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

I have always wanted to see #31 Movie of All Time on IMDb, Sunset Blvd. The dialogue from the movie has been in the American lexicon ever since it premiered in 1950. It is the seminal movie that every gay man should see before they die. It has Gloria Swanson and fabulous Edith Head costumes. The movie won three Oscars including Best Original Screenplay. What more could you ever want? Apparently, this gay man needed a lot more from this movie.

 A screenwriter, Joe Gillis (William Holden) is in dire straits when he cannot afford the lifestyle that he is accustomed to. He is three months behind in his rent and the repo men are knocking on his door to take his car away. desperate to find a way out of his situation, Joe goes to Paramount Studios to talk to Sheldrake (Fred Clark) about an idea that he wants greenlit.

A plucky upstart reader, Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson) takes that his idea “Bases Loaded” is not good. They want to change the idea to make it unique. Joe is in need of a job when he is dropped by his agent.

Driving down the boulevard in his car, Joe notices the repo men in the intersection. They give chase. During the pursuit, Joe blows out one of his back tires and he has to pull off the road. He finds the driveway to a delapdated mansion belonging to a has-been silent film star named Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). When Joe is ushered in by her butler, Max Von Mayerling (Erich von Stroheim), Norma thought that he was a funeral director to help her bury a pet chimp.

The eccentric Norma Desmond intrigues Joe. During their conversation, she catches wind that he is a screenwriter. She wants to hire him to transform her magnum opus into a screenplay. This is the opportunity that Joe needs to get away from his financial problems and possibly have a way to get back on his feet. He takes the job, but he realizes that Ms. Desmond is craving a lot more than limelight.

 I was fully expecting to love this movie from beginning to end, but I might have had high expectations for it. There is something about the movie that is uncomfortable to watch. It might be because it paints the dark side of Hollywood, the price of fame and any means to get it back. The obsession, the affluence, the sheer loneliness of being famous. Parts of movie had me bored out of my mind.

Looking at the extras on the DVD made me appreciate the film more when I got finished looking at the last frame. Gloria Swanson mirrored her life with the over-the-top, theatrical Norma Desmond. She was a forgotten silent film star that got her chance again. William Holden’s fame was all but extinguished when he was cast. He was washed up at that point. His last big hit was Golden Boy over a decade earlier. Erich von Stroheim directed Gloria is the maligned movie, Queen Kelly that ruined both of their careers. It was fascinating to watch art imitating life.

Judgment: Who knew that a movie about obsession, madness and fame would bore you.

Rating: 6.5/10

Ace In The Hole (1951)

Bad news sells best. Cause good news is no news.

— Charles Tatum

Michael Vox from the Cinebanter podcast mentioned on his last five about Billy Wilder’s 1951 movie, Ace in the Hole. I heard a little synopsis of the movie when he was explaining it to his co-host, Tassoula. I was intrigued to watch this Academy award nominated movie when I saw the Criterion version of the movie at my local library. I was glad I did it.

A gruff news reporter, Charles Tatum (Kirk Douglas) stumbles to a small Albuquerque newspaper named “The Sun Bulletin” where he is reeling from being fired from his cushy New York position. His thinking was that he would get a small two month gig for $60 a week that he would get notice for other newspapers. After a year passes, no big stories are coming his way. He is getting antsy.

His boss, Mr. Boot (Porter Hall) sends Tatum and a young staff photographer, Herbie Cook (Robert Arthur) out on an assignment to cover a rattlesnake hunt at a nearby town.

During the trip, the duo stop to get gas from a mom and pop shop in Escuerdo, New Mexico where they notice the cops are being called to the 450 year old Indian Cliffs behind the shop. They hear from a woman, Lorriane Minosa (Jan Sterling) that her husband, Leo (Richard Benedict) is trapped in a cave in. Nobody could do anything with the mountain supposedly inhabited by evil spirits.

Tatum thinks that he could have the scoop or his “ace in the hole” to land him back on the top. He devices a way to befriend Leo by taking him food and coffee, but also spin the story to his advantage by any means necessary. Even if it mean, endangering the life of the man trapped with his legs pinned under rubble.

The first moments of this movie, I did not like Charles Tatum. He was a cocky, arrogant bastard to me. Some people say that he was the first anti-hero ever put on-screen. Is it true? I’m not sure. There is something about his bravado that attracts you to him, but there is also his actions that repels you.

The characters are not that sympathetic with the less than devastated wife, Lorriane that wants to hop on the first bus out of her boring life. There is the unscrupulous Sheriff Kretzer (Ray Teal) was full of corruption would align himself with Tatum in order to get re-elected. The only person you feel bad for is Leo. He is the sacrificial lamb in this scenario as the media circus grows, his needs are being swept under the rug to get a great story.

Is it said that this is a film noir taking place in the day. I don’t feel like it is a film noir. It feels like a hard-hitting drama about bastard trying to cash in on another person misery.

Judgment: The movie is a scathing account of how the media can turn a small incident into tattooing the image on the public conciousness.

Rating: 9/10

L.A. Confidential (1997)

I see Bud because I want to. I see Bud because he can’t hide the good inside of him. I see Bud because he treats me like Lynn Bracken and not some Veronica Lake look-alike who fucks for money.

— Lynn Bracken

It has been years since I have seen Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential. Too long, I should say. This is currently #61 on the Top 250 of All-Time on IMDb. It deserves to be there. I thought it was overshadowed by a certain movie about a doomed boat that dominated the 1997 Oscars. It managed to win Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay for Hanson and fellow screenwriter Brian Helgeland and Best Supporting Actress honors for Kim Basinger. This movie is a masterpiece. There I said it.

Based on the first book from author James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet trilogy, it starts with the murder of known drug dealer, Mickey Cohen (Paul Guilfoyle). This triggers a systematic takedown of his men. Three 1950s LA cops have to deal with the case from different angles. Officer Bud White, played by at the time unknown to American audiences Russell Crowe. White was the brute of the force that has a short fuse. Sgt. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) that thinks that he is the star of the precinct because he is the technical advisor on the hit TV cop show, “Badge of Honor.” He is in cahoots with sleazy gossip columnist, Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito) trading criminals and drugs for money and headlines in Hush-Hush magazine. Sgt. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is the straight-laced officer that wants to a detective, but doesn’t have the stomach for the job.

Exley witnesses the extent of the corruption in the station when a group of Mexicans are beaten by most of the officers, because they were suspects of beating up a couple of cops. The fallout of this incident trickled down when White is suspended for not testifying against his boozy partner, Dick Stensland (Graham Beckel). Exley is the complete opposite; he would be labeled ‘the snitch’ to get a new promotion, a deputy lieutenant. Vincennes is reassigned from narcotics to vice. Fellow officers would backstab each other to save their own asses. White would be the muscle working under Capt. Dudley (James Cromwell).

At one of the drug-related murder scenes, Vincennes finds a card for “Fleur-de-lis” that could be connected to a murder at the Nite Owl Café where Stensland gets killed. The station thinks that a trio of Negro shooters was responsible for it. They hunt them down. Meanwhile, White recognizes of one of the victims as a girl he has seen in the back of Pierce Patchett’s (David Strathairn) car with Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger) in tow. White learns that Patchett is running a prostitution ring to make the call girl look like Hollywood movie stars.

As the investigation intensifies, loyalties are tested, friendships are broken, and people show their true colors.

I may not have written how brilliant this movie is. All I say is that Curtis Hanson has a created a movie that had fantastic, crisp dialogue delivered perfectly from the main stars to the supporting players. The tension was there. I was on the edge of my seat. I know what was coming, but I still felt something about the characters. What is going to happen to them? The costumes, the art direction, it felt like I was in the 1950s. It didn’t feel like a fake movie set. It was organic. It had a life of its own. I appreciate that. Brava, Mr. Hanson.

Judgment: A fantastic film noir that makes you could to revisit more of them after watching this.

Rating: *****

Laura (1944)

Love is eternal. It has been the strongest motivation for human actions throughout history. Love is stronger than life. It reaches beyond the dark shadow of death.

— Waldo Lydecker

I was flipping through the channels one night and I found that Otto Preminger’s movie, Laura was about to start. I believe that I saw some parts of the ending of this movie in passing before. This movie was nominated for five Oscars and won for Best Black & White Cinematography. Seeing that I was mostly disappointed with the movies that were released this year, I wanted to see a classic movie to cleanse my palate of the dreck.

This film noir is about a young woman named Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney) that was murdered in her apartment. This movie deals with the aftermath when Det. Lt. Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) interviews an acquaintance of the victim, columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) who is writing his column while soaking in the tub. Lydecker is one step ahead of him that he types out his alibi when Laura was murdered.

McPherson is going to interview potential suspects and Lydecker comes along on his day. First, the duo meets Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson) who is Laura’s aunt. They talk about her whereabouts during the time of her murder. She has some sort of attraction to Laura’s fiancé, Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price). McPherson wants to know if she has a motive to bump her off.

There is also a possibly that the fiancé wanted to kill Laura in order to marry Ann. McPherson wants the two men to go Laura’s apartment to find the key for the country house that she was about to go to when she was killed. Carpenter’s story starts to show cracks when he planted the key in her apartment. McPherson decides to gather more evidence.

During a dinner conversation with Lydecker, Lydecker recounts the day that he met the plucky Laura while at lunch, who wanted to show him her ad mock-up to get a write up in his column. Their relationship starts as Laura’s career in advertising picks up. There is more affection on Lydecker’s side of the relationship. He feels threatened by Shelby Carpenter, who swoops in to steal Laura away. Waldo is cast aside as Laura and Shelby relationship continues. Waldo tries to dissuade Laura into marrying Shelby by telling her that he might be having an affair with a model at Laura’s company, Diane Redfern.

McPherson begins to put the pieces together when he is spending more time over at Laura’s apartment. He rifles through her personal things to read her letters from Waldo or her diary to find clues about who could have killed her. All the stories that have been repeated back at McPherson; he realizes that he has fallen in love with her.

I love the character of Waldo Lydecker. He is quick on his feet with the witty quips toward different characters. I thought the movie was a little bit melodramatic with some of the acting of the maid, Bessie (Dorothy Adams) and some of Shelby turned me off. The ending of the movie was satisfying even though I figured out who did it from the beginning.

Judgment: If you want to see a frothy whodunit, I would recommend this movie.

Rating: ***1/2

The Spirit (2008)

spirit_ver14

My city, I can not deny her. My city screams. She is my mother. She is my lover, and I am her Spirit.

— The Spirit

Universally panned by critics and the word mouths of the entire internet, The Spirit was unfortunately brought to us by writer/director Frank Miller who tried to parlay his successful collaboration of Sin City into this movie. It delivered on the pure suckage that it was promised.

The Spirit (Gabriel Macht) is a crime fighter and notorious womanizer that lives in the fictional Central City. He is constantly fighting the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson) that gets into his mind about why he could withstand a lot of punishment and is able to heal himself. Octopus and his partner in crime, Silken Floss (Scarlett Johannson) and his team of idiotic goons Pathos, Ethos, Logos (all played by Louis Lombardi) look for a vase filled with blood of Heracles to make him immortal like a god.

The Spirit teams up with a local detective that loves the word “goddamn” Dolan (Dan Lauria) and a rookie with high pitched voice, Morgenstern (Stana Katic) to uncover any connection between the random crimes to the Octopus, and a beautiful jewel thief named Sand Saref (Eva Mendes). She wants to attain the ultimate prize, a lost artifact from the Argonauts, Jason’s Golden Fleece.

The movie is classic style over substance. Having a comic book writer, as film director does not go hand and hand with Miller being more interested in the visual look of the film that he forgets to realize that the actors need to be on the same page with the look. The actors struggle to make this movie make any semblance of coherent sense, but they fail because Miller dropped the ball actually directing them.

Macht throws on his “I’m Batman” Christian Bale voice having long conversations with himself and loving his pussycat. Jackson is like a chicken with its head cut off talking about eggs for some reason. Johansson is so wooden; you believe that her soul was missing. Mendes’s character is obsessed with shiny anything and her ass that wants to be a femme fatale, but it makes you want to kill yourself. Sarah Paulson as The Spirit’s love interest, Ellen Dolan acted like she was in a bad soap opera. It’s a damn shame.

The movie is hallow. The action is over the top and cartoonish. It’s laughable. The plot is non-existent and filled with plot holes. You don’t have any idea what the fuck is going on. Who are these people? Are they living in the 1940s? Present day? The dialogue is atrocious with such gems as “Shut up and bleed,” “I’m gonna kill you all kinds of dead,” and “All the enemy has is gun to knives. I have the entire city as my weapon.” Are you serious?

Please, Frank Miller, I implore you. If you want to direct another movie, stop and think. Take some classes about the art of filmmaking. With this movie, it looked like you were mocking it. You didn’t care about the joy and satisfaction of making a competent movie. Collaborate with other directors. Stick your feet in with short films to gain some experience. Something.

Judgment: If you are a person that enjoys shitty movies, this one is the Holy Grail for you.

Rating: *

Double Indemnity (1944)

double_indemnity

How could I have known that murder could sometimes smell like honeysuckle?

— Walter Neff

On the suggestion of my film blogger, Chazz Lyons from Gone Cinema Poaching, I watched Double Indemnity last night.

Nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director for Billy Wilder and Best Actress for Barbara Stanwyck. It is currently #47 on the Top 250 Films of All Time on IMDb. It deserves to be there.

Based on the novel, “Double Indemnity in Three of a Kind” by James M. Cain; director Billy Wilder and co-screenwriter Raymond Chandler sends the viewer a wild rise in the late 1930s Los Angeles.

Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) is an insurance salesman that is infatuated with a beautiful married femme fatale, Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). Walter comes by the Dietrichson residence to follow up on some paperwork that the husband, Mr. Dietrichson (Tom Powers).

Over subsequent visits, Phyllis tells Walter about the mistreatment that her husband does toward her. They decide to bump off the husband so they could get the money for the life insurance policy.

After the deed has been done, Walter’s coworker, Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) begins to find cracks in seemingly perfect murder.

I loved every aspect of this movie. The rapid fire dialogue caught me off guard, but I got into it quickly. The acting across the board was fantastic. The score was intense.

Judgment: A masterful thrill ride with excellent dialogue, suspense and great performances. A must see!

Rating: *****

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