The Enforcer (1951)

The EnforcerEnforcer Poster
Directed by Bretaigne Windust (credited) and Raoul Walsh (uncredited)
1951/USA
Warner Brothers presents A United States Picture

First viewing

 

Joseph Rico: I’m forgetful. Sometimes I meet a guy and then I never see him again. I got a big turnover in friends.

 

This is a “B” movie with an “A” star – Humphrey Bogart.

Bogart plays District Attorney Martin Ferguson.  Ferguson is about to try Alberto Mendoza (Everett Sloane), boss of a contract murder organization, for murder.  His only witness is Joseph Rico, Mendoza’s former right hand man.  Rico gets cold feet at the last minute and becomes unavailable.  Ferguson has a nagging feeling that there was something overlooked during the investigation.  He decides to go over the record piece by piece starting from the beginning starting a long flashback.  With Zero Mostel in an early role as a gang member.

Enforcer 1

This is an OK programmer about on par with a very good TV police procedural. Raoul Walsh took over from ailing director Windust but insisted Windust take the credit.  It was Bogart’s last film for Warner Bros.

Trailer

Beat the Devil (1953)

Beat the DevilBeat the Devil Poster
Directed by John Huston
1953/UK/USA/Italy
Rizzoli/Haggiag; Romulus Films; Santana Pictures Corporation

First viewing
#268 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

Purser: Do you know that your associates are all in hoosegow? Oh, not that I’m a bit surprised. I put them down as thoroughly bad characters, right off the bat. But then there are so many bad characters nowadays. Take mine, for instance.

A group of scoundrels plans to smuggle uranium out of British East Africa in this noirish farce.  The plot is scant and convoluted at the same time, but ultimately does not matter much.  With Humprey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollabrigida, Robert Morley and Peter Lorre.

Beat the Devil 1

I enjoyed this film.  The story is but an excuse for some charming actors to trade bon mots penned by director Huston and Truman Capote.  Jennifer Jones, in particular, is delightful as an imaginative Englishwoman who gets accidentally caught up in the plot, along with her very square husband, and falls for Bogart.  I have never seen her like this and she manages one of the most believable English accents I have yet heard from an American.    Bogie is Bogie but he looks somehow worn out here.

Promotional teaser

 

 

Call Northside 777 (1948)

Call Northside 777call_northside_777_1948 poster
Directed by Henry Hathaway
1948/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

First viewing

 

 

Tomek Zaleska: Sure, I could say I did it. Then maybe have a chance of getting out, like you say. And if I confessed, who would I name as my partner, Joe Doaks? I couldn’t make it stick for one minute. That’s the trouble with being innocent – you don’t know what really happened.

This is an enjoyable film noir/docu-drama based on a true story and filmed on location in Illinois.  The performances are all good and fairly understated and the story is photographed with style.

James Stewart plays Chicago reporter P.J. McNeil, who is assigned to look into a classified ad that offered $5,000 for information on the murder of a policeman 11 years earlier.  The mother of Frank Wiecek (Richard Conte) published the ad in hopes of proving the innocence of her son.  Although McNeil is quite sceptical, his editor (Lee J. Cobb) asks him to dig further.  Slowly, McNeil becomes convinced of Wiecek’s innocence as well and ends up championing his case despite many difficulties in tracking down evidence.

Call Northside 777 1

In a departure from his usual gangster roles, Richard Conte gives a sensitive portrayal of the convicted man.  According to the commentary on the DVD, James Stewart sought out his role after the box-office failure of his previous two movies, Magic Town and It’s a Wonderful Life.  Stewart was turning 40 and decided his persona of a gangling, sincere young man no longer suited him.  This was the film that formed his character for the darker roles he would play in the Mann and Hitchcock films of the 1950’s.

There’s an interesting tie-in to Antonioni’s Blow-Up in this picture.

Trailer

 

No Way Out (1950)

No Way OutNoWayOut poster
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
1950/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

First viewing

 

Edie Johnson – Mrs. John Biddle: Yeah I’ve come up in the world. I used to live in a sewer and now I live in a swamp. All those babes do it in the movies. By now I ought to be married to the governor and paying blackmail so he don’t find out I once lived in Beaver Canal.

This is an interesting cross between a film noir and a message picture featuring Sidney Portier’s debut as a 22-year-old and dynamite performances by Richard Widmark and Linda Darnell.  It was quite a departure for director/screenwriter Mankiewicz who made this between his Academy Award winning turns in Letter to Three Wives and All About Eve.

Dr. Luther Brooks (Sidney Portier) is a newly licensed physician working at a county hospital.  He has the misfortune to be assigned to duty on the prison ward when Ray (Richard Widmark) and Johnny Bidell are brought in with gunshot wounds suffered in a shootout with police.  Ray is almost psychotically racist.  Brooks believes Johnny may have a brain tumor and does a spinal tap.  When Johnny dies during the procedure Ray accuses him of murdering his brother and plots revenge.  Brooks is desperate to get an autopsy done on Johnny to prove his diagnosis but Ray refuses.  Brooks then turns to Johnny’s estranged wife Edie (Linda Darnell) to try to get her consent.  Ray is one evil SOB and manages to terrorize everyone he can get his hands on.  With Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee as Brooks’ brother and sister-in-law.

No Way Out 1

This suffers from a little preachiness but is basically a gripping revenge tale.  Widmark makes a great psychopath and he is made even more repellant than usual by his racist rants.  Linda Darnell is quite good and Sidney Portier was solid right from the beginning.  This also features some beautiful cinematography by Milton R. Krasner.  Apparently the film flopped on release and then was buried for years because television didn’t want to touch it.   (Widmark must use the “n” word 100 times.)

Trailer

Hangover Square (1945)

Hangover Squarehangover_square-1945 poster
Directed by John Brahm
1945/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

First viewing

 

 

George Harvey Bone: All my life I’ve had black little moods.

The story is set in London at the turn of the last century.  Laird Cregar plays George Henry Bone, a gifted young composer who is subject to strange blackouts when he hears discordant sounds.  He has no memory of what occurs during these episodes but the viewer knows that he becomes a vicious murderer.  When he consults a Scotland Yard psychiatrist (George Sanders) about his problem, the psychiatrist advises him to relax and take a break from his hard work on a piano concerto. Unfortunately, during his first night on the town George meets a beautiful but devious music hall singer (Linda Darnell) who manipulates him to get songs for her act.

Hangover Square 1

This was Laird Cregar’s last performance.  He is fine in the role though he might mug a bit much.  The movie is otherwise chiefly notable for its fantastic high-contrast cinematography, the score by Bernard Hermann, and a couple of impressive set pieces – a Guy Fawkes Day bonfire and the concluding concerto performance.

The DVD I rented was packed with extras.  There were two full-length commentaries and a documentary on Cregar.  Cregar certainly had a sad story.  He was a big and heavy man and went on a drastic weight loss regime in hopes of winning leading man roles.  He lost over 100 pounds for this film and had bariatric surgery shortly after it wrapped.  Five days later he died of a massive heart attack.  He was 31 years old.  One of the interviewees in the documentary speculated that Cregar probably never would have been a leading man no matter what he weighed but that he could have had a career similar to that of Vincent Price.

Trailer

 

 

Out of the Past (1947)

Out of the Pastoutofthepast poster
Directed by Jacques Tourneur
1947/USA
RKO Radio Pictures
Repeat viewing

#198 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
IMDb users say 8.1/10; I say 10/10

 

Jeff Bailey: You can never help anything, can you? You’re like a leaf that the wind blows from one gutter to another.

This visually beautiful film has a classical film noir plot involving a protagonist who is doomed by his obsession with a femme fatale and haunted by an inescapable past.  The laconic Robert Mitchum is perfect as the fatalist hero of the tale and Jane Greer is one of the most perfidious shady ladies in all of noir.

I love this movie and have seen it at least ten times.  With the last viewing I think I have at last figured out the confusing second half of the movie.  This only added to my enjoyment but folks that have not seen the movie may not want to know the part between the spoiler alert notices.

The rather mysterious Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) runs a gas station in a small town in the Sierra Nevada.  He is in love with a local girl named Ann.  One day, a thug named Joe Stephanos comes looking for Jeff.  Joe’s boss Whit Sterling wants to see him.  Jeff and Ann drive to Lake Tahoe.  On the way, Jeff tells Ann his story.  The first part of the picture is thus one long flashback with voice-over narration.

Jeff – real name Markham – used to be a private detective.  Whit (Kirk Douglas) hired him to find Kathie Moffet, a woman that shot Whit and made off with $40,000 of his money. Whit wanted Kathie back, with or without the money.

Jeff trailed Kathie to the Mar Azul cafe in Acapulco and was immediately obsessed with her to the exclusion of his job or the consequences.  They began an affair and Kathie agrees to go away with him.  She admited shooting Whit but denied taking his money.  The couple returned to the U.S. and begin living in San Francisco.  Whit hired Jeff’s partner Jack Fisher to track them down.  When Fisher caught up with them, he attempted to blackmail the couple.  Kathie shot Fisher dead and fled in Jeff’s car.  A bank book she left behind showed that she had a balance of $40,000.

Out of the Past 2

SPOILER ALERT

Segue to the present, a few years later.  Jeff arrives at Whit’s mansion at Lake Tahoe. Kathie has returned to the fold.  Whit tells Jeff that an accountant named Leonard Eels is blackmailing him with records that will show Whit owes the IRS $1 million.  Whit asks Jeff to go to San Francisco to retrieve the records.  Jeff is suspicious but agrees.

Jeff goes to see Eels’ secretary and girlfriend Meta Carson (Rhonda Fleming).  The plan is that Jeff will pose as Meta’s cousin and meet her at Eels’ place after which they will steal the records from the office.  Jeff senses a frame up and attempts to tip off Eels that he is in danger.  He follows Meta and sees her steal the records from the office.  When Jeff returns to Eels’ apartment, he finds Eels murdered.  Jeff hides Eels’ body in an empty apartment.

He returns to Meta’s apartment and overhears Kathie calling Eels’ building and asking the superintendent to check on Eels.  Kathie is shocked when the superintendent does not find a body.  Jeff confronts her and she says she is afraid of Whit and acting under his orders.  Jeff tells her Eels escaped.  She says Whit made her sign an affidavit saying that Jeff killed Fisher.   The affidavit is now locked in Eels’ safe.  She says she still loves Jeff and tells him where he can find the tax records so that they will be able to blackmail Whit into giving them money and letting them go off together.  Jeff melts.

Jeff finds the records and mails them somewhere.  In the meantime, Kathie learns from Joe Stefanos that he did kill Eels.  Jeff finds Joe and Kathie together.  He reveals that he has the records in a safe place and says that he will hand them and Eels’ body over in exchange for the affidavit and $50,000.  Whit’s henchmen are now very suspicious as it looks like the only way Jeff could have found out about the affidavit was from Kathie. Kathie and Joe say they are going to get the affidavit but instead give Jeff the slip.

Jeff takes a deaf-mute kid that works for him and goes fishing in the High Sierras.  Somehow Joe and Kathie locate the kid and get Jeff’s whereabout’s from him. Joe goes off to shoot Jeff but the kid sees him first and causes Joe to falls into the river and be killed.

Jeff goes back to Tahoe and confronts Kathie.  He finds out Whit knew nothing about the plot for Joe to kill him and that Kathie told Whit that he killed Fisher.  Jeff again agrees to turn the records over to Whit for money and the affidavit.  When Whit and Kathie are alone, Whit becomes furious, hits Kathie, and threatens to kill her if she does not do exactly what he says.

Out of the Past 4

Jeff returns to Bridgeport and sees Ann.  He again professes his love for her.  Later, Jeff goes to Tahoe to finalize the deal and finds that Kathie has murdered Whit.  Kathie wants Jeff and herself to have a fresh start in Mexico.  This time, she will be in total control.  She is willing to threaten Jeff with being framed for the murders of Fisher, Eels, and Whit to get what she wants.  While Kathie is finishing her packing, Jeff calls the police.  Kathie shoots Jeff when their car runs into a police roadblock and dies herself when the car crashes during a shoot-out with the police.

END SPOILER ALERT

Out of the Past 3

Clearly, I had been missing a lot for a long time!  This viewing made Kathie seem much more evil than before and Whit not quite so bad.  I was wondering whether Whit would have gone after Jeff at all if he had known Kathie killed Fisher.

Probably 75% of my enjoyment of this film lies in its exquisite compositions and chiaroscuro lighting.  I don’t seem to have the words to explain the shots but I know that I am enraptured by them. The music is also very beautiful and the dialogue is a kind of hard-boiled poetry.

Clip – Jeff first sets eyes on Kathie

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

The Strange Love of Martha IversStrange Love of Martha Ivers
Directed by Lewis Milestone
1946/USA
Hal Wallis Productions

First viewing

 

Sam Masterson: Don’t look back, baby.  Don’t ever look back.

There are some fine performances in this noirish melodrama about childhood secrets.

The film opens in 1928 in Iverstown with rebellious young Martha Ivers and Sam Masterson in a freight car preparing to run away to join the circus.  Detectives soon apprehend the girl and return her to her hated aunt (Judith Anderson).  The aunt is waiting along with Martha’s tutor and his timid son Walter O’Neill.  Sam briefly sneaks into the house to say goodbye to Martha.  When the aunt attacks Martha’s cat, Martha grabs a poker out of her hands and strikes her, killing her.  Walter is a witness and backs up Martha’s lie about a mysterious intruder.  His father does the same and the O’Neills have a lifetime grip on Martha and her money.  Martha goes on to marry Walter.

Segue to 1946 and Sam Masterson (Van Heflin) wrecks his car while driving through Iverstown.  He must stick around to have it fixed and soon meets sultry ex-con Toni (Lizabeth Scott) who has just been paroled from jail.  Sam catches up with District Attorney Walter when Toni is picked up for a parole violation.  Walter (Kirk Douglas) is terrified that Sam will blackmail Martha (Barbara Stanwyck) and him for the aunt’s death and is also jealous of his wife’s continued love for Sam.  He has Sam roughed up to encourage him to leave town but Sam does not scare easily.

strange love of martha ivers 2

Although I thought the story did not quite hold together, I enjoyed this, largely for the performances.  Barbara Stanwyck is my favorite actress of classic Hollywood and she is very good here as the wounded but steely Martha.  Van Heflin has more to do than in other films I have seen him in and is excellent.  Lizabeth Scott was OK but too obviously a stand-in for Lauren Bacall for her own good.  It was Kirk Douglas in his film debut that was the most interesting.

Douglas’s Walter is repeatedly referred to by Sam as looking like “a scared little boy.”  He is evidently a chronic alcoholic and spends much of his screen time drunk.  I could almost see Douglas smoothing out the lines of his face through sheer willpower as he tried to act weak and cowardly.  He couldn’t quite manage it.  That aggressive, macho Douglas persona was not to be repressed.  This is not to say Douglas was bad, far from it.  His star quality shines through and he is compelling.  It was just a whole lot of fun to see him play against type and to try to remember that he was supposed to be afraid of Sam and not the other way around.

Trailer

 

The Phenix City Story (1955)

The Phenix City StoryPhenix City Story Poster
Directed by Phil Karlson
1955/USA
Allied Artists Pictures

First viewing
#297 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

Albert L. Patterson: Rhett, I’m not stickin’ my neck out. Why should I? Phoenix City has been what it is for 80, 90 years. Who am I to try to reform it?

This semi-documentary film tells the story of a crusade to fight a vice racket that had run Phenix City, Alabama for the better part of a century.  While it is well-regarded, I could not get past some pretty bad acting and overblown writing.

The film was made during the murder trial for the assassination of Alabama Attorney General-elect Albert Patterson.  The version I watched began with a segment in which newsman Clete Roberts interviews many of the real participants in the events portrayed.  Rhett Taylor (Edward Andrews) is the boss of an organized crime racket that runs gambling, prostitution, and other criminal activities in Phenix City, which is near a U.S. Army Base.  He holds on to power through brutal strong arm tactics, including open murder, while the police look the other way.  Former Senator and local lawyer Albert Peterson (John McIntyre) is content to defend Taylor’s men in court, figuring that nothing can be done about the situation.  Peterson’s son John (Richard Kiley) comes home from service as an Army lawyer in Germany and soon is determined to fight the mob, spurred on by the violence and injustice he sees.  After several more murders, Albert is persuaded to run for Alabama Attorney General on a reform ticket.

Phenix City Story 1

The male leads in this are pretty good but a lot of the acting, particularly by the women, is terrible. Even the men over-emote at times.  I was just not impressed.

Clip – in the vice den

The Spiral Staircase (1945)

The Spiral StaircaseSpiral Staircase Poster
Directed by Robert Siodmak
1945/USA
RKO Radio Pictures
First viewing

 

Constable: She’s dead!

Dr. Parry: Well, in that case, Constable, I certainly can’t do her any harm.

A very noir filmmaking team at RKO (director Siodmak, cinematographer Musuraca, and composer Webb) put together this glossy thriller.

It is sometime near the turn of the last century and a serial killer is on the loose in a small town.  This maniac has been focusing on women with some kind of physical infirmity and pretty mute Helen (Dorothy McGuire) seems a likely next victim.  Young Dr. Parry (Kent Smith) has taken a professional and romantic interest in Helen and thinks she can be cured of her traumatic loss of speech.

The story is confined to one dark and stormy night at the Warren household, where Helen works as a companion to the invalid matriarch (Ethel Barrymore).  The house is filled with creepy characters not the least of which is the cantankerous and vaguely ominous Mrs. Warren.  Other suspicious types include her womanizing obnoxious son Steve  (Gordon Oliver and pedantic stepson Professor Warren (George Brent) who hate each other and who each have a yen for the professor’s secretary Blanche (Rhonda Fleming).  Then we have the dipsomaniac cook Mrs. Oates (Elsa Lanchester) and her menacingly silent handyman husband.  Poor Helen has a rough time of it, complicated by her inability to call for help.

Spiral Staircase 1

This is a fun thriller with a nice score and beautiful art direction and cinematography.  Dorothy McGuire has an expressive face though I kept thinking that it was really well suited for comedy.  I jumped a couple of times but I wondered if another actress would have made for a scarier movie.  This may be the only role I have seen Ethel Barrymore in. She was very good and kept you guessing.

Re-release trailer

 

The Man from Laramie (1955)

The Man from Laramiethe-man-from-laramie-poster
Directed by Anthony Mann
1955/USA
Columbia Pictures Corporation/William Goetz Productions

First viewing
#295 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

Will Lockhart: You’re just a hard, scheming old woman, aren’t you?

Kate Canady: Ugly, too.

This is a Technicolor Cinemascope Western set in the wide open spaces of New Mexico.  Its “noir” elements come from the revenge obsession of its protagonist and a psychopathic bad guy.

Will Lockhart (James Stewart) rides into town with a mule train bearing supplies from Laramie.  His secret mission is to avenge the death of his brother, a cavalryman who was killed in a massacre by Apaches armed with repeating rifles.  Will suspects that the rifles were supplied by white men.

On his way out of town, Will decides to load up his empty wagons with salt from a lagoon. He is soon set on by Dave Waggoman (Alex Nichol) of the Barb Ranch, who believes he owns everything within a 300 mile radius.  Dave takes sadistic glee in hog-tieing Will, burning his wagons and shooting his mules.  He is only restrained by the arrival of ranch foreman Vic Hansbro (Arthur Kennedy).   Dave is the son of patriarch Alec Waggoman (Donald Crisp) and Vic has been raised as his brother and charged with responsibility of keeping crazy Dave under control.

Each attack on Will makes him more determined to stay in town.  The rest of the film follows Will’s revenge quest, his numerous reverses, and the Cain and Abel struggle between Dave and Vic.  With  Cathy O’Donnell as Vic’s fiancée, Aline MacMahon as a neighboring rancher, and Jack Elam as the town drunk.

Man from Laramie 1

There were several moments during this movie when I had to scratch my head as things just did not compute.  It seemed like portions were cut out and there was no exposition to prepare for some of the plot developments.  This also featured more gratuitous and graphic violence  than the modern-day noirs I have been viewing.  There was nothing wrong with any of the performances or the directing but it wasn’t a comfortable experience for me.  The music is very nice except for the truly lame theme song.

Clip – attack on the mule train