Storm Warning (1951)

Storm Warningstorm warning poster
Directed by Stuart Heisler
Written by Daniel Fuchs and Richard Brooks
1951/USA
Warner Bros.
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Faulkner: Let’s not fool ourselves, Charlie. You know the boys. Without those white hoods to hide in, they’re no heroes. That’s why they need the hoods in the first place. Put them under fire, legal fire, and you’ll see a rat race like you never seen before! They’ll squeal, they’ll cry, they’ll run like rabbits!

There are some excellent performances and plenty of thrills in this movie about how the Klan intimidates an entire town.

Dress model Martha Mitchell (Ginger Rogers) takes a night off from a business trip to visit her recently married sister Lucy (Doris Day).  Minutes after she gets off the bus and heads to the recreation center where Lucy works, she witnesses hooded Klan members dragging a man out of jail and murdering him.  A couple of the men are not hooded.  Martha arrives at Lucy’s house, shaken, and is appalled to recognize Lucy’s husband Hank (Steve Cochran) as one of the killers.  Hank says the group only wanted to scare the man and acts contrite.  Martha promises to keep her mouth shut for Lucy’s sake since her sister is expecting a baby and is madly in love with the oafish, vicious truck driver.  She promises to slip away the next morning.

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Her departure is delayed when  local D.A. Burt Rainey (Ronald Reagan) finds evidence that she must have been near the jail at the time of the murder.  She says that she was unable to recognize the murderers because they were all wearing hoods.  Unwittingly she has become Rainey’s star witness at the inquest.  He had been unable to break the code of silence enforced by the Klan for years and sees a chance to name the group in the murder..

But Grand Vizer Charlie Barr fears an examination of the Klan’s books which will reveal that he has been taking a big cut of the proceeds from selling regalia, dues, etc.  He threatens to pin the entire murder on Hank if Martha testifies about the hoods.  Reluctantly, Martha lies at the inquest.  But when the awful Hank harasses an innocent townsman at the rec center and later tries to rape her, she changes her mind.  Things get increasingly scary after that.

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Ginger Rogers proved she deserved her acting Oscar for Kitty Foyle in this very dramatic role.  This was Doris Day’s first non-singing screen role and I thought she was convincing as a small town housewife.  But the big draw of the film for me is Steve Cochran’s very believable turn as an ignorant villain.  Heisler keeps the tension high throughout culminating in the truly frightening cross burning scene.

The one flaw in the picture, and for some it may be a deal breaker, is the watered-down portrayal of the Klan.  This Klan is not a white supremacist organization but instead is battling “busybodies and outsiders”.  They kill the reporter for threatening to investigate their books for tax evasion.  I wonder whom the filmmakers were trying not to offend …

Trailer – Cinematography by Charles E. Guthrie

Scandal Sheet (1952)

Scandal Sheetscandal sheet poster
Directed by Phil Karlson
Written by Ted Sherdeman, Eugene Ling and James Poe based on the novel The Dark Page by Samuel Fuller
1952/USA
Motion Picture Investors/Columbia Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental

Biddle: You know that wasn’t a bad looking dame. Too bad the guy used an axe on her head. Spoiled some pretty pictures for me.

It seems that the media was a favorite target of filmmakers in the 1950’s.

After Mark Chapman (Broderick Crawford) took over as editor-in-chief of a big city newspaper, he turned it into a tabloid and circulation skyrocketed.  Feature writer Jullie Allison (Donna Reed) finds her new boss’s methods deplorable but ace crime reporter Steve McCleary (John Derek), who is sweet on her, is modeling himself on Chapman.

One of Chapman’s ploys is hosting a “Lonelyhearts” dance, with prizes, and reporting on the paper’s successful matchmaking.  Unfortunately, the wife (Rosemary DeCamp) he abandoned over 20 years ago when he was known as George Grant is one of the lonely.  She confronts him, threatens to expose him, and winds up dead in a bathtub.

scandal sheet 1McCleary is on the case and soon discovers it was murder.  Like his boss has taught him, he follows up with dogged determination.  Rummy ex-newsman Charlie Barnes joins in the fun.  More murders follow but they do not dissuade the star reporter.  With Harry Morgan as a photographer.

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I really enjoyed the sheer energy of this one.  It moves along at a nice clip and all the performances are very good.  The plot has the flavor of Sam Fuller, who wrote the source material, but some of his excesses have been trimmed to the benefit of realism. Phil Karlson has been hit and miss for me but this was a hit.

Title sequence -cinematography by Burnett Guffey

Edge of the City (1957)

Edge of the Cityedge of the city poster
Directed by Martin Ritt
Written by Robert Alan Arthur
1957/USA
David Susskind Productions/Jonathan Productions/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Netflix rental

“There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Collected Works

This waterfront drama was written specifically for Sidney Portier and shows off his dramatic range.

Axel North (John Cassavettes) arrives in New York with a secret and an introduction to waterfront foreman Charles Malik (Jack Warden).  His secret is such that he is willing to pay Malik part of his hourly wage to get a job.  We learn early on that his actual name is Nordman and he is estranged from his parents.

Malik proves to be a bully.  His needling gets worse when Axel becomes friendly with an easy going black foreman, Tommy Tyler (Portier).  Tyler offers Axel a place on his crew and introduces him to his family, including wife Lucy (Ruby Dee) and her friend Ellen. They all become close friends.

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It develops that Malik’s animus comes from his racial bigotry.  Things take a tragic turn when he provokes the stoic Tyler beyond endurance.

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For some reason, I couldn’t really get into this movie.  Portier’s character is too good to be true and much as I love Cassavettes he is fairly stiff here. Warden is at his explosive best though and the dramatic finale is gripping.

This was director Martin Ritt’s (Hud, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Norma Rae) big-screen debut.

Trailer – cinematography by Joseph Brun

The Street with No Name (1948)

The Street with No Namestreet with no name poster
Directed by William Keighley
Written by Harry Kleiner
1948/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Alec Stiles: What’s the use of having a war if you don’t learn from it?

This early semi-documentary style police procedural is enlivened by Richard Widmark’s performance as the germo-phobic gang boss and gritty location shooting on L.A.’s mean streets.

When two innocent civilians fall to gangland shootings, the FBI’s Inspector Briggs (Lloyd Nolan in his character carried over from The House on 92nd Street) suspects a Skid Row gang.  He assigns Agent Gene Cordell (Mark Stevens) to infiltrate the gang and Agent Cy Gordon as his backup undercover at a nearby flophouse.  Cordell insinuates himself into the local scene and soon impresses gang leader Alec Stiles (Widmark) with his boxing prowess at the gym.

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Stiles wants to build his organization on “scientific lines”.  His operation benefits from a mysterious informant somewhere deep within the police department.  The story follows the FBI’s procedures in finding the evidence necessary to pin the murders on Stiles and Cordell’s dangerous maneuvers within the gang.  With Ed Begley as the Chief of Police.

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Cinematographer Joe McDonald brings his noir expertise (Panic in the Streets, Call Northside 777, Pickup on South Street) to bear in lending interest to what might otherwise be a routine crime drama.  This was Widmark’s second film after his debut as the psychotic Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death.  He is fun to watch as the fastidious, neurotic Stiles, who is nonetheless ready to slap his wife down at the slightest provocation or none at all.  This is all balanced out by many scenes detailing FBI forensic procedures under the bright lights of Bureau labs.

Trailer – cinematography by Joseph MacDonald

 

The Underworld Story (1950)

The Underworld StoryUnderworld Story 1950
Directed by Cy Endfield
Written by Harry Blankfort and Cy Endfield; story by Craig Rice
1950/USA
FilmCraft Productions
First viewing/Warner Archive DVD

 

Catherine Harris: Did you ever rob graves, Mr. Reese?

Mike Reese: No future in it.

This indictment of the media is uneven but interesting.

Mike Reese (Dan Duryea) is a reporter who will stop at nothing for a story or a buck.  He is fired from his big city newspaper when an article he wrote (but begged the editor not to publish) resulted in a gangland killing.  The paper’s owner E.J. Stanton (Herbert Marshall) has been battling city boss Carl Durham (Howard da Silva) and believes Reese must have ties to the man. Reese is nothing if not adaptable and goes to Durham to get a loan to start over.  With the money, he buys a half interest in a struggling small town newspaper owned by Cathy Harris (Gale Storm).

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E.J. Stanton’s daughter-in-law is promptly murdered.  The audience learns immediately that his son murdered her but is framing the Negro maid Molly (Mary Anderson) for the crime.  The other characters are in the dark.  The tortured Stanton goes along with this to avoid scandal.  Cathy went to school with Molly and believes she could not have committed the crime.  Reese proceeds to cash in by turning Molly over the police for the reward money and then whipping the town up into establishing a defense fund for her, which he intends to split with the defense attorney.

The town big shots, including Stanton, scheme to drive Reese out of town.  Reese fights back against increasingly menacing threats,

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First, the good.  By now, readers know how I feel about Duryea and he does not disappoint.  Howard da Silva is perfect as the affable but ruthless Durham.  Stanley Cortez’s cinematography is outstandingly Expressionistic.  On the other hand, most of the other performances are over the top and the story slides into preachy melodrama at points.  And why, oh why, would they cast a white actress as the black maid?  Just because she is sympathetic and educated?

 

The Prowler (1951)

The ProwlerThe_Prowler  poster
Directed by Joseph Losey
Written by Dalton Trumbo (originally credited as “Hugo Butler”); story by Robert Thoeren and Hans Wilhelm
1951/USA Horizon Pictures

First viewing/YouTube

I am frequently told that my films don’t make money. Since I have averaged one film a year for thirty years – some of them expensive ones – I can only conclude that somebody is making money. — Joseph Losey

Joseph Losey turns film noir on its head with a homme fatale in this subversive chiller.

Susan Gilvray (Evelyn Keyes) has a nervous and lonely life with her apparently much older husband (we never see him) who cannot give her children and leaves her alone every night while he does his radio show.  She hears a prowler and calls the police.  The two cops that answer the call find no prowler but one of them, Webb Garwood (Van Heflin), immediately starts checking out Susan and her lovely home.  Later he returns alone and says department regulations require him to check up on her safety.  They find that they went briefly to the same high school.  Susan was from the right side of the tracks and Webb from the wrong side of Terre Haute, Indiana.  Webb hates his job as a policeman and bears a general grudge toward the world. The next night Webb shows up in his civvies.  He makes aggressive advances and Susan finally caves.  They begin an affair.

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When Susan’s husband discovers the affair, Susan tries to break it off.  Webb wants her to go with him to Las Vegas where he has his eye on a motel, which he thinks is a way to make millions without working.  She refuses.  He starts agreeing they should call it quits and she starts pleading with him to take her back.  Finally, while Webb is on patrol, he starts making prowling noises at Susan’s house.  When Susan’s husband comes out to investigate, Webb shoots him.

A coroner’s inquest finds that the death was accidental. Susan and Webb both deny any prior relationship on the stand.  Although Susan is initially very suspicious – even calling out “murderer” at the inquest – Webb soon manages to sweet talk her into a wedding and they depart for Las Vegas.  Then Susan discovers she is four months pregnant.  The increasingly paranoid Webb has some mighty peculiar ideas about this….

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I loved this movie though it made me really uncomfortable.  Van Heflin is seriously scary as the deranged Webb.  He is able to convey so much greed, scheming, and paranoia just with his eyes. You can almost read his thoughts and they aren’t pretty.  Evelyn Keyes makes a convincing lovelorn nervous Nellie, who turns out to have a  will of her own.

One of the things I loved most was the way Trumbo and Losey commented on police corruption and the emptiness of the American Dream without making any of this explicit. Some folks find the ending unbelievable, and I suppose it is, but this didn’t bother me. The edgy score adds to the tension.  Highly recommended.

I watched this on YouTube because I thought no U.S. DVD was available, but I now see that a restored version has been released with plenty of extra features.

Trailer – cinematography by Arthur C. Miller – don’t worry, the “voice of their conscience” is not in the film!

Tension (1949)

Tensiontension poster
Directed by John Berry
Written by Allen Rivkin based on the story by John D. Klorer
1949/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Film Noir Classics Vol. 4 DVD

Police Lt. Collier Bonnabel: I work on people – suspects. Play up to their strengths, pour it on their weaknesses. You know, I only know one way, one thing that breaks ’em wide open – tension.

This is a nice little story with a good performance by noir queen Audrey Totter as the femme fatale.

Lt. Collier Bonnibel (Barry Sullivan) tells the story about the murder of a liquor distributor and how he caught the culprit.

Humble pharmacist Warren Quimby (Richard Basehart) works the night shift at an all-night pharmacy to save to buy his selfish wife Claire (Totter) a house in the suburbs. She treats him like dirt and flaunts her infidelity, letting customers pick her up right in the pharmacy.  She turns her nose up at the house too.  Finally, she leaves him for the liquor distributor.  When Warren goes to his Malibu beach house to confront him and get her back, the boyfriend beats him up.  Humiliated, he plans revenge.

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When he goes to get his glasses repaired after they were broken in the fight, he notices a sign saying that contact lenses will make you a new man.  (It is early enough that these are referred to as “special lenses” and appear to have unseen magical properties).  He gets the lenses and works on establishing a new identity, that of “Paul”.  Amazingly, the lenses not only totally change his appearance (not to the audience, just to the other characters) but, more importantly, give him a new confidence that changes his personality.

As part of Warren’s planning of the perfect crime, “Paul” rents an apartment where he spends the weekends.  The newly manly Paul attracts his beautiful good-girl neighbor Mary Chanler (Cyd Charisse).  All of a sudden Claire isn’t looking so good to Warren, but when her boyfriend turns up murdered, he has her on his hands again.    The rest of the story follows Lt. Bonnibel as he ratchets up the tension.  With William Conrad as Bonnibel’s sidekick.

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This is a slight but enjoyable film highlighted by the beautiful cinematography of Oscar-winner Harry Stradling, Jr. (The Picture of Dorian Grey, My Fair Lady).  It’s always fun seeing Audrey Totter, who died last year at age 95, do her thing as a tough-talking bad girl.

Clip – Audrey Totter being bad – cinematography by Harry Stradling Jr.

They Won’t Believe Me (1947)

They Won’t Believe MeThey Won't Believe Me poster
Directed by Irving Pichel
Written by Jonathan Latimer and Gordon McDonnell
1947/USA
RKO Radio Pictures
First viewing/Amazon Prime Instant Video

 

Larry Ballentine: She looked like a very special kind of dynamite, neatly wrapped in nylon and silk. Only I wasn’t having any. I’d been too close to one explosion already. I was powder shy.

Robert Young plays an adulterer and liar with the same sober sincerity with which he approached Marcus Welby, MD.  It is surprisingly effective.

As the movie begins, we see Larry (Young) take the stand as the defendant on trial for the murder of Verna (Susan Hayward).  As he begins his testimony, the film slips into flashback.  Larry is a stockbroker with a very wealthy wife, Greta (Rita Johson).  He has a regular 11:00 rendezvous in a secluded corner with Janice (Jane Greer), Greta’s friend. They share an interest in deep sea fishing and much more.  Janice finally decides she cannot stand hiding any more and gets a job transfer to Montreal.  Larry tells Janice that his marriage is on the rocks, he will get his wife to divorce him that afternoon, and will join her on the train north.

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This is a lie.  There has been no discussion of any kind with Greta, who however has guessed the affair with Janice.  He says he is sick of city life.  She tells Larry she has arranged a partnership for him with a brokerage in L.A. and bought them a house in Beverly Hills.  Larry caves immediately and stands up Janice.

It doesn’t take Larry long to be seduced by Verna, a sophisticated secretary at his new firm.  It also doesn’t take long after the affair begins for Verna to threaten to break things off unless Larry leaves his wife.  Once again, Greta bribes Larry with a ranch in the country and he stands up Verna.  This time Greta traps him in the isolated ranch house and has the phone disconnected. The sociable and randy broker can’t stand it and spends his time plotting how Verna and he can empty his joint checking account with his wife and escape. Verna agrees and they hit the road to Reno.  Life and fate have several lessons on hand for the cad.

Susan Hayward, Robert Young Directed by Irving Pichel

Oh, how I hated Larry, the swine! Every silken word that drops from his lips is some kind of lie.  And yet Robert Young makes him hard to hate.  His comeuppance rivals that of George Minifer in satisfaction.  It was hard to tell from the fuzzy print, but I suspect that the visuals might be very nice with a restoration.  I had no expectations from the film going in but wound up really enjoying this intricate and offbeat little story and its many twists and turns.   Recommended.

Clip (spoiler) – cinematography by Harry J. Wild

Side Street (1949)

Side StreetSide Street poster
Directed by Anthony Mann
Written by Sydney Boehm
1949/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Film Noir Classic Collection Vol. 4 DVD

 

[first lines] Capt. Walter Anderson: New York City: an architectural jungle where fabulous wealth and the deepest squalor live side by side. New York is the busiest, the loneliest, the kindest, and the cruelest of cities – a murder a day, every day of the year and each murder will wind up on my desk.

This movie has everything you could possibly ask from a fillm noir except the femme fatale.

Joe Norson (Farley Granger) has lost his gas station and is now living with his in-laws in New York City and working as a part-time mail carrier.  His wife Ellen (Cathy O’Donnell) is about to deliver their first child.  One day, he makes a delivery to law office and sees a couple of hundred dollar bills on the floor.  The next day he comes when nobody is in and cannot resist the temptation to break into a file cabinet  Big, big mistake.

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When he has a chance to look inside the file folder he snatched, he finds that instead of the few hundred he expected there are $30,000 in carefully batched bills.  Terrified, he goes back to the law office to return the money.  Second big mistake.  The lawyer denies that it is his money or that he even had a file cabinet.   Joe leaves and stashes the loot, in a gift box, with a bartender.  Worse and worse.

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After checking with his sources that Joe is not a cop, the lawyer sends his goons after Joe. Joe finds he is a suspect in two murders.  The rest of the story is taken up with Joe’s frantic search for the money and its origins and flight from the goons and the police.  With Jean Hagen in a small but choice part as a boozy nightclub singer who is the girlfriend of one of the goons.

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Anthony Mann is becoming one of my very favorite noir directors.  With Academy Award winning cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg, he creates a visual feast in Side Street. Mann loved to experiment with camera angles and a variety are used here without distracting from the story.  The car chase that ends the film is very innovative, including helicopter views of the tiny cars winding through crowded city streets.  The lighting is rich and expressive.   Granger makes an excellent angst ridden noir hero and O’Donnell and Hagen do what they do best. Recommended.

Trailer – cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg

 

Woman on the Run (1950)

Woman on the Runwoman on the run poster
Directed by Norman Foster
Written by Alan Campbell and Norman Foster; original story by Sylvia Tate
1950/USA
Fidelity Pictures Corporation
First viewing/Amazon Prime Instant Video

Eleanor Johnson: [In the dark shadows of roller coaster on the deserted beach at night] I don’t like this place. Danny Leggett: It’s a good spot. I used to come here with my girl when I was a kid. It’s more frightening than romantic. It’s the way love is when you’re young… life is when you’re older.

This is a fairly routine programmer with a few thrills at the end.  We also get some nice location shots of 1950 San Francisco.

Frank Johnson is walking his dog when he witnesses a gangland shooting.  For some never explained reason, he slips away while being interviewed by the police.  Inspector Ferris (Robert Keith) is irked and goes to fetch Frank’s wife Eleanor (Ann Sheridan).  She acts as if she couldn’t care less that her husband might become the target of the killers and is able to offer very little information about him.  During the night she escapes her well-guarded apartment with the help of reporter Dan Leggett (Dennis O’Keefe).

Dan is Eleanor’s constant companion as she searches San Francisco for her husband who needs his heart medicine.  During the search, she finds out a lot of things about Frank that she didn’t know, including that he might actually love her.  Inspector Ferris is on her trail throughout.  As she gets closer to finding her husband, Eleanor faces trouble from more than the cops.

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I watched this one over a couple of days on my iPad, not perhaps adequate for a fair appraisal for this relatively highly rated movie (7.3/10 on IMDb),  This is more of a woman’s picture/thriller than it is a film noir.  Even the final roller coaster scene did not lift it far above average for me.  The performances are all fine.

I couldn’t find a decent clip.  The complete movie is also currently available on YouTube. This is another one that was recently restored but is still awaiting a home video version of the new print.