The Reckless Moment (1949)

The Reckless Momentreckless moment poster
Directed by Max Ophüls
Written by Mel Dinelli, Sidney Garson, et al from the Ladies Home Journal story “The Blank Wall”
1949/USA
Columbia Pictures Corporation
First viewing/Korean import DVD
#226 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Martin: Hell is other people…

The List introduced me to this film and for that I am grateful.

Lucia Harper’s (Joan Bennett) husband is in Berlin at Christmas and she is left to head the household of her father, seventeen-year old daughter Bea and younger sons.  They are a respectable, tight-knit middle class family.  Clearly Lucia is not used to making important decisions on her own nor does she want to bother her husband.  Her daughter has taken up with a much older man, Ted Darby  and Joan feels she must break it off.  She confronts the man and he offers to stop seeing Bea in exchange for a pay-off.  Instead, Lucia goes home and tells Bea what Ted said.  Bea meets him, they argue, and Bea pushes him, causing him to hit his head on an anchor and, unbeknownst to her, killing him.

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In the morning, Lucia finds the corpse.  In her panic, she takes the body out to sea in a motor boat (they live in Balboa) and sinks it with the anchor.  The body is soon discovered. Then bad guy Nagel, an associate of the deceased, gets his hands on Bea’s love letters to Ted and sends his buddy Martin Donnelly (James Mason) to threaten Lucia that they will go to the police with the letters unless she pays them $5,000 more or less immediately.

But Lucia doesn’t have the money and can’t think of a way to get it without involving her husband, which she still is unwilling to do.  Fortunately for her, Martin develops an affection for her.  Now they are both in great danger from the ruthless Nagel.

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So far I have found Ophül’s American films a mixed bag but I really liked this one.  The acting is first rate and the story is interesting and beautifully filmed. This part was totally against type for the usually seductive Bennett and she was excellent in it.  Mason is Mason.  I don’t think I have seen him with a bit of an Irish brogue in his accent before.

I have to admit I was frustrated with the ending, however. I felt like a certain undeserving party got let off the hook too easily.  Maybe I should have worked for the Hayes office! Actually, I don’t know how they got away with this in 1949.

Fan trailer – montage of clips and stills (spoilers)

 

 

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Kiss Me DeadlyKiss Me Deadly Poster
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Written by A.I. Bezzerides based on the novel by Mickey Spillane
1955/USA
Parklane Pictures Inc.
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#308 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

Velda: You want to avenge the death of your dear friend. How touching. How sweet. How nicely it justifies your quest for the great whatsit.

I still don’t exactly understand how the conspiracy was supposed to work here but it doesn’t matter much anyway. Style is the thing and this move is full to over-flowing with it.

Tough-guy private eye Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) is driving down a lonely road in his ultra-cool convertible at night when he is waved down by a frantic blonde, Christine (Cloris Leachman in her big-screen debut).  She takes one look at the car and has Mike’s number “You have only one real lasting love – you.”   Christine is clearly terrified.  She has just escaped from an asylum and is naked under her coat.  She tells Mike to forget her if he is able to deliver her to her bus stop.  If not she pleads, “Remember me.”

They do not make it to the bus stop.  The car is waylaid by some mysterious men and the two are taken to a secret location where they are evidently pumped full of drugs.  Mike has hazy, hallucinatory dreams.  When the men are through with them they take the car and push it off a cliff.  Christine dies but Mike survives and wakens from a coma to the ministrations of his secretary/lover Velda and the unwanted attentions of Lt. Murphy, who takes away Mike’s P.I. license and gun permit.

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Mike decides that, if Christine knew something, it must be valuable and, ignoring his lack of official sanction, investigates it.  He meets many shady characters and witnesses throughout the very convoluted plot.  Suffice it to say that he comes to blows with most of them and tortures the rest. The exception is Christine’s roommate Lily, who is afraid of a similar fate.  To her he gives shelter.  Otherwise, the mayhem continues until the spectacular climax that closes the film.  With Albert Dekker and Jack Elam as bad guys and Percy Hilton as a pathologist.

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As an exercise in pure B-movie style with all the stops pulled out, this is hard to beat.  It was hard to select stills.  They are all so awesome.  But they don’t fully capture the visual artistry of the film with its crazy angles and roaming camera.  The dialogue is a pulpy delight and the delivery of the actors matches it perfectly.  I imagine that Godard and Tarantino got a lot of inspiration from this one.  Highly recommended for those that like this kind of thing.

Trailer – cinematography by Ernest Lazlo

Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)

Sorry, Wrong Numbersorry wrong number poster
Directed by Anatole Litvak
Written by Lucille Fletcher
1948/USA
Hal Wallis Productions

Repeat viewing/Amazon Instant Video

 

Henry Stevenson: Besides, what does a dame like you want with a guy like me?

It is mighty tricky to build a movie around telephone conversations.

The wealthy Leona Stevenson (Barbara Stanwyck) is a professional invalid, lounging in bed all day with her books and bonbons.  She goes into hysterics and has chest pain when her formidable will is challenged in any way and rules her husband Henry (Burt Lancaster) with an iron hand.

On this particular evening (the story plays out in real time, with flashbacks), her attendants have the night off, on the agreement that Henry will be home at 6 p.m.  He is late, however, and Leona incessantly calls his office number but it is always busy.  She asks an operator to put the call through and overhears two hired killers discussing a murder to take place that night at 11:15.

The increasingly upset Leona tries to get the operator to trace the call, to get the police to investigate, etc. with no luck.  In the meantime, the phone is ringing off the hook with calls from a Mr. Evans asking for Henry.

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Leona simply cannot bear staying alone in the house.  She tries to find Henry through his secretary and is directed to his old girlfriend Sally.  Then, after she gets a telegram saying Henry has gone to a convention to Baltimore, she calls her doctor.  Finally, Mr. Evans leaves a disturbing message for Henry.  All these people fill in more of the story, segueing into flashback as they tell Leona what they know.  None of it is reassuring.

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This is Barbara Stanwyck’s movie and is an acting tour de force.  She does nothing to make Leona in the least sympathetic but is the epitome of whining, controlling womanhood and very believable.  I though Burt Lancaster was a bit miscast as the henpecked husband but he does his best with the part.

The movie is the expansion of an excellent one-woman half-hour radio drama containing only Leona’s conversations with service people such as the operator, the police, a hospital nurse etc. Naturally, this would not make a film.  I can’t think of any other way that the filmmakers could have retained the basic premise but the movie does come off at times as gimmicky.  That said, it is well worth seeing for Stanwyck’s performance.

Barbara Stanwyck was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Sorry, Wrong Number.

Trailer (spoilers) – cinematography by Sol Polito

The original radio play with Agnes Moorehead

 

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

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.

Too Late for Tears (1949)

Too Late for Tears Too Late For Tears poster(AKA “Killer Bait”)
Directed by Byron Haskin
Written by Roy Huggins
1949/USA
Hunt Stromberg Productions/Streamline Pictures
First viewing/Amazon Instant Video

 

Danny Fuller: Don’t ever change, Tiger. I don’t think I’d like you with a heart.

Lizabeth Scott is cast against type as the deadliest of femme fatales.  She’s even too much for Dan Duryea’s villain.

Jane Palmer (Scott) is tired of being a member of the “poor” middle class.  She wants to outdo the Joneses.  She is married to conventional hardworking Alan (Arthur Kennedy), however.  One day, Jane sees her opportunity when a valise containing $60,000 in old bills is thrown in the back of their convertible.  Howard wants to turn the money in to the police but Jane convinces him to put it in a safe place for a week so they can think about it some more. The couple leave the bag at the stored luggage department of a railway station and Alan takes the claim check.

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Soon enough, the blackmailer Danny Fuller (Duryea) shows up and starts threatening all kinds of mayhem if Jane does not return his money.  He gives her until the next day to come through.  She hides the visit from Alan.  Alan plans a romantic evening to compensate for turning the money into the cops.  But Jane has a gun and nothing and nobody is going to come between her and her dream.  Meanwhile, a mysterious visitor (Don DeFore) befriends Alan’s sister and helps her to get to the bottom of Alan’s disappearance.

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This is an OK “money isn’t everything” noir.  I think the role of the truly evil Jane did not suit the more girlish charms of Lizabeth Scott in the least.  One can only imagine someone like Barbara Stanwyck in the part.  As usual my beloved Duryea acquits himself well. He has a bit of a conscience, too, for a change.

I watched this on Amazon Instant Video because I feared the print on the Alpha DVD Netflix rental would be really bad and the movie has recently been restored.  I needn’t have bothered.  The print was quite fuzzy.  The 35-mm restoration is showing on the festival circuit so maybe there is a better DVD coming in the future.

Clip – cinematography by William C. Mellor

T-Men (1947)

T-MenT-Men poster
Directed by Anthony Mann
Written by John C. Higgins; story by Virginia Kellogg
1947/USA
Edward Small Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

Dennis O’Brien: Did you ever spend ten nights in a Turkish bath looking for a man? Don’t.

This police procedural is enlivened by the direction of Anthony Mann and the gorgeous cinematography of noir master John Alton.

A new batch of counterfeit bills is in circulation that is printed on dangerously good paper. Treasury Agents Dennis O’Brien (Dennis O’Keefe) and Tony Genaro are assigned to infiltrate a conterfeiting gang and determine the source of the paper.  They elaborately plan their new identities down to the last detail.

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The Schemer (Wallace Ford), a small time hood who puts the bills into circulation, leads them to the mob bosses.  After that it is a deadly game of cat and mouse as the agents offer some excellent printing plates to go with the paper.  With Charles McGraw as an assassin.

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This is an early police procedural with extensive third-person voice-over narration.  It was made with the cooperation of the Treasury Department and shows the work of its Secret Agents in considerable detail.  The story could be pretty dry but for Anthony Mann’s mastery at creating tension and framing shots and the low-key lighting provided by Alton. The scenes in the steam bath are particularly impressive.

T-Men was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Sound, Recording.

Clip – the bathhouse murder (spoiler) – cinematography by John Alton