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Archive for the ‘Genre Countdown: Noir’ Category

Director: Jules Dassin

Producer: Samuel G. Engel

Screenwriter: Jo Esinger

Cinematographer: Max Greene

Music: Franz Waxman

Studio: 20th Century Fox 1950

Main Acting: Richard Widmark and Gene Tierney

Night and the City was filmed in London by an American director and three principle American actors. It was produced by 20th Century Fox and moved out of the country to better protect Jules Dassin from the impending blacklist he would face in the very near future. Darryl Zanuck was key in getting the film made and allowing the foreign setting to materialize. The U.S. version was also truer to Dassin’s overall intention, as it kept the bleak ending and was scored by the filmmaker’s choice of Franz Waxman instead of Benjamin Frankel. Still, in many ways, this 1950 film noir is as much an English production as it is a Hollywood one. A menacing London is the heart of all of the action and the rest of the cast and crew was composed of local talent. Chock full of more shadowy, sinister backdrops than any New York or Los Angeles location, the world inhabited by Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) is one infused with peril and continuously broken ambitions. As the most clear-cut “fusion noir” ever created, Night And The City can rightly contend as not only the greatest American noir, but the most effective British one as well. Here is the picture that I personally would recommend a film-noir newbie watch to understand the classic movement. It can’t possibly get any better  than this… (more…)

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Director: Robert Siodmak

Producer: Mark Hellinger

Screenwriters: Anthony Veiller, Richard Brooks, and John Huston

Cinematographer: Elwood Bredell

Music: Miklos Rozsa

Studio: Universal Pictures 1946

Main Acting: Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, and Edmond O’ Brien

Since I already focused extensively on the opening scene of another noir on this countdown, I will keep my adoration for the beginning of The Killers brief and limited to a single paragraph. I will say that it challenges and even surpasses Kiss Me Deadly in effectiveness. Robert Siodmak (no stranger to this countdown) really comes out punching with that opening right cross to whichever “bright boy” you care to inflict bodily harm on. That first image is basically lifted by both Aldrich and Lynch in their own filmographies and put to extensive use. Focusing on a car barreling down a dark road with a behind-the-shoulder shot, we are quickly placed in the prototypical noir universe of a stylized and menacing Brentwood, New Jersey. Rozsa’s intense and rousing score sets up the mood perfectly, as Sodmak’s name on the screen can’t cover up the two figures stalking about in the background. Their initial destination is a service station that looks closed and empty. They instead walk across the street to Henry’s Diner which is open and accepting customers. Unfortunately, these guys are not really looking for “roast pork tenderloin with apple sauce and mashed potatoes.” What they really want is the whereabouts of The Swede (Burt Lancaster) and to plug him with enough holes that he looks like one of those old cartoon characters that takes a drink and begins to spout water all over his body. The tension elevates to almost unbearable proportions as the duo takes the whole eatery hostage and we wonder what these assassins will do next. Fortunately they go away without any bloodshed. They have only one intended target, and he sits hopelessly in bed, waiting for the end to come. (more…)

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Director: Nicholas Ray

Producer: Robert Lord

Screenwriters: Edmund H. North and Andrew Solt

Cinematographer: Burnett Guffey

Music: George Antheil

Studio: Columbia Pictures 1950

Main Acting: Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame

John Donne once wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself.” I wonder what he would make of Nicholas Ray’s In A Lonely Place, a profound and moving look at not just one person’s detachment from all those around him, but also the fallacy of male masculinity and the curse of an artist’s temperament. Ray’s film is equally about all three things. You get the sense that Donne’s quote may not be entirely absolute, at least in regards to this film—sometimes one can become an island through the actions he chooses.

Ray was always fascinated with exploring the outsiders of society, those who for whatever reason have either been pushed or gladly removed themselves from normal human interaction. Dix Steele (Humphrey Bogart) is such a figure. A screenwriter who can’t seem to connect with other people, he is a stunning mass of contradictions. Equally intelligent and sensitive one moment, then he’s animalistic and tortured another. This is an exploration of how someone could possess both an acute discerning eye for the depths of human emotion, while succumbing to every base conceived injury or insult. A violent yin and yang split that constantly leads to his continual drift away from everyone in which he comes in contact. (more…)

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Director: Jacques Tourneur

Producer: Warren Duff

Screenwriter: Daniel Mainwaring

Cinematographer: Nicholas Musuraca

Music: Roy Webb

Studio: RKO Pictures 1947

Main Acting: Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, and Jane Greer (more…)

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Director: Orson Welles

Producer: Albert Zugsmith

Screenwriters: Orson Welles, Paul Monash, and Franklin Coen

Cinematographer: Russell Metty

Music: Henry Mancini

Studio: Universal 1958

Main Acting: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Orson Welles

Long after the unmitigated tragedy of having The Magnificent Ambersons taken away and butchered by his studio, Orson Welles was back in the system making another film. He had previously been given a few other rare chances at directing in Hollywood proper (one of which made this countdown), but he basically was a nomad walking the earth like Caine from Kung Fu trying to scrounge up some money to pay for projects. With the generosity of Charlton Heston, Welles was hired to direct Touch Of Evil during the last days of classic film noir. Like the true artist that he is, Welles relished the chance to work with any kind of budget and set out to create a baroque visual masterpiece with an intriguing—if inscrutable plot—filled with all sorts of quirks and mishaps. The innovative aspects start right at the beginning with a wallop of an introduction featuring a three-minute-plus tracking shot that encompasses a glorious exposition of the whole border town. Slowly, the roving camera fixes upon newlywed couple Miguel and Susie (Heston and Leigh) as they unknowingly encounter a mysterious vehicle with an odd-looking couple trying to cross the border. From these early moments, we can speculate accurately that we will be watching something special. The camera does not stop moving and neither does the excitement from witnessing such a spectacle. (more…)

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Director: Billy Wilder

Producer: Charles Brackett

Screenwriters: Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, and D.M. Marshman Jr

Cinematographer: John F. Seitz

Music: Franz Waxman

Studio: Paramount Pictures 1950

Main Acting: William Holden and Gloria Swanson

How much more noir can you get than a dead guy narrating his own slow demise from beyond the grave? Face down in a swimming pool—that’s the first glimpse we catch of Joseph C. Gillis (William Holden). Quickly establishing the cynical dry wit Wilder specialized in, our expired chronicler guides us back in time to six months prior to fill us in on the details of how he finds himself floating lifeless in some luxurious looking estate’s recreational area. This haunting expose on the ills of Hollywood and how it discards talent at a rapidly callous rate dares us to understand what happens to some people who get what they wish for. Gillis plays a struggling screenwriter that through certain choices in his life scripts his own destruction. (more…)

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Director: John Huston

Producer: Hal B. Willis

Screenwriter: John Huston

Cinematographer: Arthur Edeson

Music: Adolph Deutsch

Studio: Warner Bros 1941

Main Acting: Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor

How did the universe begin? All these years of human evolution and we are still not sure of our specific origins and how life began. Theories and speculation abound, but a clear concrete answer is still beyond us. Perhaps there will never be an explanation that will please or even satisfy anyone. Our origins are like any great mystery, full of clues but maddening when trying to find the proper resolution. Seems like some poetic justice that film noir has similar questions when it comes to a source. Where does it all begin? Is there one movie that can truly hold the key to how the whole movement formed? Does it come neatly packaged in one big bang explosion named The Stranger On The Third Floor or The Maltese Falcon, or has it gestated for many year in many little progressions? Does the answer lie in Germany, where Lang created M and The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse? Perhaps when we look at France and their poetic realism scene, we see a glimmer of the form taking hold? How about looking at our own horror films of the thirties? Maybe even to some silent films that lay immersed in German expressionism that gloriously offer a similar stylized palette? The bottom line is that I don’t believe we can easily find the great clue that will solve our little genre equation. I am as befuddled as the next person in trying to erect that proper piece of the puzzle to completely illuminate the whole. (more…)

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Director and Producer: Howard Hawks

Screenwriters: William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman

Cinematographer: Sidney Hickox

Music: Max Steiner

Studio: Warner Bros 1946

Main Acting: Humphrey Bogart

Phillip Marlowe is one of those iconic figures in film noir that is always associated with the genre. Humphrey Bogart is a popular actor forever recognized as a towering symbol in classic Hollywood. What would it mean if these two cultural titans could be fused together and released to a fascinated public? Well, in 1946 it happened, and we get the bonus of esteemed film director Howard Hawks pulling the strings. No less than three screenwriters worked on adapting Raymond Chandler’s novel of the same name. Everyone has heard of how convoluted and complex the proceedings became, with a slew of characters entering and departing the fray to dizzying effects. One popular story goes that no one had any idea who murders chauffeur Owen Taylor and even the famous author of the original work couldn’t come up with a satisfactory answer. The truth is that if one were looking for a neat and tidy tale of deception, crime, and double crosses, then this picture isn’t it. Move along to something more linear and narratively cohesive. The Big Sleep is all over the place, and is more worthy for the ride than the destination. The mystery is really just an excuse to marvel at the insane chemistry by Bogie and Lauren Bacall as they wise-crack and mouth double entendres all movie long. (more…)

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Director: Edmund Goulding

Producer: George Jessel

Screenwriter: Jules Furthman

Cinematographer: Lee Garmes

Music: Cyril J. Mockridge

Studio: 20th Century Fox 1947

Main Acting: Tyrone Power and Coleen Gray

To kick off the final ten film noirs of the countdown, here are my top ten reasons (in no particular order) why Nightmare Alley deserves the #10 spot.

10. Back when I discussed the I Walk Alone selection, I made the statement that Mike Mazurki was my favorite peripheral noir character who would resurface throughout the genre. Born in what is now the Ukraine, Mike made a habit of appearing in wonderful little roles throughout the classic era. His filmography boasts such impressive turns as Murder My Sweet, Dark City, The Shanghai Gesture, Night And The City, the above mentioned I Walk Alone, and finally, Nightmare Alley. His role as Bruno the strongman is perhaps his best in noir or at least the equal of his work as Moose Malloy and The Strangler. (more…)

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Director: Carol Reed

Producer: Alexander Korda, David O. Selznick, and Carol Reed

Screenwriter: Graham Greene

Cinematographer: Robert Krasker

Music: Anton Karas

Studio: British Lion Pictures 1949

Main Acting: Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, and Orson Welles

It always seemed weird to me that whatever film Orson Welles appeared in which didn’t have his name credited as director would inevitably be rumored as being crafted by him. This, of course, was reserved for pictures where some form of merit was tangible and present. There are many rumors floating around that he was actually responsible for helming Norman Foster’s 1943 film noir Journey Into Fear. Forget that Welles himself told Peter Bogdanovich that he had no part in directing the picture, and that Foster was actually a rather competent filmmaker who would also make Kiss The Blood Off My Hands and Woman On The Run. It seemed that whenever Orson became involved in a project, his numerous admirers would try to give him posthumous credit, evidence be damned. (more…)

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