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Archive for the ‘Genre Countdown: Noir’ Category

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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Director: Charles Laughton

Producer: Paul Gregory

Screenwriters: James Agee and Charles Laughton

Cinematographer: Stanley Cortez

Music: Walter Schumann

Studio: United Artists 1955

Main Acting: Robert Mitchum. Shelly Winters, and Lillian Gish (more…)

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Director: Alexander Mackendrick

Producer: James Hill

Screenwriters: Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman

Cinematographer: James Wong Howe

Music: Elmer Bernstein

Studio: United Artists 1957

Main Acting: Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis

Film Noir has many merits and virtues in its long dark corner. One is the showcasing of Los Angeles as it lived and breathed in the 40s and 50s. Films like Crime Wave and Sunset Boulevard give us more than a glimpse into how the city looked and felt all those years ago. Since Hollywood is situated on the west coast, it is only natural that the urban sprawl of that area is mostly showcased when technicians and artists took to the streets to do location work. California gets ample time in the cinematic spotlight, or to be more accurate, stylized darkness. As a New Yorker myself, Sweet Smell Of Success is the greatest example of the Big Apple receiving the classic-era noir gaze for me. I get to see my familiar dwellings and haunts placed in a time before I existed. Photographed by cinematographer extraordinaire James Wong Howe, Sweet Smell Of Success is a richly elegant pictorial movie. It is vitalized by its urban environment and made even greater by the dramatic heft of the script. While The Naked City by Jules Dassin also incorporated Manhattan’s rich skyline and urban expanse, the rather rote story prevented me from embracing it beyond the stellar imagery. Mackendrick’s feature hits it out of the park—Yankee Stadium to be specific—on every count and temporarily revitalizes a dying genre before it would dissolve into the black one or two years later. (more…)

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Director: Stanley Kubrick

Producer: James B. Harris

Screenwriters: Jim Thompson and Stanley Kubrick

Cinematographer: Lucien Ballard

Music: Gerald Fried

Studio: United Artists 1956

Main Acting: Sterling Hayden and Coleen Gray

Like most of Stanley Kubrick’s work, form and structure largely shape what makes The Killing so great. A caper/heist film molded in the same vat as John Huston’s earlier The Asphalt Jungle, it sets forth showing every last detail of the robbery from every possible angle. The movie brazenly shifts back and forth in a non-linear fashion with miniscule precision on how the robbery gets accomplished and how things inevitably fall apart. Each character is afforded a rich detailed background and given moments in the spotlight to let us know how they landed in such a precarious position. The examination of these noir characters is successful in opening up multi-dimensional nuances and making them come to life as real people with a desperate need for money and fortune. The character actors in The Killing are a who’s who of film noir. Marie Windsor (The Narrow Margin), Elisha Cook (The Maltese Falcon), Sterling Hayden (The Asphalt Jungle), Coleen Gray (Nightmare Alley) to name just a few, all seem to be cast in roles that Kubrick once saw each of them perform in other films. For most of them, they get to give one more great performance in a classic film noir before the final curtain drops on the whole movement. At times, The Killing feels like a lifetime achievement award for these thespians as they strut their stuff again one last time. The big difference is that this Kubrick film is no consolation prize, instead it breathes with vitality and greatness. In many cases, they are putting together their best performance in a picture that would contend with the greatest in which they have ever been involved. (more…)

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Director: Billy Wilder

Producers: Buddy DeSylva and Joseph Sistrom

Screenwriters: Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder

Cinematographer: John F. Seitz

Music: Miklos Rozsa

Studio: Paramount 1944

Main Acting: Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, and Edward G. Robinson

During my college years, I decided to minor in film history. I had always been fascinated by the process of making movies and the effort that went along with it. In those days, I was not very serious about cinema and considered it less of an art form and more as simple entertainment. I knew nothing about directors, silent film, or pictures made in foreign countries. I was blissfully ignorant of anything that had to do with celluloid. Back then, if you asked me to name my five favorite films (leaving out stuff like The Godfather or Raging Bull) I would of probably rattled off titles like Seven, Heat, The Usual Suspects, Fargo, and LA Confidential. While I didn’t know it yet, I had already started to develop an affinity for film noir-like pictures that would manifest itself further down the road. (more…)

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