Hey the Democratic National Convention started tonight. I love these things, I don’t really know why. I enjoy watching the speeches by the regular folks, the ones the talking heads talk over. That’s why C-Span is the only way to go.
13. Sinbad The Sailor – “Mediocre adventure film with lots of big gestures from Douglas Fairbanks Jr and Anthony Quinn, and a very out of place Maureen O’Hara (!). Fairbanks plays the titular hero with a scene-eating bravado that would make even the most over the top of his father’s contemporaries cringe. There’s some reasonably interesting action, but not enough of it. Alexander Korda’s The Thief Of Bagdad did all this much better seven years earlier, with believable acting and excellent special effects as well.”
12. Railroaded! – Decent enough, but this Anthony Mann noir didn’t strike me as anything special. It does have Hugh Beaumont in it, which is cool. John Ireland robs a bookie, then frames a guy for the killings that resulted from it. Hugh Beaumont’s the cop who doesn’t quite by the fix. It’s got a bit of the nastiness you like to see in a low end noir, but Mann still seems to be figuring things out here.
11. Gentlemen’s Agreement – A film designed to win Oscars disguised as a politely liberal examination of the evils of upper class anti-Semitism. Hooray for Hollywood. Gregory Peck plays a journalist who pretends to be Jewish for a story and learns that it kinda sucks.
10. Dark Passage – There appears to be some love out there for this Delmer Daves film, so maybe I just missed something, but it didn’t hold my interest at all. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall team up for the third time, with he playing an escaped convict out to prove he didn’t kill his wife. The opening third of the film is shot from his point of view (we never see what he looks like before plastic surgery turns him into Bogart), a device that doesn’t ever seem to work, and doesn’t here either. It just feels fake and gimmicky.
9. The Bachelor And The Bobby-Soxer – “Screwball comedy that isn’t very funny, though it stars Cary Grant as a celebrity caught between two sisters: teenaged Shirley Temple and judge Myrna Loy. Irving Reis is no Howard Hawks.” Pretty painless, as comedies go, but these actors deserve better.
8. Born To Kill – Claire Trevor plays a recent divorcee who becomes the object of obsession of a sociopathic killer played by Lawrence Tierney. Tierney, on the run for a murder in Reno, tries to get closer to Trevor by marrying her adopted sister, a rich heiress. Trevor’s got her own racket going as she’s trying to marry a rich guy for his money, but goes ahead and has an affair with Tierney as well. The body count piles up as they realize a private detective is on their trail. And somewhere in there, the great Elisha Cook Jr shows up as Tierney’s best friend. Directed by Robert Wise, it’s not as good as his The Set-Up, but it’s still a fun, twisted little noir.
7. T-Men – Another Anthony Mann noir from this year, this one is much more interesting. It’s a semi-documentary, or at least documentary-style, procedural about Treasury agents tracking down a counterfeiting ring. The great cinematographer John Alton gives a slick noir style to the location shooting, anticipating Jules Dassin’s The Naked City, perhaps the best example of this sub-genre, made the next year.
6. Crossfire – A hell of a lot more interesting an indictment of anti-Semitism than Gentleman’s Agreement is this Edward Dymtryk noir about GIs embroiled in a murder. The cast is excellent, lead by a dream pairing of Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan. If only they’d had a part for Sterling Hayden. Less pious and much more angry than the big Oscar winner, it uses the classical noir style very well, but doesn;t really experiment with it the way some of the other noirs this year do.
5. Odd Man Out – Carol Reed directs this very hallucinatory noir with lots of blacks and shadows and crazy artists and snow and nighttime. IRA agent James Mason kills a guy, is wounded and has to make his way out of Dublin with entire British Army after him. An improvement on John Ford’s similarly themed The Informer, it’s just as poetic, but not nearly as sentimental. Mason’s really great, as he usually is.
4. Monsieur Verdoux – “A terrific late Chaplin film about a serial killer just trying to support his family in the years before the Depression. He charms old ladies, marries them and then inherits their money after murdering them. Totally lacking in the sentimentality that colors far too many of Chaplin’s films, it also avoids the nostalgia of the otherwise great Limelight or the political aggressiveness of The Great Dictator. Chaplin’s too old for the best of his physical comedy, but the movie still manages some moments of hilarity, especially in his interactions with Martha Raye as his most obnoxious wife.”
3. The Lady From Shanghai – Orson Welles’s craziest film appropriately ends in a funhouse Hall Of Mirrors, as that’s exactly what it does to the film noir genre: twist and distort and exaggerate it almost to the point of parody at the very peak of its popularity. Welles plays a seaman who gets hired by Rita Hayworth to work on her yacht. He witlessly gets caught up in an near incomprehensible web of murders and double crossings and a courtroom scene out of a Bob Dylan song (“Drifter’s Escape”?). As wonderfully weird as any movie I’ve seen, it nonetheless lacks the weight of the slightly more restrained Touch Of Evil, my pick as both Welles’s and noir’s greatest film.
2. Out Of The Past – The other contender for that Greatest Noir title is this masterpiece by Jacques Tourneur. Robert Mitchum plays a former private eye, hiding out as a rural gas station attendant who gets sucked back into his old life. He’d been hired to track down Kirk Douglas’s girlfriend, Jane Greer, with whom he quite naturally fell in love instead. She turned out to be quite fatale, of course, and somebody got killed. Now Douglas and Greer are back together and trying to frame and/or kill Mitchum. It’s textbook noir, with snappy dialogue, chiaroscuro lighting, convoluted plot, existentialist post-war dread, etc etc. All those elements are perfected here, along with great performances from the three leads: Mitchum was never better, managing to convey both defiance and resignation simultaneously.
1. Black Narcissus – Deborah Kerr leads a group of nuns into the Himalayas to establish a convent/school/hospital. The cliffside location of the convent, along with a constant wind and thin atmosphere seem to drive all the nuns more or less nuts. Kathleen Byron’s Sister Ruth is the nuttiest of them all. She becomes obsessed with the local British agent (David Farrar, whose clothes reflect a striking ambivalence to season and weather), leading to the twin horrors of makeup and homicidal bell-ringing. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger shot the film almost entirely on stages in England, and the art direction is nothing less than stunning. jack Cardiff’s Technicolor cinematography is top-notch, the blacks, whites and grays of the nuns constantly being overwhelmed by the lush greens, blues and reds of the locals and the local environment (green is the dominant color of Kerr’s flashbacks: Irish fields, an emerald necklace; red the color of Byron’s psychosis: her hair, dress and lipstick). It’s an extremely tough choice for the top spot this year, as both these two films are among my Top 40 or so movies. But Black Narcissus is a Metro Classic, so that’s got to give it an edge, right?
Here’s what I haven’t Seen, there’s a lot more noir out there from this year:
Miracle On 34th Street
The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
The Bishop’s Wife
The Paradine Case
The Angel & The Badman
Kiss Of Death
Qui des Orfevres
Lady In The Lake
13 Rue Madeline
The Woman On The Beach
One Wonderful Sunday
The Record Of A Tenement Gentleman
The Man I Love
And the Awards:
The End: Black Narcissus
Oscar: Gentleman’s Agreement
The End: Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, Black Narcissus
Oscar: Elia Kazan, Gentleman’s Agreement
The End: Robert Mitchum, Out Of The Past and Crossfire
Oscar: Ronald Coleman, A Double Life
The End: Deborah Kerr, Black Narcissus
Oscar: Loretta Young, The Farmer’s Daughter
The End: Everett Sloane, The Lady from Shanghai
Oscar: Edmund Gwenn, Miracle On 34th Street
The End: Kathleen Byron, Black Narcissus
Oscar: Celeste Holm, Gentleman’s Agreement
The End: Charles Chaplin, Monsieur Verdoux
Oscar: Sidney Sheldon, The Bachelor And The Bobby-Soxer
The End: Daniel Mainwaring, Out Of The Past
Oscar: George Seaton, Miracle On 34th Street
The End: Viola Lawrence, The Lady From Shanghai
Oscar: Francis D. Lyon and Robert Parrish, Body And Soul
Black And White Cinematography:
The End: John Alton, T-Men
Oscar: Guy Green, Great Expectations
The End: Jack Cardiff, Black Narcissus
Oscar: Jack Cardiff, Black Narcissus
The End: Odd Man Out
Oscar: Great Expectations
Color Art Direction:
The End: Black Narcissus
Oscar: Black Narcissus
The End: Out Of The Past
The End: T-Men
Oscar: The Bishop’s Wife
The End: Charlie Chaplin, Monsieur Verdoux
Oscar: Miklós Rózsa, A Double Life
The End: Monsieur Verdoux
Oscar: Mother Wore Tights