Review: Kiss of Death

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As you can see, when this film came out it was the big introduction of Coleen Gray. This was Gray’s first film credit(she appeared in three other films in tiny roles and did not get a credit), but if you ask any film noir buff “Who’s first movie is Kiss of Death?” Coleen Gray would not be most people’s answer. More on this later.

This film is from director Henry Hathaway and was released in 1947. It stars Victor Mature as ex-convict, Nick Bianco. This film opens with a tense jewelry heist, where Nick is shot in the leg and caught. His 3 partners get away. Nick will not rat on his partners and takes the full rap for the heist. When Assistant D.A. Louis D’Angelo, played by Brian Donlevy, offers him a deal so he can be with his wife and two daughters, Nick does not take it.

While in a holding cell, he meets Tommy Udo. Udo is played by Richard Widmark and he steals the show. Udo is a violent, evil man that feels he can get away with anything. Udo is a laughing psycho that can not be soon forgotten. Yes, he will remind you of Batman’s Joker in more then a few ways. Joker is not based on Udo and was actually created several years before Kiss of Death, maybe Widmark was influenced by the Joker?

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When Nick’s wife commits suicide and his daughters are put in a home, Nick decides he needs to rat out his partners and get out of prison, so he can take care of his kids. Nick turns to Nettie, played by Colleen Gray for romance and to put his family back together. Yes Widmark deserves all the accolades he receives for this film, but let us not forget how good Gray is in this. Gray is one of my favorite anti-femme fatales of the the classic era. She always played the good girl or the girl that saves the hero, and she did it well.

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Nick is released from prison, but must become an informant for the D.A.. He has no problem doing this, putting his family first and tries to put his criminal past behind him. Unfortunately Nick’s target is Udo and he is in a bad position with little to no way out.

This film is very dark, with one of the most violent scenes in all of film history when Udo tosses a wheel chair bound woman down a flight of stairs.

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This film could have been way darker if the censors didn’t get involved. Patricia Morison played Nick’s wife, but all of her scenes are cut from the final film. As we know Nick’s wife commits suicide early in the film. What we do not see is Morison’s character is actually raped first and then commits suicide. Both of these scenes are cut by the censors. Also the end of the film was much darker in the original story. I will not give anymore information on this, but after you see the film, you can see how easy the end could have been much darker.

This film is a must see for all film noir fans. It is a dark tale that you need to see to appreciate.

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Favorite Tidbit: This film has been remade twice: 1st as a western called The Fiend Who Walked the West in 1958 and then as a neo noir in 1995 starring David Caruso, Samuel L. Jackson and Nicolas Cage. I have seen the 1995 version, but it has been so long ago I can not compare the two films. This might make for an interesting double feature some day soon.

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Review: Fury

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Fritz Lang’s first film in Hollywood from 1936, won him instant praise, with a number of award nominations. As Lang is one of the best film noir directors, he is also one of the most influential pre-film noir directors.  This film is no exception. A dark story with some interesting cinematography make this film as close to a film noir as you get before 1940.

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The film stars Sylvia Sidney,who Lang would not make the film without, and Spencer Tracy. It is based on a story by Norman Krasna. The story is loosely based on a real life incident in California from 1933, where two kidnapping suspects where pulled from a jail and lynched by vigilantes.

This film starts with Katherine Grant(Sidney) and Joe Wilson(Tracy) planning on getting married, but need more money first. Katherine leaves on a train for a better job. Joe works his way up and buys a gas station. After a year he raises enough money to by a car and go get Katherine, so they could be married. Along the way Joe is pulled over by a small town police officer and is questioned about a kidnapping. He of course has nothing to do with it, but evidence says he might be guilty. The small town is soon a buzz with news of the prisoner. A mob forms and soon burns down the jail house with Joe in it. Is the mob guilty of killing an innocent man? Will Katherine get justice?

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This is an interesting morality tale of justice and society as only Lang can tell it. This parallels M in some degree with a mob of people seeking out their own justice. Where the suspect is guilty in M and saved, the suspect is innocent in Fury and not saved from the actions of the violent mob. Where M ends, Fury is just beginning. The story continues with what happens to the mob after their actions.

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This film is worth watching for many reasons. This film foreshadows what is to come in the 1940’s classic film noir era. It is also shows Lang’s great storytelling talent is universal, no matter what country or language is used. A must see for all film historians, film buffs, film noir fans and of course Lang fans.

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Favorite Tidbit: Rainbow, Joe’s dog, was played by Terry. Terry would go onto even greater fame a few years later when she played Toto in The Wizard of Oz. Not a bad couple films for a little pup.

Book Review: Quarry’s Deal by Max Allan Collins

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Thanks to the new Cinemax TV series and Hard Case Crime, the first 5 books in the Quarry Series is becoming available again. This is the third book in the series and the fourth one I have read so far. This book has just recently been re-released and the next one will come out next month.

This book is as all of the Quarry books is told in the first person from Quarry’s point of view. It is fun to learn what is going on as our hero does. Quarry is a professional hitman who used to work for the Broker. If you have read the first two books you know what happens there. The last book is called Quarry’s List, and without giving away any spoilers, Quarry’s List leads him to a woman that goes by Ivy or Lu or Glenna. Lu is a professional assassin as well and Quarry has tracked her down to a swinging singles apartment complex in Florida. Soon it looks like Lu is on her way to the Mid-West and Quarry is on her tail to see what her assignment is. Does Lu know Quarry is also a professional killer? Will Quarry figure out who her partner is and who her target is? Will he stop her?

Max Allan Collins does it again with this book. This book is pure 60’s pulp fun! With all the pop culture references and Collins’ great turn of words makes for a fun read with a good story. Lu is a bit of a femme fatale, or is she? Her friend Ruthy is definitely a man eater.

I truly love all the Quarry books so far and cannot wait to start the next one. I hope the television series is as good as the books. If it is, I believe a lot of people will discover this series and even prompt Collins to write more of these books.

 

Article: Dennis Lehane drops into St. Petersburg for a riveting reading

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Here is a short article about Dennis Lehane at a reading in St. Petersburg. It talks about what Lehane is working on right now, including a new book and a couple television series. I don’t know about you, but I’m always excited for new projects from this man. Read the full article here for all the details:

http://www.tbtpics.tampabay.com/blogs/media/dennis-lehane-drops-into-st-petersburg-for-a-riveting-reading/2262592

Article: 20 Great Movies That Had Major Influences On Film Noir

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Woodson Hughes has written and put together a great list of pre-noir films. Sure we see some of the same films we would expect to see in a list like this. Ripe with Fritz Lang and Jean Renoir films. Hughes brought up some films I was not aware of, but what I really liked was his information about these films. He looks at the authors of early noir as well as the directors and actors that brought film noir to light. I highly recommend reading this article and not just look at the movies he lists, there is a lot of great information. All those that want to learn more about film noir should read this. Oh yeah, the list actually has 35 films, not 20. Click the link in blue:

20 Great Movies That Had Major Influences On Film Noir

Book Review: Dead Harvest by Chris F. Holm

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Chris F. Holm is a noir author that has written for many mystery and noir based magazines like Thug Lit and Beat to a Pulp. This is my first time reading him and this book is something a bit different for noir fans. Dead Harvest is the first book in The Collector Series about Sam, a collector of souls. With a mix of noir, fantasy, religious themes and horror it makes for a fun read.

The book takes place in modern day New York around a job Sam is sent on. This book also flashes back 70 years to the origin story of how Sam became a Collector through out the book. Sam is sent to New York to collect the soul of a young girl who has murdered her family. When he goes to do his task, he finds the girl is an innocent and has been framed. If he takes an innocent soul, a war between angels and demons would be started. Sam will do whatever it will take to save the girl and stop a war.

As I read this book it reminded me a lot of Constantine. I have never read any of the Hellblazer comics, but enjoyed the film and watched the short lived television series. Though there are many differences between Constantine and The Collector, they both are dark takes on religion where there is more of a gray area between those from Hell and Heaven rather then a straight up good versus evil.

This book is a good story with a mix of genre fiction that will satisfy a lot of fans. If you are looking for something a little different in noir, check out this book, that is why I did.

Review: Cape Fear(1962)

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Cape Fear is a late film noir or early neo noir from 1962, brought to the screen by Gregory Peck. He brought the book The Executioners by pulp and noir great John D. MacDonald to the screen. He didn’t like the title, The Executioners, and from 1960’s marketing perspective, Peck thought films named after places did well at the box office. So he looked along the East Coast for a name and he came across Cape Fear. Peck’s company backed this film and it actually lost a lot of money on its release. The film was to violent and tackled subjects that movie goers didn’t want to see. Luckily when Martin Scorsese remade this film in 1991, Peck still owned the rights. He made a tidy sum on licencing of the film to Scorsese.

Honestly I put off watching this classic for years. After seeing the 1991 version I could not see how this one could compare. I mean, how could anybody be better then Robert De Niro and Scorsese?

I finally broke down and watched this classic and I’m glad I did! Directed by J. Lee Thompson I had low expectations. Thompson may not be Scorsese, but he did a damn good job.

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This story is a classic tale of a good man pushed to the brink by a bad man. Will the good man have to do illegal, evil things to rid himself of the bad man? Will good prevail over bad?

Gregory Peck plays lawyer, Sam Bowden. A upstanding man of the community with a beautiful wife and daughter. At first, I questioned the character being a lawyer. I thought he prosecuted or defended Max Cady, and that is why Cady hated him. He is actually an eye witness to a crime and his testimony put Cady in prison. So if Bowden is a witness, why does he have to be a lawyer? Well as the film progressed I understood why. Bowden takes the law very seriously, because that’s his job. If Bowden was in another profession, I think the story would have progressed differently.

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Cady is played by Robert Mitchum and is one of those performances everybody needs to see! Cady is an ex-con who just got out of prison for assaulting a young girl and was seen in the act by Bowden. If it wasn’t for Bowden, he would have got away with it, and not spent the last 8 years in prison. His life would not have been ruined and he is looking to get revenge. Cady uses his time in prison wisely, and studies law. He know just what he can say and do, according to the law and Bowden can’t do anything about it.

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The clash of good and evil starts with the law being the game. Look for Polly Bergen as Bowden’s wife and Martin Balsam as the Police Chief. My favorite small role in this film goes to Telly Savalas as the hardboiled P.I. Bowden hires. Savalas tried for the role of Cady but lost out to Mitchum and received this role instead.

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It has been years since I have seen the remake of this film, but after watching this I’m going to have to watch them back to back to see who played Cady better, De Niro or Mitchum. I remember De Niro being great in this, but Mitchum’s portrayal is legendary.  Some Sunday afternoon, I will need to watch these back to back and look at a film vs film on these two. Maybe I will read the book first and look at a book vs film vs film, now that would be interesting.

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This is a must see classic for all fans of film and especially those that are fans of noir. This is a very dark film from the early 1960’s and pushed into some new terrain for film in general.