Review: You Can’t Get Away with Murder

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You Can’t Get Away with Murder is a pre-film noir from 1939 directed by Lewis Seiler.  This film is based on a play by Lewis E. Lawes that originally opened in 1937.  Lewis is an interesting story, he was the Warden of Sing Sing from 1920 through 1941. He took the stories of his inmates and used them for a radio show, books and plays, some of those stories turned into a number of films in the 1930’s, this being one. Lawes used some of his proceeds from his entertainment ventures to improve the prison.

This film stars an up and coming star that would be become a pretty big deal in the years to come, Humphrey Bogart. Bogart does what he does best here, he is a gangster who is tough as they come and pretty smart too.

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This story starts with Frank Wilson,played by Bogart, taking Johnnie Stone under his wing. Johnnie is a young impressionable kid from the neighborhood who looks up to Wilson. Johnnie is played by Billy Halop from the Dead End Kids. Johnnie’s sister is Madge, played by Gale Page, who wants to get Johnnie on the straight and narrow. Madge is dating a cop, played by Harvey Stephens, who is also trying to help with Johnnie.

Johnnie and Wilson hold up a gas station and get away with it. When they get back to town they meet up again. When Johnnie steals the cop’s gun one night when the cop is out with his sister, he ends up giving it to Wilson. Wilson robs a pawn shop, when a struggle ensues Wilson shoots the owner with the cop’s gun. He leaves the gun to frame the cop, but Johnnie knows the truth. Wilson turns himself and Johnnie in for the gas station robbery to take the hit off of the murder. While the duo is in Sing Sing, the cop is convicted of the murder and sentenced to death.

Can Wilson keep Johnnie quiet about the murder? Will Johnnie be able to tell the truth and save his sister’s boyfriend?

Look for Henry Travers as Pops, the prison librarian and Johnnie’s friend while in Sing Sing. Travers would join Bogart again the next year in High Sierra, playing Pa. I would guess Travers may have been type cast.

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This film is very noir in story if not style, with Johnnie being stuck in the middle, basically innocent and in way over his head. With out giving away any spoilers, let’s just say Johnnie may be doomed from the beginning like all good film noir protagonists. Bogart of course adds to the noir feel of the film as well. This will not make any top ten Bogart film lists, but if you are a fan you will enjoy this film. This is a good B movie film noir, even if it was made a year too early. A short film worth your time.

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Book Review: Chance by Kem Nunn

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Chance by Kem Nunn tells the story of Dr. Eldon Chance, a psychiatrists in the San Francisco area. Chance is on a downward spiral starting with a recent divorce and on top of that the I.R.S. is auditing him. To help get himself out of debt, he looks to sell some antique furniture. Turns out he can get more for the furniture if big D uses his wood working skills to make it something it quite isn’t.

Big D is a large man with a unique set of skills. He can work with furniture as well as wield a knife with deadly skill. He is a master of urban warfare, knowing where to be and when to be there.

Chance also gets involved with a femme fatale with multiple personality disorder. Chance’s love interest happens to be married to a crooked cop. You mix these four characters and you have a crazy noir trip through the Bay Area.

Kem Nunn is known for his surfer noir books and this is a bit of a departure for him, though we do get a minor character towards the end that is a surfer.

This book was released in 2014 and soon after Nunn started working on a screen adaption. Originally looking at a movie deal, it soon switched to a television series. Scoring major talent behind the camera for this series also attracted a major star for the character of Chance. Hugh Laurie will be playing Chance in a guaranteed two season deal. After a bidding war for the distribution rights to the series, Hulu won. The first season will follow the story ark from the book, not sure if season 2 will see a book first or if it will be an original story for the series itself. Nunn will be the writer either way. You can read all the details about the new show that will start filming soon here:

‘Chance’ Drama Series Starring Hugh Laurie Lands 2-Season Order At Hulu

This is a good book and I can see potential for a great television series. Noir fans should check out this novel and look forward to another great noir series coming to a television or computer near you soon.

 

News: Margot Robbie Set To Headline Vaughn Stein’s Noir Thriller Terminal

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One of the most popular new talents in Hollywood is ready to take on noir! Margot Robbie has just signed to headline the new film Terminal. This will be writer director Vaughn Stein first feature film, but he has worked as an Assistant Director on a number of television shows and big Hollywood films. Sounds like an interesting movie, read all the details here:

Margot Robbie Set To Headline Vaughn Stein’s Noir Thriller Terminal

Review: Marshland or La isla mínima

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Marshland is a Spanish neo-noir for 2014, recently released on DVD in the United States. This film is written by Alberto Rodríguez and Rafael Cobos and also directed by Alberto Rodríguez. This film takes place in Southern Spain in a poor community in the Marshland. The story takes place in 1980, where there was a lot of political turmoil taking place, with the working class on strike, demanding higher wages.

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Two homicide detectives are sent into the small town to solve the disappearance of two young sisters.  Juan, played by Javier Gutiérrez, is an older, more hardened detective. He realizes his best days are behind him and is happy to finish out his career in his current position. He also has some health issues and may not have long to live.

Pedro, played by Raúl Arévalo, is a young and upcoming detective with a lot of talent for the job. He is sent on this case as punishment for writing a letter to the editor of the paper expressing his political beliefs. The higher ups are not happy with him for this. If he can solve this case in a timely manner, he can get himself back on track for his career goals.

Shortly after arriving on the case, our duo is given some clues that lead to the bodies of our sisters. Soon a few cold cases come to light that show this may be a serial killer. With a slew of local characters adding some great spice to this film and some amazing cinematography this is a well made film.

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I really enjoyed this film and think most noir fans will too. This film really reminded me a lot of True Detective season 1. This is due more to atmosphere then anything. The setting of the film reminded me of the locations in the South where True Detective takes place. There are similarities in both sets of detectives as well. The plot covers some of the same topics, but the story is totally unique. I’m not sure if Rodríguez was inspired by the American television series or not. Filming of this movie had to be underway when True Detective started airing on H.B.O. so I can’t imagine it was a big influence, but the coincidences are uncanny.

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This film is for fans of foreign cinema and those who like a good neo noir. I would also recommend this to those who loved the first season of True Detective. No this is not as brilliant as that series, but it is very good and has the same feel.

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Review: The Long Memory

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The Long Memory is a British classic film noir from 1953. The film is directed by Robert Hamer based on a book by Howard Clewes.

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The main plot of this film is nothing new, Phillip Davidson, played by John Mills is falsely accused of murder and sent to prison for 12 years. When he gets out he seeks justice on those that framed him. The added spice to this plot comes from its smaller characters. Fay, played by  Elizabeth Sellars, is Davidson’s girlfriend at the time of the murder. Davidson and Fay go to a ship to meet Fay’s Father. The Father is smuggling people out to sea for a small price. Boyd, played by John Chandos is the brains behind this scheme. When Boyd and the newest person needing smuggled get in a fight on the boot, Boyd kills the man. Davidson tries to stop Boyd, but in the scuffle the boat catches on fire. Fay and her Father get off the boat, along with one of Boyd’s thugs. Davidson is rescued, but when the body is found he is accused of murdering Boyd, though the body belongs to the man needing smuggled.

Fay decides to testify against her boyfriend to protect her father. During the 12 years Davidson is in prison, Fay marries a police officer, Bob Lowther played by John McCallum.

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This sets up many questions to be answered, Will Lowther do anything to protect his wife or will he do what is right? Will Davidson get his revenge on Fay? Did Boyd survive the fire on the boat?

Along the way Davidson helps Ilse, played by Eva Bergh. Ilse has had a horible life, loosing her parents at 12 and forced to work at a criminal’s hangout as the barmaid where she sufferers even more at the hands of evil men. Ilse has little to do with the main plot, but adds a bit more grit to this tale and is played wonderfully by Bergh. She was one of the high points for me in this film. Ilse isn’t the mirror image of Fay in this like we see so often in film noir. Fay isn’t exactly an evil femme fatale and Ilse isn’t the good girl from the right side of the tracks either.

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This film is worth watching and has its charm, it is a pretty decent and fun classic film noir to watch. Though it does have some originality and is well filmed it is by no means an all time great film noir, but does deserve to find more of an audience among noir fans.

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Article: ON THE PLEASURES OF FILM NOIR & BUD AND THE “BS”

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Here is a nice little article about Bud Elder’s love affair with film noir over at The Digital Bits. This article also has a lot of information on recent film noir releases on DVD and Blu-Ray and where they are available. A fun little read about film noir and lots of links to help you spend your money. Enjoy:

http://www.thedigitalbits.com/columns/view-from-the-cheap-seats/film-noir-bud-and-the-bs

Review: Flaxy Martin

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Flaxy Martin is directed by Richard L. Bare, not exactly a well known director. He looks to mostly have done educational short films and graduated to television with only a couple of feature films along the way. This story comes from David Lang who mostly wrote screenplays for television westerns. This is not exactly a dream team for film noir.

That being said, this is a pretty damn good little film noir! Flaxy Martin is maybe one of the best overlooked femme fatales I have come across. She is beautiful and is playing both sides to get herself what she wants. Virginia Mayo plays Flaxy very well, with a hint of a grin every time things work out like she planned.

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Flaxy is dating the brilliant lawyer Walter Colby, played by Zachary Scott. Colby is a good guy that believes in the law. He is an honest man, but is under the thumb of gangster,
Hap Richie, played by Douglas Kennedy. Unbeknownst to Colby, Flaxy is secretly dating Hap too.

Colby gets one of Hap’s goons off for murder when an eye witness shows up with an alibi for the goon. Colby finds out after he gets the killer off that the eye witness was paid by Hap to lie. When the eye witness is killed to keep her quiet, the evidence points towards Flaxy. Colby decides to take the rap for the murder to save his girl and feels he can defend himself and win. Colby gets double crossed when an eye witness sees Colby with the dead girl the night of the murder(another paid eye witness from Hap).

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Will Colby figure out he got double crossed by Flaxy? Will Flaxy double cross both of her guys and get away with some cash and a new life? Will Hap come out on top by framing both of them?

As  Virginia Mayo plays the ultimate blond femme fatale bombshell, Dorothy Malone plays the opposite, a brunette good girl. Colby must choose between both of these ladies in more then one way.

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The highlight of this film for classic noir fans is Elisha Cook Jr., who plays a pivotal role as one of Hap’s thugs. I can’t believe his name didn’t even make it on the poster, but any fan of Cook will enjoy another fun performance.

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This classic film noir may not have the big names behind the camera, but the faces we see on screen make this film worth watching. This is a bit of a hidden gem, worth checking out. The story isn’t the greatest, but Mayo is great as the title character and should be discussed more often when the subject of femme fatales come up. Scott is solid as ever and Cook is always worth watching.

Review: The American Friend

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The American Friend or Der amerikanische Freund is a neo noir from 1977 by director Wim Wenders. Wenders wanted to do a film based on a Patricia Highsmith book. His first choice was The Cry of the Owl, but when the rights to that book were already taken, Highsmith offered him Ripley’s Game, a new Ripley book that was not published yet.

I still have not read a Highsmith book, I know, I know…I hope to soon. I do have to say I don’t get the Ripley character at all in the films I have seen. I have seen Purple Noon, which I found interesting, and my favorite film with the character, it is also the first one. I need to re-watch Ripley’s Game and The Talented Mr. Ripley because it has been over a decade since I have seen them, but remember being underwhelmed by them when I originally saw them.

I was really looking forward to seeing American Friend after reading all the great reviews and seeing it is highly rated by most. If you can’t already tell I was not a huge fan of this film. I will not say it is a bad film, it has a lot going for it, I guess my expectations going in may have been to high.

Dennis Hopper is good and has a very unique take on the Ripley character and Bruno Ganz is very good as the innocent man that gets sucked into Ripley’s world.

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The story starts out with Ripley having a dead artist, who isn’t really dead, paint new pictures which Ripley sells at auction. Jonathan(Bruno Ganz), is a framer who thinks something is a miss with these paintings. Ripley takes offense to this and goes into a scheme to convince Jonathan he is dying and should take an assassination job to make money for his family before he dies.

There is a lot of cool things going on in this film, like a number of great directors playing criminals throughout the movie. The locations are interesting and fun to see. I liked Ganz’s internal battle on what he should do. I didn’t get Ripley’s choices all the time, and I don’t think Ripley thought out a lot of what he does, maybe he is too much of a real psychopath and isn’t supposed to make sense all the time. I wanted to know more about why these hits on the mafia were happening. How did Ripley and his partners find out about these hits?

This maybe one of those films that are better on a second or third viewing, or after you read the books it is based on. I think fans of the Ripley character will enjoy this film. Like I said this is not a bad film and worth a viewing, but I did not find it as good as I had hoped it would be.

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Francine Prose wrote a great review of this film and obviously loved it much more then I did. After reading this review, I would like to go back and re-watch it and hope I find it more entertaining then the first time.

https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/3866-the-american-friend-little-lies-and-big-disasters

 

An all-star team of blacklistees made this classic noir—and then fled Hollywood

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Here is an interesting look behind He Ran All The Way by Noel Murray. I learned a little more about this film from this article:

http://www.avclub.com/article/all-star-team-blacklistees-made-classic-noirand-th-231519

You can also check out my look at the film from a few months ago here:

https://everythingnoir.com/2015/06/08/review-he-ran-all-the-way/