Review: Tension

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Tension is a classic film noir from 1949, directed by John Berry based on a story by John D. Klorer. Both had great movie careers, but neither did much in the noir genre outside this film.

The film starts with a great monologue by Barry Sullivan as a homicide detective explaining Tension. This starts the movie out with a bang and sets the tone for the film.

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The plot is about married couple Warren and Claire Quimby, played by Richard Basehart and Audrey Totter. Claire treats Warren horribly and everybody around him sees it. She is cheating on him to boot and this is the last straw for Warren. Warren gets the idea of changing his look and starts a new life as a traveling salesperson. Complete with a new apartment in a different part of town. His plan is to kill Claire’s new lover as his new identity and disappear, going back to his real life with his wife.

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The problem with this plan is Warren falls in love with his new neighbor, Mary, played by Cyd Charisse. Will he just continue happily ever after with his new girlfriend? Will he go through with the murder? Will he be able to leave his wife?

Audrey Totter plays a great femme fatale in this picture. She is evil to the core and will do anything she thinks will make her life better or happier. I don’t think she could ever find happiness no matter what happens. Cyd Charisse plays the exact opposite to Totter. Charisse will do anything in her power to protect Warren, even though she doesn’t understand what is going on and what Warren has gotten himself into. Even their hair sets them apart as total opposites.

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Richard Basehart’s Warren is the bumbling weakling as the real struggle comes down to two strong women, and these two steal the show here. Barry Sullivan is also very good as the detective that maybe smarter then he appears.

Tension is a bit of a hidden classic film noir gem. It is a good film worth your time, even if the plot sometimes doesn’t seem to be very logical. Totter is a great example of a femme fatale from this time period and is worth watching the film for her performance along.

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Dash’s Crib – Where modern crime fiction was born

A look at where it all started.

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by Eddie Muller

[John Huston’s film version of Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. Turner Classic Movies presents screenings Feb. 21 and 24 at theaters around the country. For more, click here and for the line-up of TCM Big Screen Classics.  And, as is our policy, look for extras after the article-ed.]

The first time I walked into Sam Spade’s apartment I thought my head would explode.

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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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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.