Beyond the Golden Age: Film Noir Since the ’50s – Bright Lights Film Journal

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Here is an interesting look at the history of noir from writer C. Jerry Kutner. Though I don’t agree with some of what he says, a lot of what he says does make sense. He also talks about some films I have not seen yet and will be taking a look at.  Read the full article below and tell us some of your thoughts on his idea of noir:

 

“There is only Noir!” The Noir Vision To discuss the history of film noir since the ’50s is to fly in the face of conventional studies, which assume the “genre”[…]

Source: Beyond the Golden Age: Film Noir Since the ’50s – Bright Lights Film Journal

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Review: Dillinger

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Dillinger is a film noir from 1945 based on one of, if not the most famous gangster in American history. This film was released 11 years after John Dillinger’s death and is the first film based on his exploits. Though Dillinger’s likeness appeared as fictional characters a few times before this film, including Humphrey Bogart in High Sierra of which the book by the same name was loosely based on Dillinger. Here is a look at that film:

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This is a film that Robert Mitchum wanted to star in, but the studio thought it would be a perfect fit for their new talent,  Lawrence Tierney. I’m not sure if this would have been a better film if it starred Mitchum, but it sure was a good fit for Tierney. In only his second credited role, Dillinger launched Tierney’s star.

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This film starts with Dillinger at a bar with a woman. When the bartender will not take his check, Dillinger excuses himself and holds up a store. He doesn’t make it very far before he is arrested. In prison he soon befriends some criminals with a better track record than himself. He is soon released from prison and comes up with a plan to break his new friends out. Once he is successful at this, the gang goes on a bank robbing spree which would capture the American imagination.

This film is only 70 minutes long, so it has left out key elements of this story. Public Enemy from 2009 starring Johnny Depp is probably the film to watch to get a more accurate historical prospective. That said I would say Tierney’s more brutal portrayal of Dillinger doesn’t hint at any sympathy for this criminal.

Look for Edmund Lowe, Marc Lawrence and the always great Elisha Cook Jr. as members of Dillinger’s gang.

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This isn’t the greatest film noir, but is worth watching for Tierney’s performance. You can see a noir great in the making in this film. This was a successful B-noir at the box office as well as being a censored film at the time of its release. In fact it took two years before it was shown in Chicago.

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Re-watching the Classics: Diabolique

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Diabolique is a classic French film from 1955, loved by fans of foreign film, film noir and horror. This film is directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot based on a book by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. This film revolves around three main characters in a love triangle.

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Christina Delassalle, played by Véra Clouzot, is a wealthy woman who owns a private school. She has a weak heart and is not going to live much longer.

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Nicole Horner, played by Simone Signoret, works at the school and is Christina’s confidant and friend.

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Michel Delassalle, played by Paul Meurisse, is married to Christina and is having an affair with Nicole. He beats both women and makes it well known to Christina that he wants her dead so he can sell the school and , her money.

When the two women cannot put up with Michel any longer, they plot his murder. Over a three day holiday they lure him away from the school, drug him and drowned him. They go back to the school, and throw Michel in the dirty pool. Everybody believes Michel has not left the school over the holiday. Everybody also has seen the two women leave the school for the holiday to go to Nicole’s home, hours away. Nicole has tenants who live up stairs to reinforce the alibi.

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This film is a slow burn and the tension increases with every passing scene. This has one of the best endings in all of film and will not be spoiled for those who have not seen it. The film actually tells you at the end not to talk about the ending so you do not ruin the film for everybody else. I guess spoilers where as common in 1955 as they are today.

This film needs to be seen by everybody who loves film. If you like suspense, thrillers, horror, or film noir, this is a must see.

The film got more notoriety five years later, when star Véra Clouzot died from a heart attack at 46, mirroring her character’s weak heart from this film. The film has made a number of best of lists, mostly in the horror genre, including Time Magazine’s Top 25 Horror films and Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. This film has been remade 4 times, or at least used the same source material, over the years. The best know, is the remake starring Sharon Stone from 1996. This version pales in comparison to the original.

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Favorite Tidbit: If you think this film has a very Hitchcockian feel, you are not alone. Hitchcock himself tried to get the rights to the book, but was to late. This film was also a huge influence on Hitchcock when he made Psycho. It also influenced Robert Bloch when he wrote the book, and Bloch says Diabolique was his all time favorite horror film. In fact when Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac heard Hitchcock wanted to buy the rights to their book, they wrote their next book with Hitchcock in mind. Hitchcock did get the film rights to that novel, it became the film Vertigo.

 

Article: 8 Classic Film Noirs Every Horror Fan Should See

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Patrick Cooper from the horror site Bloody Disgusting has an interesting look at some classic film noir from the prospective of a horror fan. He admits he purposely left out Cat People, but what other classics did he leave off the list that you think horror fans would enjoy? Check out the full article here:

8 Classic Film Noirs Every Horror Fan Should See

Review: Gang War

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Gang War is a little known film from 1958 starring a soon to be big star, Charles Bronson. This film is one of 4 films Bronson would star in, in 1958. The one that has grew to cult status is Roger Corman’s Machine-Gun Kelly. The other 3 have not had as much success over the years.

This film is directed by Gene Fowler Jr. and is based on a book by Ovid Demaris.  This is a short B-movie of only 75 minutes. I am kind of surprised this hasn’t found a cult following itself. Not only for having an early performance from a major star like Bronson, but for it’s fun performances from the rest of the cast.

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Bronson plays a school teacher that is out late one night, getting medicine for his pregnant wife, when he witnesses a man murdered by two thugs. He soon is recruited by the police as a star witness against the two thugs. The thugs work for a major mafia boss, and the police figure they can get the two thugs to snitch on their boss, rather then go to prison for murder. The police promise to keep our hero’s identity secret, but a cop on the mob boss’s payroll tells the papers and the mob our hero’s identity.

The boss sends his ex-pro boxer, bodyguard to scare Bronson’s wife, but he scares her a little to much and kills her. Bronson is out for revenge, but will the mob boss’s other enemies beat him to it?

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Bronson has a good performance in this film, playing it straight and a little subdued. The rest of the cast seemed to know they are in a cheap B-movie film noir and camp it up and go just enough over the top to not be annoying and still be entertaining.

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John Doucette plays our mob boss and he steals the show. With an odd fetish or two and a cadence with his dialog that is fun to listen to. Telling his girlfriend to read a book while he talks about how the Chicago mafia screwed up at the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is priceless.

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Jennifer Holden a year after appearing with Elvis Presley in Jail House Rock, plays our mob boss’s girlfriend. She is the classic all looks and no brains bimbo, or is she? With lines like “Minks don’t look good with bullet holes!” and “Dead men got no dough!” shows she may have more brains then one would think in the end. Holden only appeared in three films, Jail House Rock, then this one and a small role in the western Buchanan Rides Alone(never seen it). I’m not sure what happened after 1958 and her film career, but I enjoyed her campy fun performance in this film.

Larry Gelbman plays the punch drunk ex-boxer Chester. He does a great job of playing the man that lives a breaths for his boss. He’s portrayal of a brain damaged thug is great fun!

Are you a die hard Charles Bronson fan? Are you looking for an entertaining and short B-movie film noir with a decent story and fun performances? This is the movie for you.

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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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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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