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.

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Film vs. Film: M(1931) vs. M(1951)

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Here we look at the German Expressionist all time classic M and the 1951 Hollywood film noir remake M. A story about a serial killer of children and vigilante justice. Can a re-make hold a candle to one of the all-time greatest films ever? Well let’s step into the cage for an all out noir brawl.

Round 1: Direction and Cinematography

M from 1931 is directed by one of the all time greats, Fritz Lang. Even Lang has said this is his favorite film of his career. Released in 1931, this film broke new ground in so many ways. This movie also used filming techniques that all film noir would crib from over 9 years later.

M from 1951 is directed by one of film noir’s favorites as well, Joseph Losey. This was Losey’s third film and one he didn’t want to do. He didn’t figure he could re-make a work by Lang, but was broke and took the job. He would go on to make many more classics after this film. The cinematography of this film is very good looking. The street scenes of Los Angeles are a great time capsule to see. Some of the scenes might even be more creepy then the original, like the mannequins scene. Though there is nothing wrong with Losey’s direction, we are talking about Lang and one of the most influential films ever, so we need to give this round to the original. M(1931) 1-M(1951) 0

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Round 2: Screenplay 

M(1931) is written by Fritz Lang and his then wife Thea von Harbou. They really wanted to make a film about the most horrifying criminal they could imagine. Loosely based on a real case of a serial killer targeting children, Lang and Harbou could not think of anything more scary to make a film about. Still to this day, this subject mater is fairly taboo in film and television. Can you imagine how shocking this story would have been in 1931?

M(1951) Leo Katcher, Norman Reilly Raine and Waldo Salt took the original script and revised it for an American setting and audience. They added another dimension to the script with the drunk lawyer character played by Luther Adler. They did take away the element of the beggars union hunting to find the killer, which did take a bit away from the story.

I have to go with the original again in this round. Though the remake made some interesting changes, those changes are not enough or good enough to sway the judges. M(1931)2-M(1951)0

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Round 3: Male Lead

Peter Lorre became a household name around the world from this film. He is so scary, yet you feel sorry for him at the same time, it is a brilliant performance from one of the all time greats.

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David Wayne steps into some big shoes and bravely does the character totally different then Lorre. It is a great performance where he actually seems a bit scarier then Lorre in a few scenes. Maybe the scariest part of Wayne’s performance is that he looks a lot more normal then Lorre when he is hunting for his next victim.

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This round has to go to Lorre, though I liked Wayne’s performance. Lorre just has that it factor that makes him so watchable in almost anything. M(1931)3-M(1951)0

Round 4: Supporting Cast

The original film used real life criminals and the beggars had some amazingly interesting looks. Small people, men with wooden peg legs, and the blind are very interesting to watch.

The 1951 version has Raymond Burr, Howard Da Silva, Jim Backus and Norman Lloyd just to name a few of the cops and gangsters that appear in this film. Though this is a close one, but I have to give the round to the remake. M(1931)3-M(1951)1

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Though the remake showed a bit of brilliance in the last round, the fight goes to the original by a landslide. Though both films are good in their own right and the remake is a very good film noir the original is a masterpiece. Both are worth your time to seek out and watch. Now that a remastered version of the 1951 film is available, look for a copy.

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Favorite Tidbit: Both of these films where banned at one time or another. The original was banned a few years after its release in Germany by the Nazi party. Both Lang and Lorre fled Germany because of their Jewish heritage. The remake was basically shelved after some of the crew was put on the Communist Blacklist. Losey would soon flee to Europe after this film.

 

 

Article: Fritz Lang Top 10 Films

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Today is December 5th, Fritz Lang’s birthday. Fritz Lang is one of the most innovative and influential directors in history. He has made some of the best pre-film noir era movies as well as some of the greatest film’s noir. In celebration of his birthday we are looking at two top ten lists. Both of these look at his entire career and vary a great deal.

The first is from B.F.I.:

http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/lists/fritz-lang-10-essential-films

The second is from Taste of Cinema:

http://www.tasteofcinema.com/2014/10-essential-fritz-lang-films-you-need-to-watch/

Happy 125th Birthday Fritz Lang! What is your favorite Fritz Lang films?

 

Review: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is a classic film noir from 1956 starring Dana Andrews and Joan Fontaine.  The real story here is this is the last American movie from noir great, Fritz Lang.  I got to say Lang went out with a bang.  This is an intriguing story with a great ending.  This story is written by Douglas Morrow and is amazing.

Dana Andrews is a novelist and ex-newspaperman.  He is dating Fontaine who happens to be the daughter of his ex-boss. His ex-boss and future father-in-law is the owner of a large newspaper.  His future father-in-law is played by Sidney Blackmer.

We open the movie with an execution, yes somebody goes to the chair in the opening scene.  The next scene has Blackmer and Andrews having a drink and discusses capital punishment.  They meet Philip Bourneuf who plays the D.A. responsible for the death sentence we witnessed at the beginning of the film.  Bourneuf and Blackmer are on opposite sides of the capital punishment fence.  Blackmer talks about ways to convert the public to his side of the subject, he only needs the right circumstance.  The right circumstance soon comes up!  A burlesque dancer is found murdered and there is no suspects.  Blackmer talks Andrews into framing himself with the crime.  Then when he is sentenced to death, they will bring out all the evidence they planted and of course the how, when and where they did it.  This proves they sentenced an innocent man to death and will show the public how capital punishment is a bad idea.  Well if your like me, this whole thing sounds like a bad idea!  Will they plant enough evidence to get arrested?  If he does get convicted will they be able to reverse the verdict before it is too late?  What will Andrews’ girl Fontaine think of this when she finds out what is going on?

This is another great noir from Fritz Lang, he was definitely on his game for his last American film, before he goes back to his homeland of Germany.   It is worth watching for any of his fans and fans of classic noir.  Fontaine and Andrews fans will love this as well.  This film has an amazing ending that you will not see coming.

Re-watching the Classics: Ministry of Fear

Here is a classic film noir from Fritz Lang made in 1944.  It stars Ray Milland and is based on a book by Graham Greene.  How could you go wrong?  Well I would say Lang phoned this one in, if you ask me.  I’m not saying it is a horrible movie, but it isn’t the “Masterpiece of Suspense” it is advertised as.

Our story starts with Milland going to the train station and taking a detour to a carnival by the station.  He tries his hand at a game where he needs to guess the weight of a cake.  He doesn’t win the cake, so he goes to the fortune-teller.  The fortune-teller is played by Aminta Dyne but for some reason the fortune-teller changes to Hillary Brooke later in the film.  The fortune-teller tells Milland the weight of the cake, he walks out and plays that game again and wins the cake!  Another man played by noir great Dan Duryea shows up and the fortune-teller knows she made a mistake.  They try to take the cake away from Milland to no avail.  Milland gets on the train and a blind man joins him.  The blind man eventually steals the cake and runs into a bombing area.  There is a chase and the blind man(who isn’t blind) gets blown up.  Milland starts to investigate the cake incident on his own and the mystery continues.  We have a séance, followed by a murder.  We learn Milland has recently been to a mental institution for basically helping his sick wife commit suicide.  This has a lot of elements that should add up to a great noir, but for me it felt a little flat.

Marjorie Reynolds plays Milland’s love interest in this. In my opinion Hillary Brooke does a great femme fatale in this, and steals the show, she just isn’t in the film very much.

This is the second time I’ve watched this, I was not impressed the first time I seen it and thought I would give it another shot because I have become such a big fan of Fritz Lang’s stuff.  Like I said I’m not saying this is a bad movie, it’s just disappointing given the talent involved.  This is worth watching for classic film noir fans and if you want to see everything by Lang.  If you are not familiar with Lang I recommend watching some of his other work.  Scarlet Street is still one of my favorites of his.

Review: Scarlet Street

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Scarlet Street is another great film-noir from Fritz Lang.  We have our everyday man and noir staple Edward G. Robinson in the lead.  Joan Bennett as our femme fatale and Dan Duryea as a con and thug trying to get ahead.  This story starts out with our hero at a company party for his 25 years on the job.  He leaves drunk and sees a beautiful women getting beat by a man.  He intervenes and stops it, he walks the women home and stops to have a drink with her.  He is infatuated with the much younger women and she seems to like him as well.  The only problem, he’s married to a battle-ax he can no longer stand.  You think you might guess the plot from here, but you would be wrong.  This is one of the most intricate plots, with so many twists and turns, I can’t believe they got all this story to fit into less than 2 hours of movie.  One of the surprising and shocking things of this movie is the abuse towards women, the way it is portrayed makes it look common and just part of life for the time.  The couple out to get ahead is very co-dependent and I found very disturbing.  This movie has no truly innocent or good characters, all are willing to do anything to get what they want.  None of them want the same thing, but use each other in a way that makes for one intense movie.

The other star of this movie is the art, it’s funny that this and my last film-noir review (See my review of Laura) have a portrait of the lead lady that is amazing.  I didn’t realize this when I watched them a couple of days apart, but is a cool coincidence.  The art in this film is very cool.

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This may be the darkest classic film noir I’ve seen thus far.  There is no gangsters and guns in this movie and that might be what makes this so dark.  I think this is my favorite Fritz Lang film I’ve seen so far.  This isn’t a widely watched noir but it should be.  This film has a 7.9 on IMDb with less than 9,000 votes, and 100% on Rotten Tomatoes but with only 13 reviews.  This film did fall out of copyright protection, so make sure you watch a good version of this that isn’t to cut up and distorted. I watched it on TCM, always a reliable source for classic films.