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: Heat Wave or The House Across the Lake

Heat Wave is another B-movie noir from famed British group Hammer Films.  This is written and directed by Ken Hughes based on a book he also wrote.  Hughes went to Hollywood and made some big films, his most notable isn’t even close to the dark noir he made here, a little film by the name Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

This film showcases Hillary Brooke, a quintessential femme fatale in every way.  We have more than one man in her web and she doesn’t let any of those men escape through out the whole film.  She is definitely the high spot of this film and the main reason to watch this one.

The story starts with our protagonist played by Alex Nicol holed up in a cabin on the lake shore.  He is there to write his new book, but he has a bit of writers block.  He gets invited to a party across the lake where we meet our femme fatale and her husband played by Sidney James.  We soon find out our femme fatale has a boyfriend on the side and seems to be flaunting him in front of her husband and anybody else that might care.  Our protagonist and the husband become quick friends and we soon find out our husband is dying, he has about a year.  He also plans to change his will.  Our husband happily pays the bills while he is alive, but he will be damned if he will pay the bills for his cheating wife once he is gone.  His lawyer is on a trip in America and he plans to change his will as soon as the lawyer comes home.  Our protagonist writer loses his contract and is flat broke, he is also the new target of our femme fatale.  Will our hero team up with our femme fatale to kill her husband before the will is changed?  Will he save his friend from his deadly wife?  Will our femme fatale find somebody else to help her kill her dying husband before he changes his will?  He’s dying anyway and she deserves her fair share of the estate, right?

This is a pretty straight forward mid 50’s classic noir.  We are not covering new ground here by any means.  It is cheaply done, but it still has a great noir look.  The story builds for about 7/8 of the film and actually felt like an above average noir, but the story kind of falls apart at the end.  It is still worth viewing for hardcore classic film noir lovers and has its high points.  If you are new to the genre, you may want to start elsewhere, but if you see this on the tube late one night, give it a try, it may surprise you.