Re-Watching the Classics: Angel Face

Angel Face is a classic film noir directed by Otto Preminger from RKO while Howard Hughes was the head of the studio. The story revolves around Robert Mitchum who is an ambulance driver and a young women with issues played by Jean Simmons.

This film starts with Mitchum as an Ambulance driver, on a call at a mansion. The lady of the house had a close call with a gas leak, but seems OK now. Mitchum goes down stairs and talks to Simmons, this is where the infamous slapping scene happens.

Hughes was not happy with Simmons and put her in this film at the end of her contract. He hired Preminger to make her life a living hell. Preminger made Mitchum slap Simmons over and over again to get the right take. Mitchum finally walked over to Preminger and slapped him full force asking if that is the way he wanted it. Simmons later in life still could not watch this film because of the hell she went through making it. The only thing she loved about this film was Mitchum.

In the film Simmons befriends Mitchum and gets him a job as the driver for her Father and Step-Mother. Soon her Step-Mother and Father dies in a horrible car accident. It looks like the car was sabotaged and our couple is the prime suspects.

Simmons plays one of the best femme fatale in noir history in this film and Mitchum is great as always. The ending is one of the bleakest of all time as well. The story is good and over all the film is above average. Well worth your time if you are a fan of film noir or one of the two stars.

Favorite Tidbit: Simmons cut her hair short, knowing Howard Hughes hated his leading ladies having short hair. She thought this would get her out of her contract with RKO. Instead Hughes made her wear a horrible wig through out this film.

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Review: Where the Sidewalk Ends

Where the Sidewalk Ends is a classic film noir from 1950 directed by noir great Otto Preminger.  We have more noir greatness in the two leading stars, Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney.  All three worked on Laura, returning to work together 6 years later on this film.  This is based on a book by William L. Stuart

Some of the small roles that stood out to me is Gary Merrill as our mobster boss and Karl Malden as the cop who just got promoted to lieutenant over Dana Andrews.

This story starts out with Tierney who is accompanied by two other men playing an illegal game of craps.  One of them is winning big, real big.  He is up $19,000!  Tierney starts to go home and one of the men says they can not go yet.  He smacks her and the man up $19 grand punches him.  The two men fight and our lucky gambler is left unconscious on a couch.  We then go to the police headquarters where a murder is reported.  Andrews and his partner leave to investigate the case.  They find the luck gambler dead on the floor, stabbed in the heart.  This is in Merrill’s room where the illegal craps game was being played.  We soon see Merrill and Andrews do not like each other and have a history.  Andrews goes to the apartment of the other man who was with Tierney and who Merrill says killed our gambler.  There is a fight and Andrews accidentally kills his only suspect in a fist fight.  Now Andrews has to cover the murder he committed. Will he get away with it?  Will Merrill get away running his illegal game and possibly murder himself?  How will Tierney react to all of this?

This is another great noir from Andrews, Tierney and Preminger.  I felt it was a darker more gritty noir then Laura and well worth watching.  The fight scenes are not flashy and play more realistically then what we get today.  The style of the film is  quintessential noir.  This was Preminger’s last of 4 noir films he made for 20th Century Fox in the 1940’s and is one of the best.  He went on to make more noir, crime and thriller films well worth watching for other studios.  This film is a must see for all classic film noir fans and all fans of film should give it a viewing.

Review: The Man with the Golden Arm

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The question I had before viewing this film was “Is this a film-noir or not?”  I have no degree in film, and this doesn’t have the traditional technical aspects of a true film noir, and from what research I can find, Otto Preminger didn’t want this to be a traditional film noir. Preminger was a director that knew noir, he made quite a few, some before and some after this one. So could this be the very first neo-noir?  All I know is this is filmed in black and white and doesn’t have as much shadow play as most films of this era.  The subject matter on the other hand is very noir, it is gritty and dark.  The movie is based on the book of the same name written by Nelson Algren.

We have a convict fresh out of prison.  He was arrested as a card dealer at an illegal casino and he has a drug problem.  He comes out of prison, clean and with a new skill as a drummer.  He is looking for a fresh start, but gets pulled into his old ways.  His girl is bound to a wheel chair because of a spinal issue, she needs money to go to the doctors to help her find a cure.  She is about as close to a femme fatale as you can get.  There is also the beautiful neighbor down stairs who is the girl our hero really likes.  We have an old boss that wants to control our hero and get him back into dealing cards for him.  We got his best friend that is an honest hustler, he feels he is more honest than the criminals around him, but still a criminal.  Murder, drugs, gambling, dancing-girls, hustlers, thugs and love triangles, sounds like noir to me.

The film also pushed the boundaries of The Motion Picture Association of America’s film code and is one of the reasons the code was changed.  Because of its drug use in this film it almost wasn’t approved.  After this film, taboo subjects like drugs, kidnapping, abortion and prostitution were allowed in film.  This would of course be big for noir and neo-noir films to come.

This was nominated for 3 Academy Awards including Frank Sinatra’s one and only nomination for his portrayal of Frankie Machine.  Eleanor Parker plays Frankie’s wheel chair bound girlfriend.  Kim Novak plays their neighbor, Molly. Funny man Arnold Stang plays Frankie’s side kick Sparrow.  Darren McGavin plays the underworld boss that is trying to control Frankie.

So for those fans that have seen it, what do you think?  Is it a film-noir or a well done crime drama?  In either case it is a good film worth watching.

Re-watching the Classics: Laura

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What movie does Vincent Price say was his best movie?  Laura is the answer.  It’s February so it’s Oscar season and TCM is showing a lot of movies that won awards.  Laura  was nominated for 4 awards and won one award.  We have Best Writing for a Screen Play, Best Director for Otto Preminger, Best Supporting Actor for Clifton Webb and a win for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White for Joseph LaShelle.  I watched this movie years ago and took another look at it tonight.  It defiantly deserved its Best Cinematography Award, I didn’t realize how cool this movie looks, and almost all the scenes are interior shots which makes it more impressive.  Clifton Webb had only played a few parts in film before this and was a stage actor at the time.  Preminger wanted him in this film and declined the studios choice for the part.  This launched a resurgence in Webb’s career and even lead to a couple more nominations.  Dana Andrews plays our hardboiled detective assigned to the case.  We get his prospective and version of the story through out this movie.  Vincent Price shows his great film presence in this movie, I love Price’s voice and way of talking in almost everything he does.  He is hard to ignore in any scene he is in.  All though all these performances are great,lets face it, the real star is Gene Tierney.  Tierney is Laura and the love obsession of just about everybody in this film.  This is not hard to believe, she is a beautiful, smart women with the most adorable overbite ever.  Even her portrait in this film is one of the all time great film props.  It is how our hero falls in love with our femme fatale and it even appears in 2 more movies after this.  I will not get into much of the story because telling any of it will ruin the twists in the story.  The source material is from a book by Vera Caspary.  I have not read the book but it is told in 5 parts, each part is a different character’s version of what happened.  The original screenplay told the story from 3 character’s versions of events, this was still to hard to do in a 2 hour film from the 1940’s.  So the screenplay was reduced to one character’s version, our police detective played by Andrews.  This film is required viewing for any film noir buff.  It’s not on my top 10 list of all time, but it is one of the greats.

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