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.

 

 

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Review: Desperate

Desperate is a B-film from 1947. Anthony Mann Directs and helps with the original story. Of course Mann went on to A films soon after this and created some classics in the noir genre as well as some other Hollywood classics.  I recently reviewed Two O’Clock Courage from Mann which he made 2 years before Desperate and you can see his growth between those two films is petty huge. Though I liked Two O’Clock Courage, Desperate is darker, the story is better and the cinematography is way ahead. There are a couple of scenes in this film that are noir cinematography at its best. The first scene where Burr and his gang is torturing our hero is amazing. The last scene with the chase/gun fight on the stairwell is worth watching the whole film just to for this one.

Our story is a basic noir tale, but it is always worth seeing different takes on it all these years later. Our hero is played by Steve Brodie who has his own truck and is recently married to Audrey Long. He gets a call from a stranger for a last-minute trucking job. He had plans with his wife but can’t pass up the $50 this job will pay.

What he doesn’t know is this is a job where he will be hauling stolen goods for Raymond Burr and his gang of thieves. When he figures out he is on a robbery, he flashes his lights at a police officer. The officer is shot and soon dies by the hand of Burr’s little brother. Our hero pulls the truck away and Burr’s brother falls off the loading dock and is knocked out. Burr’s little brother is caught and charged with murder. Burr is soon on a rampage to free his little brother and frame our hero for the whole job, including the murder of the police officer. Our hero’s sole objective now is to get his wife to safety before Burr can find them. Will he succeed? Will he be able to save himself too? Will Burr and his gang get revenge?

This is a very good B-movie noir and well worth checking out. Fans of Mann will like this film and will want to seet his early work. As per usual Raymond Burr steals the show, this being only his 4th film and his first film noir. This maybe the reason Burr was cast for years to come as the ultimate heavy in film noir. His performance is worth watching this film for as well.

Review: A Cry in the Night

A Cry in the Night is a film noir from 1956 directed by Frank Tuttle. The three stars are:

Edmond O’Brien playing a detective and father

Natalie Wood playing O’Brien’s daughter

though the poster says the third star is Brian Donlevy, playing the detective in charge of the case, the real third star of this film is Raymond Burr playing a psychopath.

This story starts out with Wood and her boyfriend, played by Richard Anderson, up at “Lover’s Loop” parked in his car. They are discussing their future together when the boyfriend notices a man in the trees watching them. He goes to investigate and a scuffle ensues. Burr hits the boyfriend with his lunch box. The boyfriend goes down and Wood comes over to see how he is doing. She thinks he is dead and Burr carries her away and steals the car. When the police find the boyfriend, they think he is drunk and throw him in the tank. A doctor at the police headquarters discovers him and brings him into Donlevy’s office to tell his story. When Donlevy finds out Wood is the girl kidnapped, he goes to O’Brien’s house to inform him of the situation. This scene is interesting as O’Brien plays a fun-loving husband and father, drinking a beer and talking to his wife. When he is informed of his daughter’s kidnapping, he instantly turns into a hard-boiled detective.

The story takes place over the course of one night with a pretty straight forward plot. Burr is a pretty interesting character here as a mentally disturbed man who lives with his overbearing mother. Natalie Wood also stands out playing a teenager in trouble, but in the 1950’s she may have been the best at that.

This is a very good film noir worth checking out. It is a hidden gem and if you are a film noir fan you will find it very entertaining.

Favorite Tidbit: This film was from Jaguar Productions, a small movie production company that only lasted a few years. It was established by Alan Ladd. You can hear his voice in the beginning of the film in an uncredited voice over.

Movie Review: Raw Deal

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Raw Deal is a film noir from 1948, directed by Anthony Mann who has directed a number of noir films before he moved on to Westerns.

Raw Deal has a very good plot, which incorporates many different plot devices into an hour and twenty minutes of dynamite. The main plot is a prison break but there is also a love triangle and a revenge theme thrown in for good measure.

Dennis O’Keefe is our protagonist who is in prison for taking a rap for crime boss Rick Coyle played by Raymond Burr. The film starts out with him talking in the visiting room with his legal caseworker played by Marsha Hunt. As she leaves, Claire Trevor playing our protagonist’s girlfriend is waiting to visit. We see the attraction and jealousy that will push this love triangle. A prison escape is planned with Coyle’s help, but Coyle knows his friend will never make it, at least that is his plan. When our protagonist escapes, he doesn’t have anywhere to hide out, so he goes to his caseworker’s house. Soon our love triangle goes on a road trip, trying to get away from the police and meet up with our crime boss who owes our hero $50,000. What woman will win our hero’s heart? Will he get away? Will he get his $50,000?

This is a very good little film worth watching for film noir fans. Though all three leads are well done, I have to say Raymond Burr is the stand out in this film for me. The scene where he throws a flaming liquid onto a female night club goer is one of the most vicious scenes I’ve seen in a while. Does this scene foretell his characters own fate?

Review: Crime of Passion

Crime of Passion is a film noir from 1957 with 3 of noir’s greatest.  We Have Barbara Stanwyck, Sterling Hayden and Raymond Burr in a love triangle that can not end well. Gerd Oswald directs this film, written by Jo Eisinger.

This story starts out with Stanwyck working at a paper as an advice columnist for a San Francisco paper. She gets put on a story against her will where she meets a couple Los Angeles cops who fly up about the case. One of the cops is Hayden and Stanwyck falls in love in short time. She soon moves down to Los Angeles and marries Hayden. She has problems getting along with the other cop’s wives and doesn’t handle the stress of being a cop’s wife herself. We soon learn that Hayden’s boss is Burr and an old flame of Stanwyck’s. Burr is also married, his wife is played by none other than Fay Wray. Wray is very sick and this is hard on Burr. Soon Burr and Stanwyck start seeing each other again. This love triangle does not end well and our story really heats up.

This film is short and starts out quit slow, but it heats up in the last half hour. The film plays as a bit of a psychological thriller and Stanwyck is getting the ball rolling on the psychotic femme fatale that we would see in future films like Fatal Attraction.

Hayden is very good playing his every man’s man, as he always does. Burr is real good playing somebody with a lot of power and is very strong, but when he lets his guard down and shows some weakness it is very believable. Stanwyck is good as always and you could watch this again just to get all the little nuances of her performance. Wray plays a smaller part, but does a good job with it.

This is a good film and well worth watching. Just give it some time to get started as the first half of the film is a little dull and slow. It quickly builds to an interesting noir by the end.

In Memory of Lizabeth Scott, Review of Pitfall

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Today the noir world has learned the passing of film-noir legend Lizabeth Scott. Read the LA Times report here:

http://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-lizabeth-scott-20150206-story.html

Lizabeth was in many film-noir movies and stared with all the big names.  We will be looking at more of her movies on this blog soon.  When I saw the news I checked my DVR for a classic movie with Lizabeth in it to review tonight in her honor.

Pitfall came up, so here is my review.

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Scott starts as our femme fatale alongside Dick Powell in this film from 1948.  Right away I can’t believe how much Scott’s voice sounds like Lauren Bacall.  According to the LA Times, Scott was often compared to Bacall because of their similar look and voice. This movie has a great little plot and kind of ends where most films of this time would have started.  I don’t want to spoil the story so I will stop there.  I watched this on TCM and Robert Osborne had a very interesting story about how this movie was almost not released.  According to the movie code at the time a bad guy can be an adulterer, but a good guy could not be one.  This movie has that situation and director André De Toth used some sneaky tactics with the executives of the studio to show their hypocrisy.  This film is based on a book by Jay Dratler, an author that looks to have much success as a screenwriter.  I looked this book up on Goodreads and nobody has read it on there!  I took a quick look and Barns and Nobel had no copy available.  Has anyone out there read this book? The other high spot of this movie is Raymond Burr as a ex-cop, private investigator.  He really has some presence in this part and you can see his star rising in this movie.

R.I.P. Lizabeth Scott, I look forward to watching more of her work, hope you do the same.