Re-Watching the Classics: Suddenly

Suddenly is a classic film noir with two of the greats. We have Frank Sinatra and Sterling Hayden in this battle of good and evil. the film is from 1954 and was written by Richard Sale and directed by Lewis Allen. Frank Sinatra got top billing for this film because he had just won the Academy Award for his performance in From Here to Eternity. I recently watched the 2 part documentary on the life of Frank Sinatra from H.B.O. Films, and I got to say, his life was interesting, and could be the basis of a good noir film! I was hoping they would bring up this film, but unfortunately I did not get any new insight on this. The reason I wanted a little more information on this is supposedly Lee Harvey Oswald watched this film only weeks before he shot John F. Kennedy. The documentary did go into depth about how close JFK and Sinatra where, but did not touch on this film. The other story, which Ben Mankiewicz told just a few weeks ago on Turner Classic Movies while talking about this film, is that Sinatra was so upset about Oswald possibly using this film as inspiration to kill his friend, he had this and The Manchurian Candidate pulled off of television play. Others say this is false and he never tried to do that. If you think Sinatra would not have enough pull as an actor/singer to do something like this, watch the documentary and find out how much pull this man had in not only the entertainment industry, but in politics as well.

This story starts out with a small glimpse into a sleepy little town in California named Suddenly. The Sheriff is Sterling Hayden who protects this little town and is well liked. He has a thing for a widow played by Nancy Gates and her son looks up to Hayden. Soon the town is a buzz with something big coming. Hayden takes charge getting ready for the Secret Service, they are coming to inspect the town because the President is coming through on his way to play golf down the road. As Hayden is helping them, three F.B.I. Agents lead by Sinatra, go to Gates’ house to make sure everything is clear for the President. Gates lives with her Father-in-Law who happened to be an Ex-Secret Service Agent. One of the current Secret Service Agents worked with the Father-in-Law and wants to personally go up to the house and say hi. Hayden takes the agent to the house and when the Secret Service Agent meets the F.B.I. Agents all hell breaks loose.

This is a really amazing little film and well worth watching. Hayden is good as always and Sinatra is brilliant as the psychopathic killer that the war created. Most of this movie takes place in a small house, but the tension blows the roof of this one. I think fans of Sinatra and Hayden will obviously enjoy this film as well as classic film noir fans. On the other hand if you don’t know why Sinatra was such a huge star, give this a watch and see how he could command a room. This would make an amazing double feature with The Manchurian Candidate.

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Review: The Long Goodbye

The Long Goodbye is a neo noir from Robert Altman made in 1973. This is based on Raymond Chandler’s masterpiece book of the same name. I have read 3 of Chandler’s books but have not read this one yet. When this was released in Los Angeles it was a big failure and Chandler fans were horrified by this adaptation. The marketing was changed to show it as more of a satire of Chandler’s work in New York and the film had a little more success. Though it had more success on the east coast it was still a big flop at the box office.  Robert Altman took a lot of chances with this film. He took a beloved book and moved its setting from 1950 Hollywood to 1972 Hollywood. He also took a new ending from the script by Leigh Brackett(who also wrote the script for The Big Sleep in 1946) and fought to keep it, instead of staying true to the original novel. He also hired Elliott Gould, who was black listed for being hard to work with and had not worked for 2 years at this point.

So this film had a lot going against it and it was not a big hit, so how come it is considered such a classic today among noir and neo-noir fans? Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe appeared in 4 film in 10 years with Marlowe in 1969, then this film and then two more films a few years later starring noir legend Robert Mitchum in a more true to the books adaptations. I have seen all three of those and they are all good, but this adaptation is the one that gets all the attention. I have to agree that it is well deserved. It is different and a much more enjoyable watching experience then the other three films.

Elliott Gould’s Marlowe is a quick tongued private detective, but does not use the wit as Chandler wrote it. He ad-libbed a lot of his dialog making it seem more fresh and less rehearsed then other adaptations. We also have Sterling Hayden playing a crazed writer. Hayden said this is one of his favorite films. Nina van Pallandt plays Hayden’s wife who hires Marlowe to find her husband. We also see Arnold Schwarzenegger in an early appearance in his career as a body-guard who says nothing, he also went uncredited for this film.

This film starts with Marlowe being called in the middle of the night by a good friend. He asks Marlowe to take him to Mexico right away. Marlowe does, and doesn’t ask many questions. Marlowe ends up getting taken into custody for questioning. His friend is accused of killing his wife. They hold him for 3 days and then he is suddenly released.  He soon finds his friend has committed suicide in Mexico and the case is closed. Soon Marlowe is assaulted by some baddies and they want their money back. Marlowe of course doesn’t know anything about any missing money.  He thinks his friend was murdered and did not commit suicide and starts looking into it. He is soon hired by a woman to find her husband.  This couple is neighbors to his now dead friend. Are both cases related? Will he find who killed his friend and his friend’s wife?  Will he find the missing money?

This is a twisted and hard to follow story that does not serve up easy clues and often doesn’t make sense, but what would you expect from a Chandler story? It is a fun watch and something you can re-watch over and over again. Is it the best Chandler adaptation? My favorite is still The Big Sleep with Bogart, but for a lot of people this is their favorite.  If you are a noir fan, and if you are, you are probably a Chandler fan too, you need to check out this film.

Favorite Tidbit: Thought this is moved from the 1950’s to the 1970’s, Marlowe still drives a car built-in the late 40’s and his pay is $50 a day plus expenses, an amount more in line with pay from the 50’s then the 70’s.

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.

Review: Crime Wave

Crime Wave is a classic film noir from 1954 staring Sterling Hayden as a police detective this time instead of the criminal. This film is Directed by André De Toth who made this film under budget and in only 13 days!  The studio scheduled this for a 35 day shot and De Toth said he could do it in 15, he beat that.  The studio wanted Ava Gardner and Humphrey Bogart, but De Toth said he could do this faster and come in under budget if he got to pick the stars.  De Toth wanted Hayden and this is how he got him.

For me Gene Nelson is the center of the story and this was his first dramatic role.  He was more known as a dancer and appeared in a number of musicals.  Phyllis Kirk plays Nelson’s wife and pretty much is just a pretty face in this.  Nelson of course is trying to keep her safe, but Kirk really is hard to read in this role as the sacred housewife.  Timothy Carey has a small uncredited role, but it stood out to me.  The biggest small role goes to Charles Buchinsky who plays one of the thugs that recently escaped prison.  Buchinsky is a scary tough guy with a hard edge to him, he later changed his name to something you may recognize,  Charles Bronson.

Our story starts out with three escaped convicts robbing a gas station.  They get away but one is shot and not doing to well.  Hayden is the lead detective on the case and one of his leads is an old prison cellmate who is trying to get his life on the straight and narrow(played by Nelson).  He is married now and has a good job, but Hayden is suspicious.  Soon the shot escapee shows up at Nelson’s apartment with a veterinarian that is known to work on the occasional injured criminal.  The doctor is too late and the man dies in Nelson’s apartment.    Soon Hayden shows up at the apartment and all hell breaks loose.

This is a very good movie all film noir fans will love.  It is also a great film for Hayden fans as well as Bronson fans who would like to see some of his early work.

Favorite Tidbit:  This movie was an inspiration for part of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and part of the screenplay is dedicated to director André De Toth.

Review: The Asphalt Jungle

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The Asphalt Jungle is one of the most famous film-noir movies of all time.  There are a few reasons for this, the biggest historically would be this is the film that brought Marilyn Monroe to fame.  She plays a small part and her name wasn’t even on the first posters, that soon changed as most poster for the film in years to come feature Marilyn prominently.  Before Marilyn became the biggest thing in Hollywood, this movie got by on its own merits.  For the 1951 Academy Awards, Asphalt Jungle was nominated for 4 awards.  This film was also directed by one of the biggest directors of the era, John Huston.  Huston’s eye is excellent and really gave this a great feel and look.  He also helped with the screenplay, based on noir author W.R. Burnett’s book of the same name.  This had other big names in the film like Sterling Hayden, as our anti-hero, Louis Calhern as our godfather type lawyer, Jean Hagen as our anti-hero’s girl.  I also liked Sam Jaffe in his role as Doc, the mastermind of the crime.  This film and story was later turned into a T.V. series. The series isn’t available on Netflix and I’m not sure if it is available on DVD or not.  I would like to see some of the T.V. series to see if it made the transition well, I’m thinking it wouldn’t.  This film was also re-made 3 times in different versions, one a western, one overseas, and one a blaxpotation movie. I have not seen any of these films but looking at their ratings on IMDb they had no where the success or are anywhere as good as the original.  This movie is pretty much required viewing if you are a film-noir fan and if you haven’t seen it yet, enjoy!