Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Great Flamarion (1945)

'The Great Flamarion' is an early noir by director Anthony Mann who, as I already mentioned in my review of his screwball noir 'Two O'Clock Courage', would become a well-known director in noir circles due to pure noirs like 'Raw Deal' and 'T-Men'. Here, in this 1945 movie which is also much more of a pure noir than 'Two O'Clock Courage', he uses a plot device that has become a staple in the noir universe: the femme fatale who lures and seduces an unsuspecting sucker into her web, only to drop him just as hard once she's gotten what she's after. The movie started out under the working title 'Dead Pigeon' and was loosely based on a short story by Vicki Baum called 'Big Shot'. Her story was turned into a screenplay by Anne Wigton, Heinz Herald and Richard Weil, none of whom did much in the way of films noirs, apart from Anne Wigton who also co-wrote on Mann's next noir, 'Strange Impersonation'. Cinematography was done by James S. Brown Jr. whose credits include a number of the Ellery Queen mystery movies and the music was done by Alexander Laszlo ('The Amazing Mr. X', 'The Glass Alibi'). The movie was shot just as shooting for 'Two O'Clock Courage' was winding down, without a break for director Mann. Just another assignment on poverty row, heh...
'Every bullet is a caress.'
The movie starts out at a vaudeville show in Mexico City, 1936. During a comedy act, shots are fired and a woman working in one of the acts is found killed backstage. The police quickly arrest her husband, who claims he is innocent. Later that evening, when the theater is empty except for the vaudeville group's comedian who's packing up his stuff, someone falls down from the rafters, mortally wounded. The comedian recognizes the dying man as The Great Flamarion (Erich Von Stroheim). Flamarion confesses it is he who killed the woman, his former assistant Conny (Mary Beth Hughes), and he wants to tell the story of why he did it to the comedian, so he can come clean, as he'll be dead soon. In a long flashback, he recounts his own vaudeville act as an expert marksman. The act involves a small theater play where his assistants Conny and her husband Al Wallace (Dan Duryea) play secret lovers. Flamarion, Conny's husband in the act, crashes their secret gettogether by surprise. He then starts shooting all kinds of targets, such as lighting a match by shooting it, shooting a strap of Conny's dress and shooting lightbulbs surrounding a mirror with Al moving in front of it. The act is very successful and Flamarion is quite popular. There's trouble in paradise however. Al's an alcoholic and he uses Conny's past of hustling guys for money against her to keep up his drinking habit. Conny wants to get rid of Al and starts to work her charm on Flamarion, making him believe Al's jealous of him and that she has feelings for Flamarion. Resisting at first due to a failed love in his past, Flamarion eventually falls for her. Once Flamarion's ready to kick Al off the act and start a new life with Conny, she starts to work him even harder. She wants Flamarion to get rid of Al by 'accidentally' shooting him during one of their shows. Flamarion does so accordingly, and gets off scot-free due to Al being intoxicated during the act, making the coronor believe it was Al who made a mistake in timing. Behind Flamarion's back however, Conny's started up a relationship with Eddie Wheeler (Stephen Barclay), who rides a bicycle in another act. By the time Flamarion figures out he's been double-crossed by Conny, she's long gone with Eddie. But Flamarion still wants Conny, so he goes in search of her for revenge.

The movie doesn't stand out in the tension department, primarily due to the story starting at the end and giving away too much within the first 10 minutes. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as classics like 1944's 'Double Indemnity' and 1950's 'Sunset Blvd' prove, but here too much of the mystery is given away too soon. Apparently the flashback structure was not an idea of Mann but of producer William Wilder, the brother of legendary director Billy Wilder. Wilder possibly thought he could cash in a bit on his brother's directorial success with 'Double Indemnity' using a similar plot device, but it didn't turn out to be the classic or hit he had hoped for, although the movie didn't do too bad in the cinemas either. Both as a producer and as a director ('The Glass Alibi', 'The Big Bluff'), William Wilder had nowhere near the talent or success of his brother.
'Any guy that wouldn't fall for you is either a sucker or he's dead.'
There are some great scenes tho, Mann does show he knows what he's doing here, and the cinematography is above average as well. Flamarion's act, showing off his marksmanship, is a lot of fun to watch, as is the scene where he's practicing his skills, mechanically repeating the same shot over and over again. The movie uses stock footage of Mexico City to start off the movie, transitioning into the theater, and studio lots are used from there on. In some cases, such as some scenes taking place in a park, it's too clear it's a studio lot, but overall the sets look great, including a fancy hotel in Chicago, where Flamarion rents the massive bridal suite where he waits for Conny, who never shows up. There are some shadowy scenes, but also scenes which take place during the daytime, even if most of the movie takes place indoors. There's also some nice make-up work done on Von Stroheim, who looks physically much worse for wear near the end of the movie, his face noticeably thinner and more rugged.

Erich Von Stroheim plays the title character, The Great Flamarion, with a very harsh and stoic frame, always seemingly unemotional, utterly professional and completely detached from those around him, almost coming off as feeling superior. He's not nearly as great here as he would be 5 years later in the classic 'Sunset Blvd' tho, and at various points in the movie when he's involved in some lengthy dialogue he even seems disinterested. Von Stroheim was one of the great silent movie directors, but he was also renowned, and infamous, for being a very stubborn eccentric with a near-insane attention to detail and accuracy and spending a lot of money on his very lengthy movies (his 1924 epic 'Greed' ran somewhere between 7 to 10 hours in its original form, most of it cut by the studio), which more often than not did not do well at the box office. His eccentricities were such that he was banned from directing in 1933. He was also an actor for most of his career, but his name and fame hit rock-bottom in the mid 40s, which might explain his occasional lackluster attitude here, forced to take roles he felt were beneath him. Von Stroheim, who always thought of himself as a director first and an actor second, did not hesitate to offer some advice to director Mann: 'Do you want to be a great director? Photograph the whole of 'The Great Flamarion' through my monocle.' He also disagreed on the non-linear structure of the movie, and probably felt disgruntled in general. Famously, Mann said of working with Von Stroheim: 'He drove me mad. He was a genius. I'm not a genius, I'm a worker.' Despite all this, I enjoy Von Stroheim here, he's got something about him that makes you want to watch him.
'Don't you realize Al that every time we step on that stage you're nothing but a live target which I must miss.'
Dan Duryea is also a well-known name in noir circles, his many noir roles include 'Scarlet Street', 'Black Angel' and 'Criss Cross'. He's his usual solid self here, altho his role is pretty one-dimensional. His Al Wallace is an alcoholic who has got his act together well enough to keep performing on stage, but who's addicted enough to use Conny's past, it's implied she's left behind more than one guy after taking his money, to keep the marriage and thus their work for The Great Flamarion going. While usually playing a crook, a villain or an otherwise unsympathetic character, Duryea gives Al more of a pitiful edge here, even though he essentially blackmails Conny to keep his habit going. Conny is the classic noir femme fatale. She's played quite effectively by Mary Beth Hughes. Hughes played almost exclusively in B movies her entire career including a ton of westerns, her noir credentials include 'The Lady Confesses', 'Loophole' and 'Inner Sanctum'. She's a real femme fatale here, and it's always fun to watch a femme fatale at work, the glances she gives when she's putting ideas into Flamarion's head are stereotypical but great. While I wasn't overly impressed with her work in 'Inner Sanctum', she's pretty good and seductive here, and is able to convincingly portray (fake) tenderness and repulsion towards Flamarion at the same time.

As mentioned before, the movie lacks the necessary tension to make it a great noir, but it's definitely still a solid noir in my book. Despite knowing the outcome right from the get-go, the movie is still entertaining and interesting. The story's good enough, and so are the performances of the main actors. Von Stroheim is always interesting to watch, and he does make The Great Flamarion quite a unique character, and Mary Beth Hughes balances out their twisted relationship quite well. The music is pretty forgettable unfortunately, and it's not exactly a stunning noir visually either. But on a whole, it's a good noir which I enjoy quite a bit. Recommended.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Inner Sanctum (1948)

'Inner Sanctum Mysteries' was a popular radio show between 1941 and 1952, it was based on a series of novels under the same name. The radio show then was the inspiration for a number of movies under the 'Inner Sanctum' moniker which all starred Lon Chaney Jr., in the mid 40's. In 1948, poverty row studio Film Classics, decided to try their hand at it as well. They didn't even bother coming up with a title, they simply called the movie 'Inner Sanctum', adding 'Mystery' as subtitle to the poster, and making a few more references to the radio show, as can be seen on the poster to the left. An obvious and deliberate attempt to lure a few more movie goers into the theater for this cheapo B noir. This 'Inner Sanctum' was directed by Lew Landers, an incredibly prolific director of mostly B movies. In the 40s alone he directed 75 movies! He did not direct too many noirs tho, besides this one he also directed 'Man In The Dark' and maybe one or two more. The story was an original screenplay by Jerome Todd Gollard, who has only 3 writing credits on IMDb. Cinematography was handled by Allen G. Siegler, who'd been working as a cinematographer since 1916! The score was done by Leon Klatzkin, his first score for a movie, most of his work was done for TV series, including 'Rawhide' and 'Gunsmoke'.
'Fight yourself and the part that wins doesn't count, it's the part that loses.'
The movie starts in a train, with an older man, who is a clairvoyant, and a woman talking on a train. The man tells the woman a story: Late one evening a man and a woman exit a train and end up in a fight, with the man accidentally killing the woman. The man, Harold Dunlap (Charles Russell, 'Behind Green Lights') doesn't know what to do and dumps the body on the observatory platform of the departing train. A kid saw him put the body on the train but thinks it was a bundle or a package. Dunlap tries to leave town, but finds himself stranded due to floods blocking off all roads and railroads that night. He finds a room in a local boarding house, but fate would have it that the kid who saw him at the train station also lives in that house, Mike (Dale Belding). Dunlap is even given Mike's room to sleep in. Another occupant in the house is a young woman, Jean Maxwell (Mary Beth Hughes, 'The Great Flamarion', 'The Lady Confesses') who is tired of the boring town and wants to get out, and she immediately takes a shine to the mysterious & handsome stranger. As news about the dead woman's discovery and the subsequent murder investigation reaches the town, both Mike and Jean draw the same conclusion, but the kid is scared he'll end up dead too and the woman doesn't care, she just sees a handsome ticket out of town and she's attracted to bad guys anyways. And Dunlap finds out the town and his fate share a common trait: he can't escape either of them.

Charles Russell is decent enough as Harold Dunlap, who might be an accidental killer, but who also definitely has a dark and sinister side. Russell plays him as a tough man who barely moves his lips when he speaks, and who has anger brewing up inside him, but  can't let his guard down. It's a fairly one-dimensional portrayal, but also does the trick well here. Mary Beth Hughes is not very effective as the femme fatale Jean Maxwell here. Jean's been stuck in the small town of Clayburn, where the movie takes place, for 2.5 years and wants to move back to San Fransisco where she's originally from. She sees an opportunity to escape in Dunlap, and once she realizes the connection between Dunlap and the murdered woman on the train, she implies that he'd better get her out of there and back to San Fransisco, or else... Unfortunately however, that threat is not carried through to greater effect. As she tells Dunlap: 'You're pretty awful, you're even too bad for me.' So much for the femme fatale in this movie.
'When you tell a woman that's over 40 she is beautiful, you ain't a liar, you're a philantrophist.'
Mike's mother Ruth, is played by Lee Patrick, who played Effie, Sam Spade's secretary in 1941's 'The Maltese Falcon'. She is very protective of Mike, but Mike enjoys nighttime walks in the park and watching the trains, which she does not approve of one bit. He wasn't supposed to have been at the train station that fateful night, and he's afraid he'll receive some harsh punishment by his mother, or 'walloping' as he calls it, should she find out. So when he's convinced Dunlap is the killer, he's very reluctant to come forward. Unfortunately Mike is such an annoying kid, you soon wish he would get that 'walloping' he's so afraid of. On the other hand however, his mother is also quite annoying, when Mike musters up enough courage to tell her, she interrupts him constantly, until he can't tell her anymore. They deserve each other, and the movie could do without them.
'You're pretty... when your lips aren't moving.'
The movie ends in a fashion that betrays its origins, with a nice twist as the clairvoyant ends his story. It gives the movie more than a bit of a serial feel, one can easily see the old clairvoyant that bookends this movie as a recurring character introducing and summarizing each episode. But unlike the earlier movies with Lon Chaney Jr., this was a one-off movie.

As mentioned earlier, the movie was made by Film Classics, a poverty row studio whose film output consists of a mere 15 movies, including 'Blonde Ice' and 'Guilty Bystander'. Of course poverty row studios have done their fair share of great mystery and noir movies, and 'Inner Sanctum' has plenty of elements of both. This is far from a classic however. Landers makes effective use of the handful of sets, no doubt already used for other low budget movies, by having almost the entire movie take place either indoors or at nighttime and using more than his fair share of close ups of faces. And the story itself is pretty decent, it could've done with a better screenplay however, to turn the fairly cardboard characters into more compelling ones. It has some decent elements and a few nice shots such as the opening scene inside the train and at the trainstation, and its short length of just over an hour helps things move along quickly as well. Overall the movie has too many weak elements to elevate it out of the quagmire of mediocrity tho.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Web (1947)

It is usually not a good idea to judge a book by its cover, but if you've not seen this movie yet you might be tempted to judge 1947's 'The Web' by its poster. The main names on there are all well-known and well-remembered noir names: Edmond O'Brien ('D.O.A.', 'The Killers', 'The Hitch-Hiker', 'White Heat'), Ella Raines ('Brute Force', 'Phantom Lady'), William Bendix ('The Glass Key', 'The Blue Dahlia', 'The Big Steal') and Vincent Price ('Laura', 'Shock', 'The Bribe')... And those are just some of the noirs they've played in. Enough to make anybody interested in film noir salivate. But there's more...

Director Michael Gordon, while not showing up often in the list of noir directors, also directed a few more noirs such as 'Woman In Hiding' and 'The Lady Gambles'. The story was originally penned by Harry Kurnitz who wrote a couple of stories in the popular Thin Man series as well as co-wrote the screenplay for 'Witness For The Prosecution' together with legendary director Billy Wilder. Kurnitz's story was turned into a screenplay by William Bowers ('Convicted', 'Cry Danger') and Bertram Millhauser ('Walk A Crooked Mile'), Bowers still at the start of his career while Millhauser had already done most of his work by this time, his earliest credit on IMDb is from 1911! The cinematography was handled by Irving Glassberg ('Shakedown', 'Larceny'), according to IMDb this was only his 2nd movie as a DoP, his first one was a movie from 1932! The music was composed by Hans J. Salter ('The Reckless Moment', 'Scarlet Street'). So the noir credentials are there, especially but not just in the acting department.
'If you prove that it's murder, you prove that you're a murderer.'
The story is centered around Robert 'Bob' Regan (O'Brien), a cocky and smug low-level attorney who storms into the office of wealthy enterpreneur Andrew Colby (Price) to give him his summons for damages he caused for the royal sum of $68.75. Impressed with Regan's attitude, Colby hires him as a bodyguard, to protect him from Leopold Kroner. Kroner did 5 years for selling counterfeited bonds from Colby's company, raking in a cool million dollars before getting caught, and sentenced in part due to Colby's testimony. Kroner was released earlier that day and Colby suspects he wants to come after him. Regan is wary but the $5000 paycheck is too good an opportunity to pass up on, plus Colby's personal secretary Noel Faraday (a ravishing Raines) is an added incentive. He gets himself a gun permit from his old neighborhood buddy Lt. Damico (Bendix, for once on the good side of the law) and he is on the job. That evening, after making sure all entrances and exits to the Colby residence are closed, and Regan is chatting up the cool-playing Faraday, a shot is fired upstairs. Regan rushes upstairs and finds Colby in a struggle with Kroner, and when Kroner turns around with a gun in his hand, Regan shoots and kills Kroner. At the inquest it is determined it was self defense and justifiable, so Regan gets off without any charges, but Damico doesn't trust it. And after Regan finds soon after that Kroner was in fact invited by Colby to drop by that fatal evening, Regan knows he's been used as a patsy, as a convenient way for Colby to get rid of Kroner. But what can he do, he killed Kroner, if he proves it was murder, he's the murderer, not Colby...

Regan's predicament is pure noir. He's your archetypical patsy, who comes in thinking he's clever and pretty content with himself, and then realizes he has been taken for a ride all along. Edmond O'Brien, a bonafide noir icon, was made to play these types of smug characters, he had the perfect type of personality and aura, and he's great here, giving his usual solid performance. He's one of my favorites in film noir, and this movie gives me no reason to change my opinion of him. The same can be said for Vincent Price who plays a suave industrialist who seems too oily and devious right from the start but who is also smart and quick with his mind. Price was great at portraying these debonair, but menacing, characters. Bendix usually played heavies/criminals in his noirs, but here he's a cop, even wearing glasses. As Damico he does not mind bending the rules a little tho, when he gets Regan a gun permit without any hassle or tests, simply because of their neighborhood past. He doesn't have too much to do here, but it's always great to see Bendix in a noir.

Together with O'Brien, Ella Raines is the revelation of this movie however. I loved her in her role as Noel Faraday, whose name and character seems an obvious reference to the term Girl Friday. Noel lives in with Colby and Colby's friend and assistant Charles (John Abbott, 'The Mask Of Dimitrios', 'Deception'), but a romantic or sexual relationship between her and Colby is hardly ever implied. Some vague remarks are made that could be interpreted as such, but not a whole lot more. There's some funny and playful banter between her and Regan however, who is more than a little interested in her. Faraday keeps her distance but also enjoys the attention and does not mind getting involved in all the indirect and direct innuendo's that are exchanged between them. But she also has her loyalty to Colby to maintain. Raines is perfect here, as Noel Faraday she is beautiful, friendly, cheeky but coy, but also distant and professional. All the main actors do a great job in this movie, but Raines stood out the most for me here.
'If I could get loose for 5 minutes, I'd kick myself around the block.'
There's a very small part for Howland Chamberlain as the author James Nolan who's hit it big with a novel but was once a reporter working on the Kroner case. Regan visits  him looking for a clue or a lead. At first Nolan speaks in a pretty posh manner as he's a distinguished author now, but once Regan asks about the old case Nolan falls back into his past reporter persona, speaks again in his true accent and has his cigarette in his mouth instead of in a cigarette holder. Once Regan has the information he wants and is about to leave, Nolan goes back to his distinguished author persona, thinking Regan really wanted to talk to him about his book. It's a small and funny touch, but it does add to the movie's level.

There's a nice scene in this movie where Colby and Regan discuss the situation and the consequences of Kroner's death over a game of showdown poker and, almost as in a verbal game of poker, lay their respective cards on the table with more than a few implied bluffs. This verbal jousting lays out the majority of the plot of this movie within a couple of minutes, explaining their own position, the other persons position, and where things can or cannot go. It's great to watch, because it also shows how Colby has thought things through quite thoroughly. Something which is reiterated later on in the movie when Regan has tracked down the name of the person who made the engravings necessary to print the counterfeit bonds 5 years ago. When he, through someone else, tries to confront Colby with this name, Colby switfly bounces the ball back and instead plays with Regan, knowing this person isn't alive anymore, something Regan is unaware of. It is then also and ever so subtly implied that Colby had a hand in this engraver's death as well.

Something else that is nice about this movie, and I would say is rather unusual, is that while Colby does get his comeuppance, it is not Regan who manages it. Even though Regan eventually realizes the truth and how Colby fits in, he is unable to clear his name and prove Colby's guilt. In fact, Colby manages to implicate Regan, as well as Faraday, who he thinks is now siding with Regan, in another murder. And again, it is arranged in such a way that all evidence points to Regan, and Regan cannot prove he didn't do it. Good stuff.
'A lot of things can happen in a week. France fell in eighteen days and you're not as tough as France.'
The movie contains plenty of twists and turns and of course the usual double-crosses. Most of them aren't all too surprising and quite out in the open for the viewer to see, but thankfully in this case it does not matter too much. The movie is quite fast-paced and is well-plotted, with some snappy and witty dialogue. It basically ticks all the noir boxes for me, except the cinematography one. Visually, the movie isn't very exciting safe for the last third of the movie, and even then it's quite average and middle of the road. It's a shame, but don't let that hold you back from watching this movie, it more than deserves a viewing.

BTW, that poster has some really bad renditions of Edmond O'Brien and Vincent Price. I'm only assuming it's them together with Ella Raines and William Bendix, because they look nothing like the actors.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Journey Into Fear (1943)

'Journey Into Fear' was adapted from the Eric Ambler novel of the same name from 1940. The movie was completed in 1942, but it wasn't released theatrically, and in at least two altered forms, until 1943. More about that later. Eric Ambler was a prolific and well-known British author of mostly spy novels. Several of his novels were made into movies, such as 1939's 'The Mask Of Dimitrios' which was made a movie of the same name in 1944 (the novel was released in 1939). His 1937 novel 'Uncommon Danger' was turned into a movie called 'Background To Danger' in 1943 which was also the title under which the book was released in the US. His 1962 novel 'The Light Of Day' was put on the screen in 1964 by Jules Dassin as 'Topkapi'. The list goes on however, and in the case of 'Journey Into Fear', it does not end with this 1943 adaptation either. It was also used as source material for an episode on the 50s TV series 'Climax!', as well as a 1975 movie. Ambler also developed and co-wrote a tv series around the book's protagonist, Howard Graham, also to be called 'Journey Into Fear', but that never made it past the pilot episode. I would love to see that pilot episode however. And of course it was also made into a radio play, which happened more often than not in those days. In this case, 'Journey Into Fear' appeared as an episode on the well-known 'Escape' radio show in 1950, and can be heard here.

Anyways, let's focus on the 1943 movie, because there is plenty to say about this movie, especially about the involvement of Orson Welles. But let's first state the 'facts' as stated in the credits roll of this movie. The movie was directed by Norman Foster, after Joseph Cotten, the lead actor in this movie, turned it into a screenplay. Cinematography was handled by Karl Struss ('The Great Dictator') while Roy Webb ('Notorious', 'Out Of The Past') did the score. But as shall be explained further down, all is not what it seems... or so it seems.

The story revolves around Howard Graham (Joseph Cotten), a naval engineer working for an armaments manufacturer, who's in Istanbul, Turkey for a night with his wife Stephanie (Ruth Warrick), on their way to Batoumi. A local company representative, Kopeikin (Everett Sloane), takes Graham to a small nightclub where part of the entertainment consists of a magician's act. Graham gets asked to participate in one of his magic acts, and when it's over, the magician is shot dead. Graham realizes it was an attempt on his life, it would take some time to replace him, and in the meantime Turkey could not get any guns, which would give them a major disadvantage in the war against nazi Germany. Kopeikin and Graham make their way to the office of the police chief, Colonel Haki (Orson Welles), who tells Graham he knows a nazi agent named Mueller has ordered his killer Banat (Jack Moss) to take care of Graham. Seeing as they're on to Graham, Haki puts Graham on a small cargo boat to Batoumi, ensuring him his wife will be guarded and will travel to Batoumi safely. On the boat he sees Josette (Dolores del Rio) again, a sultry dancer he met at the nightclub, and her business parter Gogo Martel (Jack Durant). There are also several other passengers however, some of whom could be sent there to kill Graham. And he's absolutely sure they're still after him when Banat boards the ship on a stop in Trabzon...
'I didn't admit it, Stephanie, but I knew then that shot was meant for me...'
The movie starts off in a, for 1943, fairly odd way. It doesn't start with the credit roll but there's an opening scene before that. The camera zooms in on an opened window in a dingy hotel in Istanbul, looking into a room where a big and grubby man, Banat, puts a record on a record player. As the record plays, he's combing his hair and packing his gun. The record skips quite a bit however, creating a very weird mood and soundtrack. Once Banat turns off the player and leaves the room, the movie title is displayed and the credits start.

The scene in the nightclub is also memorable for several reasons. The magician and his trick that ultimately gets him killed is quite memorable, but Dolores del Rio's presence as Josette is the icing on the cake really. She's wearing a tight full body leopard skin suit in the nightclub scene, and while it would look more than a little silly on 99% of all women, it looks quite stunning on her. And she looks ravishing throughout this movie, del Rio has a lot of charisma and sex appeal here. French actrice Michèle Morgan ('The Chase', 'Passage To Marseille') was originally cast for the role of Josette, but I have problems imagining her looking anything but weird and wrong in that catsuit, so I'm glad the part went to Dolores del Rio, a Mexican actress who had been a movie star in Hollywood since the 20s.
'I am dumbfounded. But then I am dumbfounded every 25 minutes.'
Josette is also a part of the voice-over narration, which is done by Graham/Joseph Cotten, as he recites a letter he's written to his wife. The letter, and thus the narration, deals mostly with Graham making excuses for a fling/affair he had with Josette while on the boat, recalling all the events involved with the boat trip, although oddly enough not even so much as a tight hug or a kiss is shared between them in the movie. At least not in the footage that has been left untouched! There is however also a known version of 'Journey Into Fear' without the voice-over narration which means that in one version of the movie, the story is told in flashback using the voice-over narration, and in another version the story is told in a linear fashion, due to the the lack of voice-over narration! I am curious to see the other version, as well as the original version (which is improbable to ever surface). Supposedly the lost footage contained more references to the implied affair between Graham and Josette, as well as Colonel Haki trying to seduce Graham's wife Stephanie on the train to Batoumi!

The movie however is sprinkled, from start to finish, with all kinds of special touches. Banat's scratched up record makes an appearance in the opening scene. Its skipping soundtrack also announces Banat's arrival on the ship to the viewer, before Graham is aware of Banat's presence. Del Rio's bodysuit is an obvious one, and what a special touch it is! There is also a lot of humor in this movie. A couple travelling on the boat, Mr. and Mrs. Matthews (Frank Readick and Agnes Moorehead), have a very weird relationship, which is explained by Mr. Matthews to Graham. It's hard to explain in a brief manner, but he used socialist rhetoric as a means to get his wife to treat him well, because she fears what people might think of them, only to start believing the rhetoric and becoming a socialist himself. Visually there are a lot of small but nice touches as well. Camera shots at low and/or tilted Dutch angles, plenty of shadows (the majority of the movie takes place during the evening/night), people carefully positioned in shots to create tension, I imagine a lot more thought and care went into the camera work than you'd think at first. The finale is also memorable, taking place outside of a hotel in the pouring rain.

There are also some weird plot holes, or unexplained things at the very least, which might be due to the excessive cutting that was done. For instance Graham enters the boat with a rather large gun given to him by Kopeikin. He hides this gun underneath his matress, only to be gone later on. The gun is never seen again, nor is it ever revealed who stole it. And how do Mueller and his men know Graham is on the boat to Batoumi? There are more odd things, and I expect a lot of them making more sense with the additional footage that was left on the editing room floor. It isn't distracting however, it adds to the fun, because you never know what to expect.

The more and more I see of Joseph Cotten, the more of a fan of his work I become. The man was an amazing but somewhat under-appreciated actor with a wide range. Even though his performance here is fairly low-key and is nowhere near the presence he had in for instance 'Shadow Of A Doubt', he is really good here and he manages to express emotions with subtle facial motions. Dolores del Rio is also great here, although it seems clear her and Cotten shared more screentime in the original version. In a way, not having that footage, leaving some questions about their relationship unanswered, adds to her seductive aura. But even still, I enjoyed her performance a lot here. Most of the other, smaller characters are given a quirky side, resulting in some off-beat and funny moments, such as the aforementioned Mr. and Mrs. Matthews, and the actors do solid work here. Jack Moss has no lines as Peter Banat, and doesn't have to do much here besides stare at Cotten and eat soup with crumbled crackers in it, which is possibly for a good reason, as he wasn't an actor, but more about that later.
'Mr. Graham and I are going to blow up the Bank of England, seize Parliament, shoot the gentry, and set up a Communist government!'
Some people might say 'Journey Into Fear' is not a noir because it's got some quirky/funny moments and exhibits far less grittiness than usually associated with noir. I can see their points. But thematically the movie falls squarely into noir territories and a lot of the characters on the boat could potentially be linked to the nazi's plot to murder Graham, even including Josette, who just so happens to be on the same boat as Graham. And this is 1943, when the whole 'film noir' style was still being fleshed out (some argue it wasn't until 1944's 'Double Indemnity' that true film noir emerged). So yes, it's got elements from a variety of genres/styles, and film noir is definitely one of the main ones there in my opinion.

So, 'Journey Into Fear' is a fast-paced, entertaining and incredibly fun film noir, that looks great and has great characters, with good performances. Even Orson Welles isn't too over-the-top here as he had a tendency to do. This movie deserves more attention that it seems to receive. Do not hesitate to check this movie out, you won't regret it!

There is also another level of fun associated with 'Journey Into Fear', and that is the involvement of Orson Welles. Was there ever a movie he acted in that he did not have another hand in? Probably not. So there are also a lot of rumors and stories about his involvement with 'Journey Into Fear', a lot of which can be found on the excellent Wellesnet.

As mentioned before, Joseph Cotten is credited as having written the screenplay. However, it is widely believed he co-wrote it with Orson Welles, basing their screenplay on an earlier, uncredited, screenplay written by Ben Hecht and Richard Collins. Ben Hecht would become a fairly well-known screenwriter whose noir credits, sometimes uncredited, include 'Gilda', 'Whirlpool' and 'Kiss Of Death'.
Welles and his production company Mercury Productions produced 'Journey Into Fear', together with RKO. And while Welles has denied directing this movie, the amount of visual touches do suggest that Welles had more than a few talks with director Norman Foster. Foster was an actor/director who up until then had directed mostly Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto movies and was working at the time for Welles on 'Bonito The Bull', a short movie which was to be part of Welles' never to be finished 'It's All True' project. Welles was always doing several things at the same time, and so he got Foster to direct 'Journey Into Fear' instead. But I imagine Welles being Welles, he directed his fair share of scenes, including the striking opening scene which was added post-production. There are apparently even photos of him directing while dressed up as Colonel Haki, supposedly even directing 'Journey Into Fear' at night and 'The Magnificent Ambersons' during daytime. Cotten was also the lead actor of that movie, so it must have been quite a busy time for the two of them!
Welles didn't run Mercury Productions all by himself, and one of his business associates at that time, Jack Moss, ended up playing a big role in this movie as Peter Banat, the assassin. Remarkably, Moss/Banat does not talk throughout the entire movie. There is a big backstory about the relationship between Welles and Moss, who had a troubled relationship and eventually had a falling out, but that happened after this movie was done, I presume they were still on good terms when 'Journey Into Fear' was shot. There's an interesting piece about them here, for those who are interested, claiming Moss is (at least partially) responsible for Welles' downfall.
Having mentioned Mercury Productions already, Welles was also the person behind the Mercury Theater, a group of stage and radio performers, and as such, a lot of actors from that company were routinely cast in his movies. The most famous names are Joseph Cotten ('Citizen Kane', 'The Magnificent Ambersons') and Agnes Moorehead who would become the voice of the well-known 1943 Suspense radio play 'Sorry, Wrong Number', which would be adapted into a popular film noir starring Barbara Stanwyck in 1948 (reviewed here). Other Mercury Theater actors who also appear in 'Journey Into Fear' include Edgar Barrier, Frank Readick (his only feature-length movie credit) and Everett Sloane ('Citizen Kane', 'The Lady From Shanghai').
As mentioned earlier, Michèle Morgan was replaced by Dolores del Rio for the part of Josette. Dolores del Rio just so happened to be a having an affair with Orson Welles around that time, one does wonder if that had anything to with her casting.

'Journey Into Fear' was also one of the last projects Welles did while under contract with RKO, and a strained relationship it was, with Welles spending tons of money on projects that never went anywhere like the aforementioned 'It's All True' movie. RKO had shelved the finished movie in 1942, and managed to cut out 20 or so minutes of the movie before finally releasing it in 1943. Unfortunately the cut footage is most likely lost, as unused film was routinely destroyed in those days. But between their 'editing' job and releasing the movie, they had Orson Welles shoot additional footage, which is the opening scene apparently. Welles would later claim this was the first movie to have an opening scene shown before the credits, but had to admit later he was wrong, as it had been done a couple of times in the 30s already. Welles and Joseph Cotten also wrote the voice-over narration which was done by Joseph Cotten. Why there are 2 versions of this movie, with one not having this additional footage nor the voice-over narration, is unknown to me, but the version without the voice-over narration or opening scene, might be the version RKO created before Welles was involved again (it's about the same length however so that would suggest Welles cut out some material for the 'definitive' version as well?). Apparently this other version was shown in the UK a few times, so hopefully at some point this movie will be released properly on DVD with both versions. One can always hope!


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Brighton Rock (1947)

Brighton is a popular sea-side city on the South coast of the the UK with a famous landmark pier. But as is explained at the start of 'Brighton Rock' from 1947, things weren't always like that. In the 1930s, things weren't all pleasant in popular destination Brighton, with mobs roaming the streets. 'Brighton Rock' is a movie about one such mob, and one particular smalltime mobster in particular, Pinkie Brown.

Based on Graham Greene's 1938 novel of the same name, 'Brighton Rock' is still one of the best, and bleakest, British thrillers/noirs. It was adapted into a screenplay by Graham Greene himself together with Terence Rattigan. The movie was directed by John Boulting, with his twin brother Roy Boulting producing. The Boulting brothers would produce and direct a lot a movies together all the way into the 1970s, including some thrillers such as 'High Treason' (1951) and 'Suspense' (1960), but nothing quite as dark as 'Brighton Rock'. Cinematography was handled by Harry Waxman and the musical score was done by Hans May.
'I've sunk so deep, I carry the secrets of a sewer.'
Set in 1935, the movie's central character is Pinkie Brown (an excelling Richard Attenborough), the 17-year old leader of a small gang in Brighton. About a week before the movie starts, the old leader of the gang, William Kite, was killed by a rival gang who suspected him of talking to reporter Fred Hale (Alan Wheatley). At the start of the movie, Hale is back in Brighton again to distribute cards worth money across Brighton under an alias, as a promotional stunt for his newspaper. Pinkie and his gang chase him up & down Brighton and the chase ends up on Brighton Pier, where Hale and Pinkie end up on a ghost train. Pinkie pushes Hale out of the cart when its above the sea and Hall plunges to his death. To establish an alibi, one of the gang members, Spicer (Wylie Watson) hides a few more cards in the neighborhood, including in a cafe. Pinkie doesn't like the latter location, as he assumes one of the people might have seen Spicer, and will notice he's not Hale should they check the newspapers. Pinkie goes to the cafe to retrieve the card, only to find that one of the waitresses, Rose (Carol Marsh) already found it. He decides to befriend her and keep an eye on her, even tho Fred's death is ruled accidental.

Pinkie and his gang are not the only people Fred meets during his last, and final, visit to Brighton however. He also comes into contact with a singer/dancer in a travelling theater, Ida Arnold (Hermione Baddeley), who takes a liking to him. And when she finds out about Fred's death, she has her suspicions, which are only heightened by her 'psychic' powers. She decides to ask a few questions here and there to see what really happened to Fred. Pinkie in the meantime also has to deal with a rival mob led by Colleoni (Charles Goldner), whose outfit is much larger and more professional than his and they are ready to take over Pinkie's protection racket.

Pinkie, despite being only 17 years old, is the leader of the gang, and the other men in the gang are all at least 2 or even 3 times his age. Pinkie is ruthless, cold, filled with a lot of anger and hate, but he's a very calculated person with a natural tendency to lead rather than follow. He denies himself pleasures of any kind, he doesn't drink, smoke or eat chocolate, and has no interest in girls. Rose means nothing to him, except as a person who can ruin him, the only reason he is able to stand her around him. Rose however, who is a devout Christian, becomes almost a self-assigned martyr, deeply devoted to Pinkie. She's in love with Pinkie, but she also wants to be his savior, the catalyst through which he can repent for his sins. And for that she turns a blind eye to the truth, that he's a murderer. It's almost like she has found a purpose for her life, and that purpose is Pinkie's repentance. This stark contrast is quite painful to watch at times, especially when Pinkie records his voice onto a record for Rose. As she looks at him in an idolizing, devoted manner, he records for her his true feelings, and it's quite heartbreaking to watch. The recording comes into play again at the very end of the movie, again creating a gutwrenching and touching moment, which lingers on long after the movie ends, in more ways than one. They have the kind of cinematic relationship that you'll remember for a long, long time. It is to the credit of Graham Greene, Richard Attenborough and Carol Marsh that this uneven and highly unbalanced relationship is believable and touching and not ridiculous to watch.
'You believe, don't you? You think it's true.' 
'Of course it's true. These atheists don't know nothing. Of course there's hell, flames, damnations, torments.' 
'Heaven too, Pinkie.' 
'Ah, maybe.'
Richard Attenborough is stunning in this movie. Despite being only in his early twenties when this movie was shot he brings a charisma, intensity and menace to Pinkie that is impossible to ignore. His eyes truly look like he's seething with hate inside. Pinkie is nothing sort of a fearless and ruthless psychopath. Likewise, Carol Marsh is almost equally great as well, she makes Rose into a saint-like person, devoted to Pinkie, even giving up her own chances of redemption, without coming off as creepy or deranged.

The other main characters are also memorable and are given excellent performances throughout by their actors. Pinkie's top man Dallow (William Hartnell, the very first Doctor Who), is almost as cold and callous as Pinkie, and doesn't even pretend to stop Pinkie when Pinkie's about to kill Spicer in a gruesome but beautifully shot scene. But unlike Pinkie, he still has somewhat of a moral compass. The gang also uses a corrupt and alcoholic lawyer to handle their affairs, Prewitt (Harcourt Williams), who is a coward and uses quotes from classic books to add gravity to his alcohol-soaked words and who is all too easily manipulated and controlled by Pinkie. Williams makes Prewitt a far more important seeming character because of his layered acting than Prewitt really is. Baddeley is also good as Ida Arnold, a brass and loud character which could've very easily been a caricature, but thankfully isn't, despite some outrageous outfits (she works as a pierrot for a group of performers).

Thematically and visually the movie is dark, dark, dark. There's not a sliver of hope for Pinkie, not even in the person of Rose, whom he doesn't accept, but merely tolerates because he must. And even Brighton starts to look menacing and threatening here, with its narrow sidestreets, the over-crowded and claustrophobic Brighton Pier and the small houses with their cramped rooms and dodgy staircases. And when the night falls and the rain is pouring down hard, the almost empty Brighton Pier becomes a nightmarish maze. The movie also has several point-of-view shots where the actors look straight into the camera, as if we're the person they're looking at. It really adds to the intensity of the movie and draws the viewer in even more. When Pinkie looks straight into the camera, at the viewer, you really feel the menace lurking behind his straight face.
'I wanted to be in a state of grace when I married you. But then I remembered, it wasn't any good confessing any more, ever.'
'Brighton Rock' is one of the very best films noirs in my opinion, it impresses from start to finish and in every way. It has great characters and performances, a compelling and pitch black story that is soaked in noir, it looks beautiful with some really memorable scenes and shots. It is a true classic in my book, and I cannot recommend it enough.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Two O'Clock Courage (1945)

What do you get when you combine a lighthearted screwball comedy with a twisty murder-mystery and throw in a dash of amnesia noir? Usually you would end up with quite a mess, but 1945's 'Two O'Clock Courage' does an admirable job of bringing these elements together in an enjoyable little noir-ish thriller.

What's remarkable about this movie, besides the weird combination of styles and genres, is that it's directed by Anthony Mann, who would go on to direct quite a number of much purer, more hard-boiled and overall better noirs without a trace of comedy, like 'T-Men' and 'Raw Deal'. It's hard to imagine him directing this lighthearted movie, but he did. The movie is based on a novel of the same name by Gelett Burgess, which had already been turned into a movie in 1936, called 'Two In The Dark'. The director of that movie, Benjamin Stoloff, was the producer of this movie. Robert E. Kent wrote the screenplay with additional dialogue written by Gordon Kahn. The cinematography was handled by Jack MacKenzie. The score was done by Roy Webb whose work for movies includes 'Notorious' and the classic noir 'Out Of The Past'.
'Next time you want a cab, just whistle or flap your arms or something. Don't try to stop it with yer head.'
Tom Conway plays Ted 'Step' Allison, although at the start of the movie neither he nor the viewer knows his identity. In case you forgot, I did mention this movie had an element of amnesia noir... Allison has amnesia, in fact he can't even remember what he looks like. Thankfully a cabbie, Patty Mitchell (Ann Rutherford) decides to help him find out who he is. They find their first clue inside his hat, the initials R.D. are stitched inside it. It doesn't mean a thing to Allison however, so they head to the nearest police station. But when they get their hands on the latest edition of the newspaper outside the station, they find out that earlier that evening a man named Robert Dilling was murdered in the same area where Patty picked up a dazed and confused Allison. Patty doesn't believe Allison is the murderer however because he's 'not the type', so they decide to continue with their search for Allison's real identity, as well as his possible connection to Robert Dilling and his murder. But of course they're not the only ones trying to find out about Robert Dilling's murder, so does inspector Brenner (Emory Parnell) who in turn is closely followed by newspaper reporter Al Haley (Richard Lane). And they're taking a keen interest in Allison, who still doesn't know who he is.

Tom Conway and Ann Rutherford play off against each other quite well, he as the confused, slightly posh man without an identity, and she as the bubbly, wise-cracking cab driver who has given her cab the name Harry. Rutherford's Patty provides a number of lighter, more comedic moments, both with her wise-cracks, but also with her look and demeanor. She wears her cabbie's hat at an extreme angle on her head an has a pencil stuck behind her ear. Rutherford and Conway really make this movie work with their acting and chemistry. Her bubbly energy is infectious and because it is not over-the-top it excites rather than annoys and his quizzical demeanor works as well, it is a lot of fun to watch them try to unravel his identity and connection to the murder.

Richard Lane has a screwball like running gag throughout the movie, phoning in a new lead or suspect on the Robert Dilling murder case to his newspaper editor, who grows more and more frustrated with each consecutive call. It's not as bad as it sounds, but it does get a bit grating and ridiculous, especially near the end of the movie when the twists and turns pile up and so does his phone bill. His exchanges with Emory Parnell are more comedic than serious as well, and only work in some places unfortunately. The movie also features a young Jane Greer (still working under her real name here, Bettejane Greer), better known for her parts in 'Out Of The Past' and 'The Big Steal', who shows off her natural sultriness in her first credited appearance, but when she is supposed to act drunk later on, she comes off as slightly awkward. Either way, it's nice to see her in this one. Tom Conway in the mean time was reunited here with Jean Brooks, whom he played with in 'The Seventh Victim'. Brooks has a small role here as a stage actress, and she would do only a few more movies after this one, retiring from the movie business after RKO dropped their contract with her.

Overall, the movie is pretty light on the noir visuals. But there are a few scenes that should please noir aficionados. The opening scene with Allison stumbling into a streetsign and almost getting run over by Patty, is pretty neatly done with a simple but nice tracking shot as the camera approaches Allison. There is also a pretty atmospheric noir scene where Allison breaks into the office of a writer and finds the manuscript for 'Two O'Clock Courage', a play which plays a central part in the mystery. He gets gunned down at close range, yet the bullet only grazes his head, triggering back his memory and a small flashback sequence. The scene is as noir as it gets, devoid of all comedy and pretty well-done. The climax at the end of the movie where several people end up getting killed is also quite noir and ties up some loose ends, as well as finally revealing the real killer.
'Murder... That's a cheerful way to improve my mind!'
So to summarize, take a splash of amnesia noir (a very light one tho), mix in a whodunit mystery and add some screwball comedy, and you got a ridiculous but tasty cocktail that will keep you entertained for a bit over an hour. Worse things have happened.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Shadow Of A Doubt (1943)

Few directors are as famous as Alfred Hitchcock. To some fans his movies form a genre in itself even. I wouldn't go quite that far, but it would be hard to argue that he did not have a profound effect on film making as a whole, and on the thriller genre specifically. Some of his movies have definite noir touches, and 1943's 'Shadow Of A Doubt' most certainly is one of them. It brings together a lovely, innocent small town and a lovely, innocent family and a charming but sinister invader with a disturbing secret, resulting in a remarkable movie that is both very dark as well as having quirkiness and humor in it.

'Shadow Of A Doubt' was based on a story by Gordon McDonell and turned into a screenplay by among others Alma Reville, Hitchcock's wife. The musical score was done by Dimitri Tiomkin ('D.O.A.', 'Angel Face'), and a lot of it was based on a waltz by Franz Lehár. Cinematography was done by Joseph Valentine ('Possessed', 'Rope').
'I know you. I know that you don't tell people a lot of things. I don't either. I have a feeling that inside you somewhere, there's something nobody knows about.'
'Something... nobody knows?'
'Something secret and wonderful. I'll find it out.'
'It's not good to find out too much, Charlie.'
'Shadow Of A Doubt' might as well be called 'A Tale Of Two Charlies', as its two main characters are called Charlie. There's Charlotte 'Charlie' Newton (Teresa Wright), a teenage girl, bored out of her mind with her dull life, who is over the moon when her uncle Charlie, Charles Oakley, comes to visit them, all the way from New Jersey. She was named after him and idolizes him, believing they're kindred spirits. Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) however has alterior motives for travelling cross-country to visit them. At first all is fine and she loves having uncle Charlie around, spending as much time with him as she can. But soon small things happen that make her think uncle Charlie has a secret to hide from them, believing it to be a wonderful secret initially, and she's determined to find out what it is. But as she discovers, uncle Charlie's secret might be darker than she could have ever imagined, as he could be the Merry Widow Murderer, who's sought on the West coast for 3 murders...

 The movie focuses on Charlie and uncle Charlie and their relationship, which changes drastically over the course of the movie, helped by Jack Graham (Macdonald Carey), a detective posing as a government interviewer doing a piece on the Newton family, but who in reality is trying to keep tabs on uncle Charlie and take a picture of him to send back to New Jersey for identification purposes. Charlie had already uncovered some weird behavior in uncle Charlie but didn't think much of it. The cryptic engraving in a ring uncle Charlie gave her as a present and its possible connection to one of the murders proves to be the tipping point for her however, and from that point on the movie changes from 'Charlie & uncle Charlie against the world' to 'Charlie vs. uncle Charlie', but there is still no real evidence, so she has to keep her fears and suspicions to herself, while seeing her mother happier than ever with her kid brother staying over.

Joseph Cotten is simply amazing as uncle Charlie. To the viewer, and later on to Charlie, he has an icy-cold demeanor filled with dread and menace. However, to the family and the local community of Santa Rosa, California where the Newtons live, he's a charming and successful businessman with a quirky sense of humor and a bit of an odd outlook on life. Even a vitriolic speech about 'faded, fat, greedy women' at the dinner table is shrugged off as nothing special. This makes uncle Charlie such a scary and memorable character, despite his creepy ideas on life and rich widows in specific, he blends in perfectly well. Cotten usually played the 'good guy' in movies and starred in genuine classics such as 'Citizen Kane' and 'The Third Man', but every time I think of Joseph Cotten I think of uncle Charlie and the ominous aura he possesses in this movie.

Teresa Wright ('The Best Years Of Our Lives', 'Pursued') is also really good here as Charlie. This was her fourth movie, and the first for which she did not receive an Oscar nomination, one of which she also won (for 'Mrs. Miniver'), according to IMDb something no one else achieved before or since. She gives the innocent, small-town girl Charlie a strong and determined edge, and the transformation in her relationship with uncle Charlie is done quite well. The chemistry between her and Cotten and their changing bond is part of what elevates this movie to great heights. Charlie, and Teresa Wright, reminds me of Iris/Margaret Lockwood in an earlier Hitchcock classic, 'The Lady Vanishes'. Both are young women who live a fairly carefree life, and through the course of the movie learn how strong and determined they really are. Almost a decade after this movie, Wright and Cotten would star again in another noir thriller, as husband and wife no less, in 1952's 'The Steel Trap'.
'We're not talking about murder, I'm talking about killing Herb and he's talking about killing me!'
The supporting cast is also wonderful, and the script gives them all distinct characters. The Newtons, as well as Santa Rosa, represent an average family in an average small town, but Hitchcock has given them their own unique and quirky personalities. Mother Emma 'Emmy' Newton (Patricia Collinge) is the head of the family and pampers her kid brother Charlie because he's the youngest one, unlike her own youngest kid, Roger (Charles Bates) who tries to be noticed but is mostly ignored or dismissed by everybody else. Dad Joseph 'Joe' (Henry Travers) has a dull job as a bank teller but enjoys discussing various ways to kill a person with his colleague Herb (Hume Cronyn), and younger daughter Ann (Edna May Wonacott) reads non-stop and wants to marry a librarian when she grows up. Oh, and she asks for a blessing for Veronica Lake in her nighttime prayers, how can you not love her? Macdonald Carey's Graham is pretty middle-of-the-road in comparison and seems almost too young to play a government agent, but his character is helped by a blossoming romance between him and Charlie.

The music's theme is centered around the Merry Widow waltz by Franz Lehár, a tune that Charlie cannot get out of her head when uncle Charlie comes to town, already hinting at what's to come. Visually, the movie is beautiful, and has plenty of clever touches. Some shots and scenes are repeated in a different context, such as when uncle Charlie looks out of a window at two men who are shadowing him in New Jersey, and later on at the Newtons he carefully peers out of a window again only to find two women chattering about unaware of his presence. There are also plenty of beautiful shots that are used to signify the changing relationship between Charlie and uncle Charlie, including shots that are taken from the point of view of one of them. And lastly, there are a lot of small things that happen or are said, that are innocent enough by themselves, but still somehow tie in to the story, and they become more prevalent on consecutive viewings, adding to the appreciation of the movie. For instance, in one scene, a jaded waitress sees the ring uncle Charlie gave to Charlie as a present, and casually remarks that she'd die for a ring like that, not knowing its past. Or when Joe tells uncle Charlie to not put his hat on the bed. Uncle Charlie asks Joe if he's superstitious, to which Joe replies that he isn't, but he also doesn't believe in inviting trouble, but trouble has of course already found its way into the Newton residence.

I've already mentioned the 'faded, fat, greedy women' dinner table speech, but there's also another well-known monologue by uncle Charlie, when he takes Charlie to a shady cafe and all but confirms Charlie's suspicions about his real reason to come to Santa Rosa. He ends his talk with a pitch-black observation which is probably the best-remembered quote from this movie:
'Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know if you rip the fronts of houses you'd find swine? The world's a hell, what does it matter what happens in it?'
Hitchcock was known for loving to shoot on set and disliking shooting on location, where he had less control over the surroundings. But due to severe budget restrictions set by the War Production Board, he was forced to use location shooting and only a minimal amount of sets for this movie (source). He hand-picked Santa Rosa, California as the location for the movie, using some of its inhabitants as actors in the movie including first time actor Edna May Wonacott who's quite remarkable as Ann Newton (here's a wonderful post on her), and the story goes that he fell in love with the town so much he bought a house there.

The ending apparently was studio-mandated, Hitchcock wanted it to be more open-ended and leave more to guess/think about for the audience. It might have worked better, I don't know, to me the ending is quite fitting. Either way, the movie's great. Hitchcock is reported to have said on several occasions that 'Shadow Of A Doubt' was his favorite of all of his movies. I am not a Hitchcock expert but of all of his movies that I've seen so far, this one is also my favorite. It is really really good and full of tension as well as some black and sardonic humor, and to me it gets even better after repeat viewings. Highly recommended!


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Street Of Shadows (1953)

'Street Of Shadows' is a British noir-ish movie from 1953, one of many churned out by UK crews but with American leads. Originally produced by Nassour Studios, it was subsequently bought by Lippert Productions, who co-produced a ton of these cheap programmers in the UK, and who released it Stateside as 'Shadow Man'. According to VCI, who included this movie in its 'Forgotten Noir' series, the US version runs 7 minutes shorter than the original UK version, but they included the UK version on the DVD, complete with the 'Street Of Shadows' title card in the movie, while using the 'Shadow Man' title on the DVD jacket, possibly for the same reason as there being a 'Shadow Man' poster to the left, I couldn't find any sort of poster for 'Street Of Shadows'.

The movie was directed by Richard Vernon, who also wrote the screenplay based on a novel called 'The Creaking Chair' by Laurence Meynell. This was Vernon's only writing and directing effort, but he did (co-)produce 1940's 'Gaslight' and 1948's 'Kiss The Blood Off My Hands'. Cinematography was done by Phil Grindrod and music was done by Eric Spear, they both worked on a lot of these low-budget crime flicks. In this case, they did a pretty good job.

The aforementioned American lead here is Cesar Romero, who plays Luigi, the owner of a 'pin-table saloon', which is a mix between a penny arcade and a dance club, helped by his loyal aid 'Limpy' (Victor Maddern), who does indeed have a limp. One night, Luigi and Limpy bump into Luigi's ex Angele Abbé (Simone Silva) who is being harassed by a sailor. Luigi interferes and KO's the sailor. The police visit his saloon later that night, warning him to keep his hands to himself, he's got a bit of a toughguy reputation and they'll close his saloon sooner rather than later should he get into a fight again. That same night unhappily married socialite Barbara Gale (Kay Kendall) visits his saloon with a bunch of her friends, and Luigi and Kay connect. They have no time to enjoy the still burgeoning sparks however, as soon afterwards Luigi comes home to find Angele sprawled on a rug in his living room, stabbed to death, after he sees Barbara running away and finding one of her gloves on his doorstep. Not knowing what to make of it or what to do, he tries to get rid of the body by dumping it elsewhere, but he accidentally leaves his front door open, attracting the attention of a patrolling streetcop, who discovers the bloody knife and rug. Luigi gets Limpy to get his car and together they take off with Angele's body, only to be picked up by the police in quick fashion, led by inspector Johnstone (Edward Underdown). During a brief interrogation, Luigi manages to escape and he goes underground in search of the real murderer, as he cannot believe Barbara had anything to do with it, and he's wanted for a murder he did not commit.

The main storyline of Angele's murder and Luigi's hunt for the murderer is pretty straight-forward and dare I say it, pretty average (the identity of the murderer can hardly be called a surprise, I'm sure most readers will be able to guess who it is without even seeing the movie). So it helps that there a few side stories woven into the larger story. There's Luigi's affair with Barbara, the unhappily married wife of Gerald Gale (John Penrose), who is gambling away their money. And Limpy has his own storyline as well, his limp prevents him from finding a girlfriend, something he desperately wants, so he sees any female smile thrown his way as a sign of potential love. What doesn't help is that none of the storylines introduce too many likely candidates for the murderer, despite using over half of its running time to establish the characters and relationships. Gerald and his shady, and arrogant, friends aren't the friendliest bunch of people and while Gerald suspects there is something between his wife and Luigi, suggesting a hint of possible involvement on their part, it's too weak to really be considered, leaving only a couple of suspects.

But quite frankly, the plot or the 'mystery' is not where this movie shines. The stand-out feature of this movie is the soundtrack, which features a lot of harmonica, played by Tommy Reilly, and it gives the movie a very different feel, which works in favor of the movie. The harmonica played theme of the movie was actually good enough to warrant being released on record and even as sheet music. I doubt a lot of other B-noirs can say the same. While it's not as quirky, let alone iconic, as the zither music of 'The Third Man', it does give this movie a fairly peculiar and unique feel. There is also a rather massive jukebox which plays an important role in this movie, providing the blaring soundtrack for some nightmarish scenes. Soundwise this movie is exceptionally well-done given its low budget and obscurity.

The main actors also help elevate this movie to a higher level. Not that there are Oscar-worthy performances here, but Cesar Romero, Kay Kendall and especially Victor Maddern are quite solid here. Romero had already done another British 'noir' called 'Scotland Yard Inspector'/'Lady In The Fog' the year before, as many US actors who weren't in the top-echelon or had a declining career travelled to the UK to star in what were otherwise completely British movies. Romero, who had a long and varied career, would become most well-known for his portrayal as The Joker in the 60s Batman series. Maddern is the standout actor here, he gives Limpy a well-rounded and multi-faceted character, loyal and friendly towards Luigi and the locals, crude towards strangers, especially when they dare call him Limpy, and naive in his attitude towards women. If this movie had been shot in the US 10 years earlier, no doubt Elisha Cook Jr. would've played Limpy, Limpy is the sort of sucker that Cook could play to perfection while asleep.

Kay Kendall also played in a couple of these types of movies opposite US leads, like 'Wings Of Danger'/'Danger On Course' opposite Zachary Scott and 'Mantrap'/'Man In Hiding' opposite Paul Henreid. She was a beautiful and dignified actress and she's perfect for her role, and she could really act. Almost the same can be said for Simone Silva, who had the right look to play the promiscuous and sleazy Angele, except her acting abilities didn't quite match Kendall's, to put it mildly. Both women died at an early age unfortunately, Kendall in 1959 at the age of 32 from leukaemia, and Silva in 1957 at the age of 29 from a stroke. Silva would gain a lot of publicity and notoriety in 1954 when she took off her top while doing a photo shoot with Robert Mitchum at the Cannes film festival, but it didn't do much for her career.

The scenes in the pinball saloon are quite nice. The place has a threatening and claustrophobic feel to it, even when it's fully lighted and filled with people, due to the cornucopia of machines like a maniacal laughing sailor machine, a guitar playing and fortune telling robotic monkey and the jukebox, but once the place is closed and the lights are off, it becomes a very dark, shadow filled and noir place. The narrow streets which are almost like tunnels with its pitch-black shadows also help give this movie a distinct noir feel, even if the plot doesn't.

All in all, at 80+ minutes 'Street Of Shadows'/'Shadow Man' is an above-average movie which is not pure noir, but pushes enough of the noir buttons to provide a fun evening of movie watching. It really should not be a 'forgotten noir', despite being labelled like that. It's worth checking out.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Clay Pigeon (1949)

40s & 50s B movies (movies made for the lower end of double bills) and film noir go together exceptionally well, sometimes even resulting in genuine classic noirs like 'D.O.A.'. And while 'The Clay Pigeon' from 1949 is not a classic by any means, it is still a pretty good and entertaining movie that was made for the lower end. Apparently based on a true story, this noir was directed by Richard Fleischer who directed about half a dozen noirs at RKO, probably the best late 40s/early 50s studio for B noirs, including this one. Carl Foreman (Oscar-winner for 'The Bridge Over The River Kwai' but only receiving it in 1984, because of being blacklisted at the time) wrote the story, Robert De Grasse ('Bodyguard', 'Follow Me Quietly') did the cinematography and Paul Sawtell ('Raw Deal', 'Bodyguard' and over 300 other movies!) did the score.

This is one of the many amnesia noirs, and an above-average one at that. After being a in a coma for 2 years, Jim Fletcher (Bill Williams, 'Deadline At Dawn') wakes up in a naval hospital with 2 hands gripping around his neck. The hands belong to a blind man, and are pulled off him by a nurse who gives him a disgusted stare, and the guy calls him a traitor, but he has no idea why. A few minutes later he overhears the nurse having a conversation with a doctor, and again he's called a traitor, and that he'll be up for court-martial soon. To his astonishment, because while Fletcher knows who he is, he has no recollection of why he's in the hospital, let alone why he's about to stand trial. Not willing to go down that easily, he escapes from the hospital in search of his memory and the truth. His last memories include being held as a prisoner of war in a Japanese prison camp, and he goes in search of one of his army buddies, Mark Gregory, who was also with him in that camp, only to find Mark's widow Martha (Barbara Hale, 'The Window'). There he reads about his escape from the naval hospital and the torture killing of Mark in the newspaper, for which he is wanted. He contacts another buddy from the POW camp, Ted Niles (Richard Quine), who tells him he ratted out Mark and some others to the Japanese guards for stealing food, causing Mark's death as a result, something he can't believe he did. He takes Martha with him, who still thinks he's responsible for her husband's death, and they drive to LA to meet up with Niles. After an attempt on their life on the way to LA, making Martha think Fletcher might not be so guilty, they arrive in LA. There they have dinner in Chinatown where Fletcher sees Ken 'The Weasel' Tokoyama (Richard Loo), a sadistic and brutal officer from the prison camp. Even though Ted tells him to lay low while he hires a detective to look into Tokoyama, Fletcher goes on his own investigation. The problem however is that the men who wanted him dead seem to know his every move, and he still has no idea what exactly happened in the prison camp and what the connection is to these men.

The movie's short length of 60 minutes and a few seconds forces the movie to be brisk and lean and the plot to move at a swift pace, and it does all of that. There are hardly any filler scenes here, and even those serve a purpose and are kept short and sweet, like a sort of breather before the whirlwind picks up again. The action sequences are well-done, with some nice shots, especially considering the low budget. There are also some recurring shots, notably some where a threat to Fletcher's life is seen in a mirror, be it a car in a rearview mirror, a man with a gun standing behind a door or an oncoming train he's about to be thrown in front of. That is not to say this is a visual noir nirvana, in regards to noir visuals this movie is severely lacking. The overall cinematography is pretty mediocre and the noir-looking dark, shadow-filled shots are few and far between. But those recurring shots, the great opening scene with Fletcher waking up to a man trying to strangle him, and the train scene as a whole, definitely are a precursor to Fleischer's later noir work like 'The Narrow Margin' from 1952, an overall much better and more accomplished noir. There is also a nice chase through LA's Chinatown, which at the very end includes a short (and at the time probably fairly unusual/uncommon) tribute to the 442nd Infantry Regiment, a highly decorated US division of soldiers of Japanese descent during WWII, adding some depth and counterbalance to the crooked and evil nature of the only Japanese character of note here, Tokoyama.

Bill Williams and Barbara Hale were married in real life, and it shows, they have great and warm on-screen chemistry, adding to the overall enjoyment of watching this movie. Maybe their chemistry is a bit too good however, Hale looks very comfortable around Williams, even when her character still thinks he is a traitor responsible for her husband's death. But once she starts to believe Jim is innocent, their partnership becomes very believable and real. Unfortunately, while I enjoyed their performances and their obvious warmth & affection for each other, neither are really fit to be noir icons, especially Williams. The movie's poster depicts Williams as some sort of Dana Andrews knock-off with his chiseled facial features, but his face is much smoother in reality, and like Hale, he comes off as way too nice to be a true noir lead. Both did appear in other noirs, but not too many. Hale's biggest noir connection is playing Della Street in the 80s & 90s Perry Mason reboot opposite noir heavy Raymond Burr. As a sidenote, Williams and Hale were one of the few Hollywood couples that lasted, they were married for 46 years until Williams' death in 1992, and they are the parents of actor William Katt ('Carrie'), who is the spitting image of his dad.

Richard Quine would not do many noirs as an actor, but he did direct a couple of noirs, namely 'Pushover' and 'Drive A Crooked Road', both from 1954. He was involved with more movies as a director than as an actor, and he is onlt decent here, coming off as a nice, handsome fellow with a sinister, but also cowardly, edge, but Quine seems wooden and awkward at times. Richard Loo has a pretty one-dimensional character, one he played many times in various ways. His part is too small really to make any sort of real impression.

Overall, 'The Clay Pigeon' is a fairly mixed bag, especially when viewed as a noir. It is a highly enjoyable and fast-moving thriller that starts off in a great and intriguing way, has real chemistry between the leads, some memorable scenes and shots, but is too nice and light overall to convince as a pure noir. So as an amnesia noir, it falls a bit short but as an amnesia thriller, it delivers. So it's still thumbs up for me.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The 13th Letter (1951)

'The 13th Letter' is a noir-ish mystery movie directed by Otto Preminger, whose noir output includes classics like 'Laura' and 'Where The Sidewalk Ends'. Like the French movie 'Le Corbeau' from 1943 it is based on the story 'Le Corbeau' ('The Raven') by Louis Chavance, which was turned into a screenplay for this version by Howard Koch. Cinematography was handled by esteemed cinematographer Joseph LaShelle who also worked with Preminger on 'Laura' and 'Where The Sidewalk Ends'. The music was scored by Alex North who would also do 'A Streetcar Named Desire' the same year and 'Spartacus' later on, so he was no slouch either.

Dr. Pearson (Michael Rennie, 'Dangerous Crossing') is a clock-collecting doctor who now works in a small community hospital in the Quebec province of Canada, which is run by Dr. Laurent (Charles Boyer, 'Gaslight', 'Algiers'). Pearson was once a successful doctor in London but after issues in his marriage, resulting in his wife's suicide, gave up his practice and ended up in Quebec. Because of this tragedy he's become an even more professional and distant doctor, not allowing himself to get too close or attached to anybody else. But some of the local women have taken an interest in him anyhow. Denise (Linda Darnell, 'Fallen Angel', 'Hangover Square') is a young woman who's feigning various illnesses to have Dr. Pearson pay her visits, even though she has a real medical issue that she's hiding from him. And also Cora (Constance Smith, 'Impulse', 'Man In The Attic'), Dr. Laurent's much younger wife, seems interested, to the annoyance of her sister Marie (Judith Evelyn, 'Rear Window'). Marie is not the only who seems upset with Dr. Pearson however, as mysterious letters arrive in the small community, all signed with the image of a feather. They urge for Dr. Pearson to leave town, threatening to expose the secrets of the various people in the town otherwise. Pearson stays calm and doesn't think much of it, until a patient in the hospital also receives such a letter, which claims he has incurable cancer, and commits suicide because of it. The community becomes more paranoid and torn and Marie is seen as a likely suspect and locked up, but more letters appear still...

The tagline of the movie's poster is about as deceiving as it gets, 'A strange kind of killer is loose in this town!'. The writer of the poison letters is not a killer, in fact for the majority of the movie, libel is about the worse offense happening in this movie. The man with the hat from the poster doesn't make an appearance in the movie either. And to make matters worse, despite clearly being the main charactor of the movie, Michael Rennie is billed third on the poster, and fourth even on the opening credits of the movie. I can only assume 20th Century Fox felt Linda Darnell and Charles Boyer and even Constance Smith were bigger names than Michael Rennie and would attract more people to the cinema.

Michael Rennie does a decent job as the male lead, he seems a natural at playing the professional but kind doctor who keeps his composure at all times (he plays almost the exact same role in 'Dangerous Crossing'). It doesn't give him much room for showing emotion however, making his performance decent but also unremarkable. And to be honest, the same can be said for the other performances as well, decent but unremarkable. Linda Darnell normally has no problem playing the attractive girl seducing whoever she fancies, but she's pretty timid here, also because she's not a sultry femme fatale here. I liked Constance Smith the best here, although her on-screen time is fairly limited she has the most interesting character and material to work with.

The movie does not really go into noir territories until very late into the movie when Pearson has pieced together all the clues. It is preceeded however by a few memorable lines by Dr. Laurent, which explain the role of ambiguity in film noir fairly well:
You believe that people are either good or bad, yet good and evil change places like light and shadow. How can we be sure where the one ends and the other begins, on which we're on at a given moment?

Like in Preminger's classic noir 'Laura', there's a portrait painting of a female character here. But I wish more had been done with this in the movie in terms of noir-ness and darkness, especially visually. There is a sense of claustrophobia here, not just due to the small community, but also due to the small rooms and people generally standing close to each other. But a lot more could have, and should have, been done with this lighting wise I feel, to really bring threat and urgency to the power of the letters and the potential severity of the situation. There is almost no tension and sense of urgency in this movie, and the movie suffers as a result. As a mystery, the movie sort of works, but the author of the letters won't come as a surprise either. Unfortunately at the end of the day, nothing really pops out here, Preminger and LaShelle did a good job here, but not a remarkable one.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Chase (1946)

'The Chase' from 1946 is one of several films noirs based on Cornell Woolrich stories, in this case on his novel 'The Black Path Of Fear'. Other films noirs based on his work include 'Deadline At Dawn', 'Black Angel' and 'No Man Of Her Own'. For 'The Chase', Philip Yordan turned the novel into a screenplay. Arthur Ripley directed this movie, he did most of his work, as a director but especially as a screenwriter, in the 20s and 30s. The music was done by Michel Michelet ('Impact', 1951's 'M') and cinematography was handled by Frank Planer ('Criss Cross', 'Champion'), one of the many moviemakers who fled Germany after Hitler came to power and brought the German expressionist movement to Hollywood, which was a major influence on the look and feel of film noir in general.

The rest of this review reveals and discusses the main plot twist of this movie, because it's almost impossible to discuss this unique movie without doing so. Please keep that in mind.

Chuck Scott (Robert Cummings, 'Dial M For Murder', 'The Accused') is a Navy veteran in Florida who's down on his luck, out of a job and out of money. One morning he finds a wallet loaded with money lying on the pavement. After buying himself a big breakfast he returns the wallet to its owner, gangster Eddie Roman (Steve Cochran, 'White Heat', Private Hell 36') who lives in a mansion together with his wife Lorna (Michèle Morgan, 'Passage To Marseille', 'The Fallen Idol') and his side-kick/business associate, the slimy Gino (Peter Lorre, 'M', 'The Maltese Falcon'). Roman appreciates Scott's honesty and hires him as his new chauffeur. Chuck also becomes Lorna's chauffeur for evening trips, usually to the seaside. Lorna is unhappy in her marriage to the violent & ruthless Eddie, and she dreams of escaping to Havana. She asks Chuck if he can help her, and he accepts, as they've slowly grown closer and closer. The next morning, he buys them tickets and in the evening they board the ship to Havana. On the boat they finally admit their feelings for each other. In Havana they end up in a busy nightclub, but it is there that Lorna dies in Chuck's arms with a knife in her back. Nobody saw who did it, and Chuck is interrogated. When Chuck explains he bought a similar, but slightly different, knife that same day, he becomes the police's only suspect, even more so when the shopkeeper confirms he bought the knife that killed Lorna. Chuck manages to escape from the police however, but when he backtracks to the shopkeeper's place later that night, Gino is there, they were on to Lorna and Chuck the entire time! Chuck's been framed for Lorna's murder, and even worse, Gino spots Chuck and kills him... And then Chuck wakes up from a feverish nightmare, it's still the afternoon after he bought the tickets to Havana, he's dizzy and nauseous and doesn't know why he's wearing a chauffeur's uniform or why he's in a room next to the mansion's garage. The whole trip to Havana was nothing but a dream, one which Chuck can't remember either. Chuck calls his Navy shrink, Commander Davidson (Jack Holt) and goes over to see him. Davidson realizes Chuck has had another bout of 'anxiety neurosis' which he suffered from during his time in the Navy and takes him to a bar to have a drink and calm down. There Chuck slowly puts together the pieces of the puzzle and makes his way to the mansion to pick up Lorna to go to Havana after all. But Roman and Gino, sitting in the same club as where Davidson and Chuck are, are made aware of Lorna & Chuck's plans by sheer coincidence and drive off to the harbor to stop them...

The plot of the movie contains the major, and highly unexpected, twist of the whole escape to Havana which culminates in the deaths of both Lorna and Chuck being nothing more than a dream sequence. It turns the movie upside-down, from a fairly straight-forward noir thriller about Chuck and Lorna trying to escape from Eddie Roman's crooked ways with them eventually ending up dead, to a weird amnesia-like noir where Chuck might or might not relive/escape the events in Havana once again. It is a weird, but very intriguing twist, but not exactly the only crazy thing about this movie. Another unique thing is Eddie Roman's car, which has a James Bond-like gadget: it has an extra set of pedals fitted in front of the backseat, so Eddie can take over and control the speed of the car. It provides for a memorable scene where Eddie tests Chuck's nerves, as well as Gino's, trying to overtake a speeding train. Yet another unusual aspect of this movie is the use of repetition, which happens not just with the whole escape to Havana plot which Chuck is set to relive again after waking up. The scene with Eddie taking over the car controls occurs again near the end of the movie, using similar camera angles to emphasize the repetition element. And when Chuck first arrives at the mansion to return Eddie's wallet, Chuck has the exact same conversation twice to the person peering through the door's spyhole, first to the servant, and then to Gino.

While Robert Cummings is better known for playing in more lighthearted movies, he does okay here, although he's a bit bland here as Chuck. Michèle Morgan doesn't convince all that much either as Lorna, she's beautiful but too much of a demure wallflower for me to see how Eddie Roman ever fell for her, nor does she come off as sultry, even though it's clear she's supposed to. Morgan was a far more successful actress in her native France than in the USA, this was the last movie she did in the USA. To her credit, she has only the slightest foreign accent in this movie.

Per usual, the villains are the more interesting, and in this case also convincing, characters of this movie. Steve Cochran as Eddie Roman is suave but ruthless and violent. The first time he makes an entrance in the movie he verbally abuses 2 women, a barber and a manicurist, and when the manicurist accidentally scratches his finger, because he moved but she didn't, he gives her a vicious slap around her face. Later on in the movie he demands some perks from a wealthy businessman, and when the man declines, Roman casually invites the man into his wine cellar where the unsuspecting man dies a gruesome death when Roman's huge and beastly dog is set loose on him. Gino is equally callous and ruthless but is much slimier, something Peter Lorre excelled at. His role is pretty small here, but he has a few good oneliners and the typical cigarette dangling from his lips, and Lorre is always a treat in noirs. The relationship between Cochran and Gino is never fully explained in the movie, but it is clear that Cochran is closer to Gino than he is to Lorna, who he sees more as property than as a real person.

The movie, despite being weird and unique in places, is also dark and pure noir. Lorna is the femme fatale here, and the plotlines are as noir as they come. Visually it's also pure noir, there are tons of looming shadows, providing an ominous atmosphere throughout the movie, especially during the dream sequence in Havana. And the use of repetition, sometimes down to using the same camera angles or dialogue as mentioned before, gives the movie an even more creepy & dreamlike atmosphere than the dream sequence already does. The camera and lighting work is well done, with a few great shots and even some nice tracking shots, especially in the nightclub in Havana.

The movie's story is really good and quite clever and the weird aspects of it make it a pretty unique movie. But while Cochran and Lorre are good and convincing, Morgan and especially Cummings are a bit too lightweight to take this movie to the next level. So it's a bit of a frustrating movie as well, because it is also clear this movie had potential to be a lot mmore, with better actors for the protagonists and maybe some more work on the camera work. It's still a good and enjoyable film noir tho, and pretty unique. After re-watching it again I started to appreciate and see the quirkiness and small clues about the dream sequence much more. Definitely one to watch if you're a noir aficionado.