Poster of the Day: This Gun for Hire (1942)

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 Tagline: “HE’S DYNAMITE WITH A GUN – OR A GIRL!”

 Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake star in this classic noir, directed by Frank Tuttle (All the King’s Horses), with a screenplay co-written by the great W.R. Burnett (novelist, eg. Little Ceasar). The film is loosely based on the book of the same name by Graham Greene. This Gun for Hire was the first picture that Ladd and Lake made together, the partnership proving so successful that they went on to make another six including, perhaps most famously, The Blue Dahlia in 1946.

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“You are trying to make me go soft. Well, you can save it. I don’t go soft for anybody.”

Posted by Dixie

Casque d’Or (1952) – dir. Jacques Becker

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Reviewed by

ROB MUNDAY

Set in Paris at the turn of the 19th century Casque D’Or is a film about a group of men crippled by a thirst for power, for vanity, for money, and for love. More than that, it’s about the one lady in their midst who affects them all, Marie.

Simone Signoret plays Marie, an infuriating character who seems to flit between her suitors like a butterfly unsure where to land. But she is a modern woman pushing back against the dominant men, determined to assert herself, to climb above her role as gangster’s moll. As the story unwinds we gently get under her skin and can’t help empathise with this platinum blond stuck in the filth of the underworld.

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What starts as a gangster film gradually shifts into romance. Serge Reggiani plays Georges Manda a reformed convict who falls hard for Marie. His is a quiet presence, aware of urges both criminal and sexual but always restraining himself – the stolid moustache giving nothing away even when we see the turmoil in his eyes.

Director Jacques Becker has a rare gift for focusing on the essential in every scene with a gentle ease that gives Casque D’Or a weightless feeling. We are caught in a dance with Marie just like the men, in a spin and not ready for the creeping dizziness.

In Becker’s world even when there is discord amongst the characters there is a calmness to his gaze, as if he is looking upon the frailties of man with a weary but sympathetic eye.

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You can see the influence of this film on later gangster dramas as in the scene where Georges and the audience are introduced to the gang and their respective nicknames that surely provided inspiration for Scorsese’s Goodfellas. There is also an edge to the sex and violence that (as with Rififi) sets this apart from its Hollywood equivalents.

The quality of the acting, the sparseness of the dialogue, the elegant mix of studio and location shooting mean that Casque D’Or remains fresh 60 years on. As in Noir these characters are resigned to their fate, happy to enjoy the ride and dance a waltz, spinning toward the inevitable endgame.

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***

New To Us; New To You…? Recent Addition, Samuel Fuller’s PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET

pickup-on-south-street-movie-poster-1020413528Pickup On South Street (1953)

When petty thief Skip McCoy (Widmark) unwittingly steals a role of micro-film containing top-secret information, he finds he has not only the Communist agents whom he stole it from, but also the police and government agents on his back.

Beautifully shot, fantastic dialogue (Fuller wrote the screenplay himself, as he did for almost all his films) and truly great performances – especially from Thelma Ritter, who received an Academy Award nomination for her role as Moe, the tough but kind-hearted tie-seller/information-peddlar/underworld know-all and Skip’s best friend.

Sam Fuller’s outstanding noir is essential viewing, oozing style and pushing boundaries (note the naturalistic fight sequences, especially the one with Jean Peters, and the dialogue which, whilst snappy, is less pat than dialogue written by other noir masters, most notably Raymond Chandler).

Get in the spirit: watch with a chapeau/ view with a kill.

By Dixie Turner

Film of the Day: TOUCH OF EVIL (1958)

MURDER! DRUGS! RACISM! CORRUPTION!

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*ANOTHER WELLES MASTERPIECE AND ONE OF THE FINEST – AND LAST – OF THE CLASSIC FILM NOIRS*

Starring, and directed by, Orson Welles. Also starring Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Marlene Dietrich. Keep an eye out for Joseph Cotten’s cameo…

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“ORSON, YOU LOOK WONDERFUL!”

– An earnest exclamation made by a well-known Hollywood actress at a party Welles attended during the making of Touch of Evil. The actress was unaware that Welles was actually still in make-up, including large amounts of padding and prosthetics.

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Vargas: Captain, you won’t have any trouble with me.

Quinlan: You bet your sweet life I won’t.

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Susan: I could love being corny, if my husband would only cooperate.

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Sanchez: What are you trying to do?

Quinlan: We’re trying to strap you to the electric chair, boy.

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**MARLENE – SOME KIND OF A WOMAN**

by Dixie Turner

Film of the Day: Brighton Rock (1947)

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GRAHAME GREENE’S CLASSIC BRITISH FILM NOIR, DIRECTED BY JOHN BOULTING (I’M ALRIGHT JACK). THERE’LL NEVER BE ANOTHER BRIGHTON ROCK. (Optional irony)

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Pinkie: Have you ever been in love?
Rose: Oh yes.
Pinkie: You would have been. You’re green. You don’t know what it’s all about. I’ve watched it. I know love.

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Ida: Now listen, dear. I’m human, I’ve loved a boy or two in my time. It’s natural, like breathin. Not one of them’s worth it, let alone this fellow you’ve got hold of.

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Pinkie: [in a recording booth, making a disc for the doting, oblivious Rose] You wanted a recording of my voice, well here it is. What you want me to say is, ‘I love you’. Well I don’t. I hate you, you little slut…

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Small-town mobster, Pinkie Browne, comes unstuck when his path crosses that of ballsy ‘psychic’ and ‘actress’, Ida Arnold, who is determined to prove him a murderer…

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NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH:

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Brighton Rock (2010)

OR:

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Film of the Day: OUT OF THE PAST (1947)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAClassic noir directed by Jacques Tourneur

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Kathie Moffat: “I don’t want to die.”

Jeff Bailey: “Neither do I, Baby, but if I have to, I’m going to die last.”

Jane Greer in Out of the Past 1947 (4)

“YOU SAY TO YOURSELF, “HOW HOT CAN IT GET?” THEN, IN ACAPULCO, YOU FIND OUT.”

OUT OF THE PAST / BUILD MY GALLOWS HIGH

 Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer): “Don’t you see you’ve only me to make deals with now?”
Jeff Bailey: “Build my gallows high, baby.”

The Madman; The Murderer; The Mistress… In a Lonely Place

In a Lonely Place (1950)

“I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.”

Humphrey Bogart is brilliantly cast in the pretty unheroic role of a scriptwriter with a mighty violent temper. When a young woman he is seen with is discovered murdered only hours afterwards, Dixon Steele (Bogart) becomes the chief suspect in a murder case. His alibi, however, comes in the form of a beautiful blonde (played by Gloria Grahame) who, once they start playing house together and she gets to know him a little better, begins having doubts about his innocence… (There’s nothing quite like seeing your lover nearly beat someone to death to make you wonder if he’s quite the man of your dreams.)

 An unusual film, Nicholas Ray’s noir masterpiece plays beautifully with the joys of new love whilst simultaneously undermining it with suspicion and doubt (it may be interesting to note that Ray’s marriage to his lead actress, Gloria Grahame, was unraveling and the couple split whilst shooting was in progress. Also, more intriguingly – and worryingly, Louise Brooks in her book Lulu in Hollywood, describes Bogart’s role in this film to be the closest to his true character…)

The film is laden with clues and suggestions that lead you astray as well as an unexpected – and initially unscripted – ending. With its character driven storyline that strips the players’ emotions bare, it isn’t hard to see why In a Lonely Place is considered by many to be one of the finest noirs ever made.

Trailer: http://youtu.be/CcMPHyOWjG4

Gloria Grahame – a very bad girl…

posted by Dixie Turner

Sweet Smell Of Success (1957)

A customer recently wanted a recommendation of something akin to Sweet Smell of Success, the 1957 picture starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. We were a bit stumped, as there really isn’t anything quite like it.

The film centers on the tense relationship between a young press agent, Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis), and an influential columnist, J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster), whose ability to write-up a gossip-filled scandal-yarn can make or break careers. At the heart of their story is J.J.’s younger sister, Susan, of whom J.J. is overly protective and controlling. As J.J. and Sidney wrestle with one another in an attempt to get the upper hand in their game of political power and influence, J.J. attempts to lure Sidney with a promise of success in exchange for breaking up the relationship that Susan has with a man whom he deems inappropriate.

The film is unusual partly for being so verbose, partly for being a classic noir that centers on the jarring relationship between two siblings, partly for its fantastically raw and snappy music – provided by the fabulous Chico Hamilton Quintet, and partly for its incredible location-shots of Broadway with the frenetic energy of the crowd-filled sidewalks and its bizarre scenes shot down alleyways. Perhaps it’s because the director, Alexander Mackendrick, was so anxious during shooting – as a result of all the above, and because Burt Lancaster, who was also one of the producers, had a reputation for being hostile to directors. Perhaps it’s because the cast and crew often had no script to work with so they just had to shoot with only a general sense of where they were going. Whichever it is, and despite what the critics and audiences felt at the time, Sweet Smell of Success is an enduring classic of ’50s cinema. Enjoy.

“I’d hate to take a bite out of you, you’re a cookie full of arsenic.”

I Should Never Have Swiched from Scotch to Martinis: Humphrey Bogart – Last Words.

So, who would’ve thought that Bogie, that dressed-up dude with a Borsalino hat slung low down, just enough to cover one eye and make you wonder what it’s hiding, who would’ve thought the dame-saver who shot wise-cracks just as fast as he shot guns would’ve been such a funny guy? Even as he lay there on the crumpled bed, dying, the faint aroma of scotch – or was it martini – lingering in the room; not even his wife, not even the great whistle-blower herself, Lauren Bacall, could wrench the cigarette from his lips or the bottle from his mind. So, in the words of someone – I forget who, but what does it matter – here’s looking at you, kid.

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Considered by some as one of the greatest films ever made, and also as the first true film noir, The Maltese Falcon has all the fantastic, pacy banter, the femme fatale (Mary Astor), the quick-thinking detective (Bogie) and the shady characters (the terrific Peter Lorre) which define its genre. Watch it or miss out.

The Big Sleep (1946)

A prime example of film noir, Howard Hawk’s directed this, the first adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s great crime novel (it was later re-made in 1978 with a fantastically aging Robert Mitchum playing the famous Philip Marlowe character.) Watch the Bogie and Bacall phenomenon as they smoulder on-screen.

Casablanca (1942)

Love and virtue wrestled it out in this Michael Curtiz directed picture. This was a much-troubled shoot, with writing and directing issues that meant the actors often didn’t know which lines were going to be handed to them the next day. Apparently the famous last line of “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” was written after shooting had been completed, meaning Bogie had to do some dubbing work a month or so later…

The African Queen (1951)

Fantastic production by John Huston, shot largely on location in Uganda and the Congo. A missionary worker and a small steamboat owner are thrust together by the outbreak of World War I when German soldiers begin laying siege to British missions. Drama, adventure, romance and comedy. Brilliant. And particularly funny for some reason when you watch it at the BFI. Presumably it’s all the nerds who get the gentle ‘in’ jokes. Which is why we’re swatting up, now…

****Bogie Box Set Available to Buy In Store****

Box Set includes: Casablanca, Treasure of Sierra Madre, Maltese Falcon, High Sierra

posted by Dixie Turner

Barbara Stanwyck: Reasons to love ‘Missy’…

The ultimate Femme Noir? Certainly not a lady to trifle with. Or even to look at wrong. She’d probably slug ya one.

If you’re looking for a tough talking dame, check her out in Billy Wilder’s outstanding Double Indemnity – a great example of film noir.

To see a softer side to her, as well as her fantastic comedy timing, have a look at the romantic comedy, The Lady Eve in which she plays the consummate con-woman. The film also co-stars a young Henry Fonda.

Often playing the fallen woman, or at the very least, the woman who must rely on her wits to get by (which to post-code Hollywood seemed to usually amount to one and the same thing), Stanwyck is also always utterly believable in the role of one more vulnerable, or noble – as in Stella Dallas or Capra’s Ladies of Leisure.

Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe has her play the tough talking, quick thinking newspaper woman who invents a story – and a hero (played by a truly beautiful Gary Cooper) – in order to save her own career. When the story and the hero start to be believed by one and all – including herself – things spiral out of control.

posted by Dixie Turner