Monday, May 11, 2020

Twelve movies

[One to four stars. Four sentences each. No spoilers.]

Columbia noir, from the Criterion Channel

The Mob (dir. Robert Parrish, 1951). The two faces of Broderick Crawford: he plays a surprisingly suave police detective who goes undercover as a longshoreman to uncover corruption on a waterfront. Ernest Borgnine, Neville Brand, and Richard Kiley are among the supporting cast. Good atmospherics (a bar, a flophouse, a lunchroom, a condemned building) and some terrific moments of suspense. This kind of movie, just another movie in its day, is always immensely satisfying to me. ★★★★

The Brothers Rico (dir. Phil Karlson, 1957). Richard Conte is Eddie Rico, who left mob life for legitimate business but finds himself pulled back in to help his brothers. Some surprisingly playful and frankly sexual scenes between Eddie and Alice Rico (Dianne Foster), some chilling scenes with mob boss “Uncle Sid” (Larry Gates), and some ultra-modern mid-century interiors, but the film is marred by overemoting. The great acting surprise is Harry Bellaver, whom I’ve seen in 136 episodes of Naked City but who’s unrecognizable here — that’s how good he is. My favorite line: “He showed me a plush-lined rathole, and I crawled in and made it my home.” ★★★

Tight Spot (dir. Phil Karlson, 1955). Ginger Rogers, Edward G. Robinson, Brian Keith, and Lorne Greene in a strange story of an inmate (Rogers) taken from prison, kept in a guarded hotel room, and pressed to testify at the trial of a crime boss. Moments of sudden, intense violence punctuate a story that’s made mostly of things to do while killing time in a hotel room: telling stories, ordering in, watching television (the movie is brutal toward television), fighting with a sibling, falling in love. Robinson, in his Barton Keyes/Mr. Wilson mode, makes a fine DA. Rogers is for me almost unrecognizable, channeling Judy Holliday and giving a great performance. ★★★★


Framed (dir. Richard Wallace, 1947). Glenn Ford as a luckless mining engineer who’s chosen as the fall guy in an embezzlement scheme. It’s complicated. Janis Carter (I know — who?) and Edgar Buchanan add strong support. A fine low-budget film noir. ★★★★


Rams (dir. Gary Hustwit, 2018). A portrait of the industrial designer Dieter Rams, famed for the spare, functional design of Braun household products, and a major influence on Apple. Rams on camera is elegantly informal and always curmudgeonly — a critic of the consumer culture his designs helped to establish. But moving about his house (where it looks as if nothing has changed for years), dusting a wall-mounted reel-to-reel tape player, typing on a red Olivetti, he seems like a prisoner of his aesthetic. Cookie crumbs, junk mail, muddy shoes — none of that stuff here. ★★★


The Forest for the Trees (dir. Maren Ade, 2003). Twenty-seven-year-old Melanie (Eva Löbau) leaves her boyfriend (of seven years) and family to take a position as a mid-year replacement teacher. Melanie’s students are cruel, even feral; her life outside school is almost non-existent. The Criterion Channel made me think, Oh, the travails of a teacher — I’ll like it, and I did, at least sometimes, but it’s one of the most painful movies I’ve ever watched, as Melanie veers from Annie Hall awkwardness to interest in a neighbor that borders on stalking. The film loses a star for its ending, which seems to me to give up on the story. ★★


The Postman Always Rings Twice (dir. Tay Garnett, 1946). I’ll mention three things I noticed while watching the film yet again. The story begins with a MAN WANTED sign (heh). Despite working in a diner together, Cora (Lana Turner) and Frank (John Garfield) never once eat together — a clear marker that their relationship surpasses ordinary human concerns. Audrey Totter has a great bit as a good-time gal, ready to take off for a week in Mexico with a total stranger. ★★★★


Sleeping Car to Trieste (dir. John Paddy Carstairs, 1948). A train story whose title somehow suggested to me something darker than what I found. It’s a delightful trip, with dry comedy, low-heat suspense, and a large assortment of passengers: fashionistas, a wolfish GI, a prim birdlover, a pompous humanitarian, a witty French detective, a pair of awkward philanderers, and spies, spies, spies, two of whom are hunting the third for a mysterious notebook in his possession. How long can this train roll on before the hunters find their prey? Watch for a young David Tomlinson, later to play Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins. ★★★★


Sleep, My Love (dir. Douglas Sirk, 1948). Claudette Colbert, what are you doing on that train? A crazy, suspenseful story of gaslighting and sanity, with screenplay by St. Clair McKelway and Leo Rosten. Also on hand: Don Ameche, Robert Cummings, George Coulouris, Keye Luke, and the kinda astonishing Hazel Brooks. My favorite line: “I gave you the hurry call because I wanted to see you in a hurry.” ★★★★

Fallen Angel (dir. Otto Preminger, 1945). Stella (Linda Darnell), a waitress in a crummy diner, is the center of gravity in this Laura-like story, with all manner of men orbiting her: her boss (Percy Kilbride), a veteran cop (Charles Bickford), a jukebox operator (Bruce Cabot), and a promoter/con artist (Dana Andrews). Further complications: a mentalist (John Carradine) comes to town, promising to reveal a message from the town’s dead patriarch, father of two spinsters (Alice Faye and Anne Revere), one of whom becomes the mark in the promoter’s schemes. Marks of Stella’s oddly exalted status: she’s the only woman ever seen in the diner, and the only person ever seen eating there (it’s nothing but coffee for everyone else). Strongly noirish and wildly improbable, with music by David Raskin. ★★★


The Hidden Eye (dir. Richard Whorf, 1945). A sequel to Eyes in the Night (dir. Fred Zinnemann, 1942), with Edward Arnold reprising his role as Duncan “Mac” Maclain, a blind detective. The most interesting scenes have Mac explaining or making use of the heightened forms of awareness that come with his loss of vision. Leigh Whipper has a modest role, and Ray Collins — already looking like Lieutenant Tragg — is a major player. The story’s a bit of a mess, and the comedy’s more than a bit tired, but I’m still happy to have seen this second Edward Arnold effort, thanks to a generous YouTube uploader. ★★

Leave Her to Heaven (dir. John M. Stahl, 1945). It begins with strangers on a train, writer Richard (Cornel Wilde) and reader Ellen (Gene Tierney), headed for the same station, and headed for trouble. Tierney is chilling: just a little spooky at first, then dangerous, almost unimaginably so. With a title from Hamlet and support from Jeanne Crain, Darryl Hickman, and Vincent Price. If you can imagine film noir in Technicolor, this movie is it. ★★★★

[Gene Tierney as Ellen. You’d never guess what she’s seeing through those sunglasses.]

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)

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