Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Ten movies, two seasons

[One to four stars. Four sentences each. No spoilers. Sources: Criterion Channel, TCM, YouTube. ]

From the Criterion Channel’s Ida Lupino feature

The Hard Way (dir. Vincent Sherman, 1943). Reportedly based on the life of Ginger Rogers, with Lupino as “Mrs. Helen Chernen,” determined to make a star of her kid sister Katie Blaine (Joan Leslie), with predictably destructive results. I wonder what would a contemporary audience would have made of Katie’s singing and dancing and acting. I think it’s only passable, and that might be the point, because the movie is full of the sadness of being not good enough: a hokey vaudeville act (Jack Carson and Dennis Morgan), a faded star who seems to be further fading with every moment of rehearsal (Gladys George, who nearly steals the movie). It’s true: “The world’s full of murderers.” ★★★★

The Man I Love (dir. Raoul Walsh, 1946). How could I not love a movie that begins with Ida Lupino “singing” (dubbed) “The Man I Love” in an after-hours jam session? That’s in New York, but everything else happens out in Long Beach, where that singer, Petey Brown, visits her sisters and brother (Andrea King, Martha Vickers, Warren Douglas) and finds problems galore, including a brother-in-law with PTSD (John Ridgely) and a neighbor (Dolores Moran) who forsakes her husband and children for a gangster and nightclub-owner (Robert Alda). A further complication is the presence of San Thomas (Bruce Bennett), a tormented jazz pianist whose presence helps explain the title. Too easy a resolution, but great atmospherics in nightclubs and a crowded post-war apartment. ★★★★

Lust for Gold (dir. S. Sylvan Simon, 1949). Two quests for gold, present and past, with the present search framing the past. Lupino is at the center of things, a baker in the Old West who betrays her husband (Gig Young) for a man (Glenn Ford) who’s driven to uncover a fabled cache of gold hidden in Superstition Mountain. In the present, a young adventurer (William Price) has taken up the search. A powerful, unusual story, with origins in Arizona legend, overtones of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Double Indemnity, and gripping scenes of hand-to-hand combat on cliff edges. ★★★★

Woman in Hiding (dir. Michael Gordon, 1950). All noir, all the time: Lupino plays Deborah Chandler Clark, the heir to a sawmill, presumed dead by everyone except her husband (Stephen McNally), who knows that his attempt to kill her failed. Deborah asks a genial newsstand clerk (Howard Duff) to help her — but can he be trusted? And can Selden’s ex (Peggy Dow) be trusted? The final five-minute sequence in the dark empty mill (cinematography by William Daniels) is worth waiting for. ★★★★

Women’s Prison (dir. Lewis Seiler, 1955). Lupino here is the sadistic warden of the women’s side of a co-ed prison; Howard Duff (now Lupino’s real-life husband) is a compassionate doctor; Cleo Moore, Jan Sterling, Phyllis Thaxter, and Audrey Totter are the principal inmates. Much better than the title might suggest. My favorite moment: Vivian Marshall impersonating Lupino — or is that just a dubbed voice? My favorite line: “You’re the psychopath, Amelia, believe me.” ★★★★

While the City Sleeps (dir. Fritz Lang, 1956). Here’s the one I was waiting for, but I was disappointed. It’s like Executive Suite crossed with a hunt for a psychokiller, with the indolent heir to the Kyne media empire (Vincent Price) offering a plum position to the underling (James Craig, Thomas Mitchell, George Sanders) who gets the killer’s identity first. Dana Andrews is a Kyne television commentator with no interest in advancement; Lupino, a writer (for the Kyne newspaper’s women’s page?). The messy lives of the Kyne men (one of whom, Craig, is barely present), their significant others, and Lupino exhausted my interest well before the movie’s end. ★★★

[The Criterion Channel has another four Lupino movies already familiar to our household: They Drive by Night, High Sierra, Moontide, The Big Knife. For Peter Ibbetson, Out of the Fog, and The Sea Wolf, see this post.]


One Girl’s Confession (dir. Hugo Haas, 1953). Having seen three Haas movies — 1, 2, 3 — we thought we should add another and become the Center for Haas Cinema Studies. One Girl’s Confession is another weirdly good B-movie, with Cleo Moore as the blandly named Mary Adams, a bad girl who steals thousands, almost commits murder, and nevertheless wins the affection of café owner Damitrof (Hass) and fisherman Johnny (Glenn Langan). Haas’s bother Pavel was a composer (killed in Auschwitz), so it seems no coincidence that this low-budget effort has a superior musical score, by one Václav Divina. An oddly touching scene with Burt Mustin helps the viewer to understand tree roots. ★★★ (YT)


Lou Grant (created by James L. Brooks, Allan Burns, and Gene Reynolds, 1978–1979). In the second season things get better still, with greater character development and storylines that remain contemporary: prescription-drug abuse, Latin American dictators, the murder of sex workers, racial disparities in crime coverage (consider Gabby Petito), racial disparities in school funding, veterans and PTSD, a Ponzi investment scheme, and the persecution of illegal immigrants. The strongest episodes: “Hit,” with Allyn Ann McLerie as a mother trying to track down the driver who killed her son, and “Skids,” with Lou encountering an old friend now on Skid Row. Most touching moment: Billie and Rossi sharing a bed and talking (and that’s all they do). With Ed Asner, Mason Adams, Daryl Anderson, Jack Bannon, Linda Kelsey, Nancy Marchand, and Robert Walden. ★★★★ (YT)


Lou Grant, (1979–1980). More great TV, though the show’s conscience becomes wearisome, with a social issue as the flavor of the week (captured in a one-word episode title), taken up and then forgotten: job discrimination against gay men, prisoners’ rights, children’s rights, corporate takeovers of newspapers, the lives of urban Native Americans, access to mental-health care, wildfires. The most disturbing episode is “Censored,” in which a town censors and burns library books and textbooks because “They’re experimenting with our kids”: but here it’s one town, and in 2022 it’s entire states at work. The best episode of the season is an anomaly: “Hollywood,” a faux film-noir with George Chandler, Laraine Day, Howard Duff, Nina Foch, Margaret Hamilton, John Larch, Paul Stewart, and Marie Windsor. ★★★★ (YT)


Don’t Be a Sucker (1945). A short film from the Department of Defense. After a man addresses a streetside crowd, railing against “Negroes,” Catholics, Masons, and “alien foreigners,” a Hungarian-born listener (Paul Lukas) explains to another man what he witnessed as a professor in Berlin: “I’ve heard this kind of talk before, but I never expected to hear it in America.” A moving and eeerily relevant defense of cultural pluralism. Felix Bressart and George E. Stone make brief appearances, and Lloyd Nolan narrates. ★★★★ (YT)


The Killer Is Loose (dir. Budd Boetticher, 1956). The bank robbery is an inside job, and suspicion falls on mild-mannered teller Leon Poole (Wendell Corey). When his wife is killed in a police raid of his apartment, Poole vows to kill Lila Wagner (Rhonda Fleming), the wife of the detective who fired the fatal shot, Sam Wagner (Joseph Cotten). Cotten is undistinguished here, but Corey, the archetypal beta male, has his finest hour as a psychokiller. My favorite moments: the milk, the bathrobe and boots. ★★★★ (TCM)


The Long Wait (dir. Victor Saville, 1954). From a Mickey Spillane novel. For anyone who remembers the short, sometimes snarky comments that accompanied movie listings in the New York Times TV listings: a comment on this movie might read “Too long.” Anthony Quinn plays an amnesiac bank teller, wanted for murder, searching for the real killer, and trying to figure out which of four women is his now-unrecognizable wife (she’s had plastic surgery). One of the least coherent movies I’ve ever seen, though there is, I’ll admit, something worth waiting for: a striking scene near the end, utterly different from the rest of the movie, courtesy of cinematographer Frank Planer. ★ (YT)

Related reading
All OCA movie posts (Pinboard)

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