“Born to Kill” starring Lawrence Tierney, Claire Trevor, & Walter Slezak

THE COLDEST KILLER A WOMAN EVER LOVED! -A tagline from the original poster

In Reno, Sam Wilde (Lawrence Tierney) kills Laury Palmer (Isabel Jewell), a young woman he’d recently dated and her L/T bf, Danny (Tony Barrett). It may NOT be the 1st time that he has murdered- yikes! Sam’s friend/roomie- Marty Waterman (Elisha Cook, Jr.)- chides him for his hasty behavior; he also reveals that last Sam had a “crack-up” last Summer. Helen Brent (Claire Trevor), a woman whose divorce has just come through, finds the dead bodies. She decides NOT to call the cops and become involved. The next day, Sam and Helen meet on the train to San Fran, unaware of the (deadly) link btwn them.

Marty [to Sam]: You can’t just go around killin’ people whenever the notion strikes you. It’s not feasible.

This film noir (considered one of the MOST brutal of the genre) resulted in a loss of $243,000 (over $2.78M in 2020) for RKO Studios. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Tallulah Bankhead was 1st considered for the role of Helen that went to Trevor. French film maker, Jean-Pierre Melville, late said that he was influenced by this movie. The story starts out slow, as we meet Helen, Mrs. Kraft (Esther Howard- playing a boozy/older landlady), and Laury (a talkative young woman who lives next door). Mrs. Kraft (who is a widow) delights in the stories Laury tells re: her dating life.

Laury [describing the man she recently met]: Well, this big across the shoulders. He moved my trunk around the other day like it was a cracker box. He’s the quiet sort. And yet you get the feeling if you stepped out of line he’d kick your teeth down your throat.

Mrs. Kraft: Why, ain’t that wonderful?

Laury: Sure is.

As Eddie Muller commented, this movie has some great supporting characters. Mrs. Kraft can be funny, though she is also a brave/loyal friend to Laury (even after she is gone). Marty will do anything to help Sam, though he projects a humble/harmless persona. Mr. Arnett (Victor Slezak), the private detective hired by Mrs. Kraft, is BOTH jovial and a shameless opportunist.

Delivery Boy: My, that coffee smells good. Ain’t it funny how coffee never tastes as good as it smells.

Mr. Arnett: As you grow older, you’ll discover that life is very much like coffee: the aroma is always better than the actuality. May that be your thought for the day.

“This is the rare film noir that has a femme fatale and a homme fatale,” Muller noted. Trevor (already an Oscar winner) is compelling as a graceful, worldly, and (above all) cold-hearted woman. Helen wants money, as her adopted/younger sister- Georgia (Audrey Long)- is the one who inherited everything from their father. Of course, Georgia is happy to share, BUT Helen isn’t satisfied w/ her paying the bills. Though Helen is engaged to a wealthy man from her social circle, Fred (Phillip Terry), she is V attracted to Sam. Even after she learns he is a killer, Helen still wants to be w/ Sam- yikes!

Helen: [to Sam] You’re strength, excitement, and depravity!

Muller explained that Tierney (6’1″tall w/ a square jaw, intense eyes, and deep voice) was “a real-life tough guy” who was known for his drinking and public brawling. Yup, he was arrested several times! Tierney’s younger brother also became an actor; Scott Brady (V conventionally handsome) changed his last name when he got to Hollywood. Tierney and Cook, Jr. were best pals IRL, too (as in this movie). Some viewers commented that Sam doesn’t have the charm (which is usually expected from a leading man). There is NO doubt that Tierney has something that one can’t teach- screen presence. Somehow, he managed to have a long career; he appeared in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Muller (who met Tierney in this later years) said that “he’s NOT acting” in this role- LOL!

[1] Tierney’s intense character, his hot temper and insane paranoid jealousy are, well, fun to watch once you get to like this actor and his tough-guy roles. Tierney, in this film, would kill over the slightest thing that would suggest to him that he might be getting double crossed. Talk about a guy with mental problems!

Trevor was effective as the immoral woman who cared for money first, and everything else a distant second.

[2] Marty Waterman (Elisha Cook Jr.) has a strange friendship with Sam and the fact that they share a double bed in the low-budget hotel may give a hint that they have a homosexual relationship.

[3] It isn’t a surprise that a good script and some talented actors are put together with such smart, fast panache by a young Robert Wise, more famous for West Side Story and Sound of Music. It ends up taking some astonishing twists, and some liberties with location shooting that are fabulous for 1947.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“Persuasion” (2022) starring Dakota Johnson, Cosmo Jarvis, & Henry Golding

Anne Elliot [lamenting her status w/ Frederick]: Now we’re worse than strangers, we’re exes.

To put it succinctly: this movie (streaming on Netflix) is a hot mess! Y’all MUST have seen/heard some of the horrible to “meh” reviews, as it has been out since July 15. I’m NOT going to recount the plot here, as I’m sure MOST of my regular readers know it. To start, this movie (which often breaks the 4th wall) is confused; it doesn’t know which audience it wants to aim at- Gen Z or Millennials (particularly “wine moms”). It’s certainly NOT geared toward mature/long-time Jane Austen fans (AKA Austenites)! One young woman in a JA Facebook group asked: “Was Anne Elliot supposed to be an alcoholic in the book?” LOL! It would be funny, IF it wasn’t so sad (or disappointing).

Mrs. Clay [commenting re: beauty standards]: They say if you’re a 5 in London, you’re a 10 in Bath.

Even before the movie was out, MANY viewers/critics were appalled by the trailer. I decided to be chill and give it a chance- ugh, curse my (slightly) optimistic personality! While watching, I don’t think I found it funny, emotional, or even slightly interesting. OK, the scenery was nice- that’s about it! There more telling instead of showing, which is a no-no (as reviewers involved in filmmaking commented). There are zero funny moments (IMO), unless you find cringe-y lines humorous. Anyways, this tale is NOT supposed to be light-hearted.

The filmmakers here have characterized Anne all wrong; she’s a mix of Elizabeth Bennett (Pride and Prejudice) and Emma Woodhouse (Emma). No longer is Anne introverted, observant, and self-sacrificing, she blabs her opinions, jokes around (incl. w/ men who are strangers), and drinks (red wine) often! This is the main problem book fans had, I’ve noticed. Dakota Johnson is probably NOT a bad actress (I haven’t yet seen much of her work), BUT she is wrong for this role. As some astute viewers commented: “She has a face that has definitely seen a cell phone.” Even some of the costumes are confusing; one glaring example a costume designer pointed out was Anne wearing black/fishnet gloves in the concert scene.

Sir Walter Elliot: What use is a title if you have to earn it? What use is anything if you have to earn it?

What about the supporting cast? They don’t fare much better than Johnson, sad to say. There is TOO much talking going on btwn Anne and Capt. Frederick Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis); notice all the chatting on the beach at Lyme. Jarvis (haven’t seen his work either) looks uneasy in his costumes and his face often has the same (pained) expression. His line delivery sounds awkward, BUT then so was much of his dialogue. As Anne’s father, Sir Walter Elliot (Richard E. Grant- a veteran character actor), provides a BIT of humor. Anne’s scheming cousin, Mr. Elliot (Henry Golding), is also a ray of light- though he doesn’t have much to do. The Crofts get V little to do also; that’s disappointing since they are such a LT/compatible couple. The MOST cringe-y moment (IMO) involves Anne and her older/widowed neighbor, Lady Russell (Nikki-Amuka Bird), as they have a picnic outdoors. Anne asks Lady Russell: “But do you ever miss company?” (meaning the company of men- or sex)! Oy vey…

Unlike most JA adaptations you MAY have seen in the past, this movie has “color conscious casting.” “Color-blind casting” is the practice of casting actors w/o considering factors such as ethnicity, skin color, body shape, sex, or gender. However, color-conscious casting is the practice of casting actors where these features are considered. Anne’s younger sis, Mary Musgrove (Mia McKenna-Bruce), has a husband (Charles) who is played by a Black actor; their (adorable) young sons are thus biracial. Charles’ younger sisters are played by 2 biracial actresses: Nia Towle (Louisa) and Izuka Hoyle (Henrietta). Though Louisa was trying to get Anne and Wentworth together for a time (all wrong from the book), I thought Towle was a fine actress (as did many other viewers). You can see this version and judge for yourself, BUT I recommend the 1995 movie (starring Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root) or the 2007 miniseries (starring Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones) instead!

“Yellow Sky” (1948) starring Gregory Peck, Anne Baxter, & Richard Widmark

In 1867 in the West, a band of bank robbers flee from the U.S. Cavalry into the desert on horseback. These men are: James Dawson AKA Stretch (Gregory Peck- one of Hollywood’s top leading men), Dude (Richard Widmark- a film noir darling/respected character actor), Lengthy (John Russell- a tall/darkly handsome actor who later became a lead on TV), Bull Run (Robert Arthur), Half Pint (Harry Morgan- long before fame on M*A*S*H), and Walrus (Charles Kemper). Near death from lack of water, all (except Walrus), stumble into what appears to be a ghost town (Yellow Sky). However, they soon discover a prospector, Grandpa (James Burton), and his “tomboy” granddaughter, Constance Mae AKA Mike (Anne Baxter- already an Oscar winner for her supporting role in All About Eve). After Dude discovers that this old man has been mining gold, the gang plan to steal from his claim.

James (Stretch) Dawson: Quite a punch you got there, ma’am. Come in mighty handy when you get married.

I learned that Widmark acted in a few Westerns, thanks to another classic movie fan (via Twitter). Yellow Sky is categorized as a noir Western. The director’s name may be familiar; William Wellman directed the original version of A Star is Born (1937). The story was by W.R. Burnett (one of the most influential writers in film history); the screenplay was by Lamar Trotti. The music was composed by one of the best in the field, Alfred Newman; he created the 20th Century Fox logo theme (which is still used today). In 1940, Newman was nominated for 4 Oscars for 4 different films- wow!

Shakespeare’s The Tempest influenced the plot/characters; I learned this from the review that indie director John Sayles did. However, Wellman said in the book, The Men Who Made the Movies, that he had no idea of the connection. In the fight between Lengthy and Mike at the spring, Baxter’s stunt double- Martha Crawford- was used. Peck broke his ankle in 3 places after falling from his horse in one scene, so the man wrestling w/ Baxter in the hay was his stunt double, Jock Mahoney. Wellman noted that Baxter hated working w/ Peck, BUT never gave a reason why. Hmmm… I found this surprising, b/c I’ve never heard of Peck’s co-stars having serious issues w/ him!

I’m NOT yet V familar w/ the Western genre, though I mostly grew up in the desert (Tucson, AZ). This movie is visually stunning w/ stark black and white photography of the natural landscapes. The filmmakers received permission to shoot in Death Valley, which had the dangers of extreme heat, scorpions, and tarantulas- yikes! Peck and Widmark make believable frenemies; they’re NOT only opposites physically, BUT also have different personalities. Each of the 6 men has his own style of speech, unique costume, and scene in which to reveal his character. The romance develops over a few scenes, as Mike learns that Stretch is NOT a bad man (deep down). The last scene looks tacked on (by Hollywood studio execs), as Sayles commented. This movie was re-made in South Africa as The Jackals (1967) starring Vincent Price.

[1] Gregory Peck plays the leader Stretch, an actor normally associated with a straight-laced gait, here he is is weather worn and tired, his portrayal of Stretch as convincing as a role I have seen him tackle. Richard Widmark, in what I believe to be his first Western entry, is truly magnetic, a smirking, snarling Dude that you just know you couldn’t trust if your life depended on it. Anne Baxter plays the sole female character of the piece (Mike), and she is pivotal to the whole film’s strength, tough and full of spunk, her grasping of the situation in amongst these ragged men gives the piece it’s time bomb ethic, and boy does Baxter do well with it.

[2] Performances are superb from all concerned. Peck gives one of his usual stalwart portrayals. Richard Widmark, in his first western is superb as the slimy, crafty double crosser. Also excellent is John Russell as the womanizing gang member (“Now ma’am, you wouldn’t shoot a fine young handsome fella like me, would ye?”)

[3] The main thing you might not catch is that this is an adaptation of “The Tempest,” by Shakespeare. Here, the band of travelers crosses a metaphoric sea (the desert) and reaches a “New World” where they sort out what matters between them. The set was built (and deliberately destroyed) from an old silent film set that was left over.

William Wellman was one of those consistently excellent directors who never really made a bad film, but didn’t always make exceptional ones, and this one is right in his usual mix of strong visuals, tight editing, fairly simple dramatic plots, and a key actor or two to identify with.

-Excerpts from IMDb movies

“Don’t Bother to Knock” (1952) starring Richard Widmark, Marilyn Monroe, & Anne Bancroft

SHE’S DYNAMITE! It Opens the Door on the Screen’s Most Exciting New Personality- MARILYN MONROE -A tag line (on the movie trailer)

An airline pilot, Jed (Richard Widmark), stays at the NYC hotel where his gf, Lyn (Anne Bancroft- just 20 y.o.) is a singer. Some guests have lived in this hotel for yrs (and call it “home”); others are visiting for a short time (business/vacay). Some employees have been around a long time also; Eddie (Elisha Cook, Jr.) has been an elevator operator for 7 yrs. Jed notices a young woman (wearing a black kimono) across the courtyard on the opposite side of the hotel. They start out flirting by playing w/ their window blinds, then he calls her on the phone. They decide to meet-up in her room. As they drink and talk, Jed comes to realize that this woman, Nell (Marilyn Monroe at 25), is NOT as uncomplicated as she looks. I’m NOT going to reveal more, as I don’t want to spoil the surprises!

Jed [to Nell on the phone]: Are you doing anything you couldn’t be doing better with somebody else?

The screenplay was written by Daniel Taradash, based on the novel- Mischief– by Charlotte Armstrong, published in 1951. I had never heard of the director, Roy Ward Baker, before; he worked in small-budget Hollywood films for a time after (before returning to his native England). There is nothing showy re: the style; it’s understated (NOT unlike an ep of a TV show). The acting is well-done when it comes to each role, incl. the minor ones that add flavor to the story. We get the (rare) chance to see Widmark (star of many noirs) as a regular (and mostly relatable) guy! He shows a lighter (and charming) side. Bancroft is beautiful, mature beyond her age, and sings V well.

I learned that 1952 was a great year for Monroe; she made her mark in Clash by Night (acting opposite Stanwyck), Monkey Business (I still need to see), and this film. She’d played small roles in 2 great films released in 1950: the much-acclaimed All About Eve and the noir classic The Asphalt Jungle. The (iconic) actress commented that this was one of her fave roles. Some fans noted that Monroe’s hair/make-up is much more natural than in her later film; she’s gorgeous (of course). However, when you see the fine quality of her acting, you’ll be wow-ed even more!

Marilyn Monroe wanted to be this great star, but acting just scared the hell out of her. That’s why she was always late- couldn’t get her on the set. She had trouble remembering lines. But none of it mattered. With a very few special people, something happens between the lens and the film that is pure magic. And she really had it. -Widmark on his co-star

“Whirlpool” (1949) starring Richard Conte, Gene Tierney, Jose Ferrer, & Charles Bickford

Tomorrow she will know what she did tonight! -A tagline (on the movie poster)

Ann Sutton (Gene Tierney), the wife of a well-known psychoanalyst, Dr. William Sutton (Richard Conte), falls prey to a smooth-talking hypnotist, David Korvo (Jose Ferrer), when he discovers she’s a shoplifter. Ann is V ashamed and refuses to reveal her problem (“kleptomania”) to her husband, BUT thinks Korvo may be able to help her out. What are this man’s true intentions? Soon, one of Korvo’s former patients, Teresa Randolph (Barbara O’Neill)- now being treated by Dr. Sutton- is found murdered. When police find Ann at the scene of the crime, suspicion points her way! The man in charge of the case is Lt. James Colton (Charles Bickford), a grizzled cop and recent widower.

David Korvo: You were wise not to tell your husband, Mrs. Sutton. A successful marriage is usually based on what a husband and wife don’t know about each other.

This movie was directed by Otto Preminger, known for his talent and also V difficult personality. However, there is no doubt that he could get fine performances from actors (though his style was NOT pleasant). I think Preminger used close-ups well to build tension in this movie. The screenplay was written by Ben Hecht and Andrew Solt; it was adapted from the novel Methinks the Lady by Guy Endore. The cinematography was by Arthur C. Miller. The music was composed by David Raksin (a protege of Alfred Newman). Noir-istas MAY have noticed, as in the movie Laura (also directed by Preminger/starring Tierney), some of the same works of art appear as here (a standing Buddha and a collection of masks).

Some viewers commented that though the script was weak, the acting was good. Tierney (as always) looks beautiful, acts graceful, and has a sophisticated air. Conte does well, though this isn’t the type of (intense/exciting) role he usually plays; you’ll hear his New York slip out sometimes. I liked the scene where William confronted Korvo in the hospital; we see anger mixed w/ sadness (suppressed tears) in Conte’s eyes. Director Elia Kazan and actor John Garfield “discovered” Conte while he was working at a resort in the Catskills (frequented by members of The Group Theater). They saw his potential and encouraged him to study acting.

Jose Ferrer (no relation to actor Mel Ferrer) was a Puerto Rican actor/director; he won the Best Actor Oscar for playing the title role in Cyrano de Bergerac (1950). He was the 1st Puerto Rican actor to win an Academy Award, and also the 1st Hispanic actor to do so. Ferrer was married for many yrs to singer/actress Rosemary Clooney (aunt of George). Like many of his era, Ferrer came from the theater; he appeared in many Broadway plays (most notably as Iago in Othello: 1943-1944). Here he plays another compelling villain; Korvo navigates high society w/ charm/manners (but is dangerous to know). Who doesn’t like (or like watching) a “bad boy?”

[1] …Preminger’s movie is a compelling little piece of cinema. The central theme of hypnosis as a weapon gives the film a dark edge and Preminger nicely portrays a world containing sympathetically flawed characters.

[2] There’s a lot of pop psychology hokum floating around in the story, which needn’t be gone into, except to say that hypnosis is a curious altered state of consciousness that isn’t well understood at all. Some people are good subjects and some not. The good ones are really good. […] Sometimes, with some people, it really WORKS. I’m not so sure about self hypnosis though. We’ll know more, I guess, in another generation or so.

The surprises are real enough and the story is engaging. Ferrer stands out as the heavy, Tierney with her little girl voice doesn’t have to do much, and Richard Conte as the psychoanalyst is stolid, which is what the role calls for. Worth seeing.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews