“Boomerang!” (1947) starring Dana Andrews, Lee J. Cobb, Arthur Kennedy, Jane Wyatt, & Ed Begley

[1] This is a pretty good, taut, realistic, gritty film-noirish film

[2] Most of the film’s dramatic moments take place in the courtroom, but there is a backstory involving municipal corruption

[3] Boomerang is the story of how the man who eventually became U.S. Attorney General, Homer Cummings, used the prosecutor’s office to prove the INNOCENCE of an arrested murder suspect. How often do you see that happen?

[4] …Lee J. Cobb, as the cop who changes his mind, is excellent, and so is Karl Malden, who has less to do. I’ve always loved Sam Levene… the cynical wisecracking reporter was made for him. Playwright Arthur Miller lived near where the film was shot; in the police line-up, he’s the tall man in the dark coat on the far left.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

The film was directed by Elia Kazan who got the New York Film Critic’s Award for this and Gentleman’s Agreement. Boomerang! got an Oscar nom for Best Screenplay (adapted by Richard Murphy). The story starts off w/ narration re: life in a seemingly idyllic community, which could be any town in America. The peace is shattered when an elderly Episcopal priest is shot on a street corner. When the investigation stalls, pressure is put on the cops to come up w/ a suspect. A reporter, Dave Woods (Sam Levene), writes a series of articles criticizing the city government for inaction. Many men are picked up for questioning, just b/c they wear a dark coat and light hat (as the killer is alleged to have worn). In a police line-up, seven witnesses identify John Waldron (Arthur Kennedy), a former WWII vet w/ no job, as the murderer. Waldron (who was carrying a gun) denies the crime. After being questioned by Chief Robinson (Lee J. Cobb), Det. White (Karl Malden in an uncredited role), and a psychiatrist, the suspect confesses. District Attorney Henry Harvey (Dana Andrews) is put on the case. His friends urge him to win the case and run for governor, while facts lead him to believe the suspect may be innocent.

Kazan aims for realism, making it seem like we’re watching events as they unfold. This film was shot on location and features many locals (non-actors) in the crowd scenes. Fans of Star Trek will recognize Jane Wyatt (AKA Spock’s mom); she plays Madge Harvey, the wife to the D.A. She’s the loving/supportive wife, but also on top of things. This is the film debut of Ed Begley; he’ll later appear in 12 Angry Men (w/ Cobb). Begley is a small-time bureaucrat; he sweats and acts nervous. Kennedy plays an ambiguous character, the police interrogate him for two days, depriving him of sleep until he breaks down. Cobb carries Kennedy over to a cot, as you’d do w/ a sleeping child. The second act of the film is the courtroom drama. You can rent this movie on YouTube.

“Human Desire” (1954) starring Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, & Broderick Crawford

Director Fritz Lang said that his American films of the 1950s were “all about fate.” He never saw the characters as evil; they were “people who succumbed to social evils.” This film was made right after The Big Heat– a must-see for fans of noir and classics. We have the re-teaming of Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame, who work very well together. Human Desire was shot on location in Oklahoma. Director of Photography (DP), Burnett Guffey, won Oscars for From Here to Eternity and Bonnie and Clyde. Suiting the dark subject material, the look is grim and gritty. There is much use of shadows, most notably in the scenes where the lovers are alone. Trains are often heard in the background- wheels, whistles, and even going off the tracks.

Jeff Warren (Ford), a Korean War vet, returns to his railroad engineer job and boards at the home of his older friend/co-worker, Alec Simmons (Edgar Buchanan) and his family. He’s amused by Alec’s daughter, Ellen (Kathleen Case), who has an obvious crush. Vicki (Grahame) is the young wife of a middle-aged rail supervisor, Carl Buckley (Broderick Crawford). After the hot-tempered Carl is fired for insubordination, he begs Vicki to intercede on his behalf w/ John Owens, a rich/powerful businessman. Vicki’s mother was Owens’ housekeeper; his influence could get Carl his job back. When Carl suspects Vicki slept w/ Owens, he beats Vicki and forms a plan to get revenge. Jeff meets Vicki, not knowing that she’s married.

You see, the war messed him up. He can’t be in a normal relationship. He has to somehow degrade himself in being w/ Vicki. He’s even willing to commit a crime for her. -Ileana Douglas (actor/film buff)

There is mention of war and killing, though not much detail is provided by Jeff. Under his regular guy persona, something is hidden which draws him toward the troubled Vicki (instead of the carefree Ellen). After Jeff helps Vicki take the drunken Carl home, there is a (semi-erotic) scene. Grahame unbuttons her blouse part of the way, pulls it off one shoulder, and reveals the bruises inflicted by her abusive husband. Later on, when they kiss in the abandoned shed, Ford buries his fingers in Grahame’s hair and yanks her head back (yowza)! While these may seem tame (by today’s standards), I’m sure they surprised audiences in 1954. See comment (below) for the full movie.

[1] This film features interesting photography and lighting typical of this style of film – I especially like the way the train scenes are shot, with the camera strapped to the front of the train, giving a first-person ride along the railroad tracks.

[2] Grahame is a revelation as the amoral wife stung by unfulfillment, sleazy yet sexy. Grahame makes Vicki both alluring and sympathetic.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“The Big Heat” (1953) starring Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin, & Jocelyn Brando

[1] Glenn Ford is super bad ass in this film . He is 100% convincing as a complex man living in 2 worlds. Family life vs. the crime underworld.

It is some of the best writing in film noir history. Almost every line is a gem. There are tons of one-liners.

[2] He conveys so much in a look, a facial expression. And you are with him the whole way; he comes just close to the edge, but not so that he loses your sympathy.

[3] Glenn Ford now looks like one of the most quietly powerful actors of Hollywood`s “Golden Age”… He had a rare ability to portray a kind of slow-burn tension…

[4] Gloria Grahame was born for roles like this one, both tough and vulnerable, the ultimate tragic moll.

-Excerpts from reviews on Amazon

This (must-see) film noir is directed by a giant of this genre- Fritz Lang. It’s based on the novel by former Philly crime reporter William P. McGivern. It’s included on Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies” list and received an 100% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. In the town of Kenport, Sgt Dave Bannion is an on the trail of a criminal syndicate which he suspects holds power over the local police force. Bannion is tipped off after another cop’s suicide; his fellow officers’ suspicious silence lead him to believe that they’re being paid off. When tragedy hits home, Bannion seeks revenge; he gets help from the gangster’s spurned girlfriend, Debby. They must use any means necessary to get to the truth.

Executive Producer Jerry Wald hoped to cast either Paul Muni, George Raft, or Edward G. Robinson as Bannion. It’s tough to imagine anyone else besides Glenn Ford in this role; he makes it look effortless. The best acting is in the eyes; if it’s not coming from w/in, the audience won’t find it believable. As has been said of Jimmy Stewart, I think that Ford was a great listener. You get the sense that he’s “in the moment” as he’s playing a scene opposite his fellow actors.

Bannion’s devoted wife, Katie, is played by Marlon Brando’s older sister, Jocelyn, who has looks and talent, too. In their domestic scenes, Brando and Ford have an easy chemistry, making them a relatable/happy couple. Columbia wanted to borrow Marilyn Monroe from 20th Century-Fox to play the role of Debby Marsh, but Fox’s price was too high, so Gloria Grahame was cast instead. Grahame is flirty, funny, vulnerable, and (eventually) takes control of her own story. The gangster, Vince Stone (Lee Marvin), has a quick/dangerous temper; he only fears the most powerful mobster in the area. There is violence against women (described and shown); some lines were unusual for the era. You can rent it on Amazon or YouTube.

“Scandal Sheet” (1952) starring Broderick Crawford, John Derek, & Donna Reed

An ambitious/tough-talking editor, Mark Chapman (Broderick Crawford), meets the wife he abandoned 20+ yrs ago at a “Lonely Hearts Club” ball sponsored by his NYC newspaper. Charlotte Grant (Rosemary DeCamp), threatens to expose him as a wife-deserter and impostor (he changed his name). In a fit of rage, he pushes and accidentally kills her! When Mrs. Grant’s body is found, Chapman assigns his young protégé reporter, Steve McCleary (John Derek), to the story. It could be a juicy follow-up story to the ball and raise circulation. Julie Allison (Donna Reed), a features writer/Steve’s girlfriend, gets a phone call which could crack the case.

This film noir is based on the 1944 novel, The Dark Page, by Samuel Fuller. The wise-cracking photographer, Biddle, is played by Harry Morgan (who gained fame in the TV show M.A.S.H.) Less than a year ago, Chapman was brought on board to save the paper, as it was losing money. Now, some of the shareholders don’t approve of the scandalous stories which he chooses to cover, though the paper is nearing a circulation of 750,000. Julie can barely hide her disdain for Chapman; she’s disappointed that Steve looks up to him. Derek is (as expected) uber-handsome w/ long lashes and thick dark hair; his character makes some sexist comments (reflecting the era). A few viewers were a bit shocked that Reed (who does a fine job) smokes in this movie- LOL!

Top notch suspense as Crawford gambles that he can keep his cool and get away with it, even as the walls close in and the odds look worse and worse. Crawford is at his no-nonsense, take no prisoners, mince-no-words best…

Reed plays a woman who is like the voice of conscience in the movie–always appalled at Crawford’s methods and making it clear that she wants no part of this degradation of the paper.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“The Big Combo” (1955) starring Cornel Wilde & Richard Conte

Capt. Peterson: You’re a cop, Leonard. There’s 17,000 laws on the books to be enforced. You haven’t got time to reform wayward girls. She’s been with Brown three and a half years. That’s a lot of days… and nights.

This is a lesser-known/low-budget noir w/ snappy dialogue, a jazz score (rare for that period), and fine B&W cinematography. It has its good points, but the femme fatale isn’t compelling, and a few scenes seem slow. A determined cop, Lt. Leonard Diamond (Cornel Wilde from Leave Her to Heaven), is told to stop surveillance of suave mob boss, Mr. Brown (Richard Conte from Thieves’ Highway). Leonard’s captain says it’s costing the police department too much money w/ no results after 6 mos. Diamond makes one last attempt to uncover evidence against Brown by going to Brown’s girlfriend, Susan Lowell (Jean Wallace- wife of Wilde and resembling Grace Kelly), who is chaperoned by two henchmen- Fante (Lee Van Cleef) and Mingo (Earl Holliman).

Mr. Brown: I’m trying to run an impersonal business. Killing is very personal. Once it gets started, it’s hard to stop.

This was one of the very first American films to imply a man going down on a woman; I was a bit surprised! Brown maneuvers around Susan, stopping briefly at her lips, but then dropping out of frame, seemingly down past her waist. Leonard is clearly having a “friends w/ benefits” relationship w/ the burlesque dancer, Rita (Helene Stanton). Her show outfit is sparkly and skimpy, even by today’s standards. Also, the film openly infers that Fante and Mingo are a gay couple who live together, kill together, and seem to love each other (note the basement scene).

 In a performance brimming with cool menace, Conte is fond of saying `First is first and second is nobody.’

And Brown is obsessed with his prowess with women as Diamond is with capturing him and wooing his moll. The film is filled with risque sexual allusions…

What almost ruined this picture for me was the hideously annoying performance of actress Jean Wallace…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews