“The Hitch-Hiker” (1953) directed by Ida Lupino

When was the last time you invited death into your car? -A tag line for the film

Two friends, Roy Collins (Edmond O’Brien- who has appeared in several noir films) and Gilbert Bowen (Frank Lovejoy- the more conventionally handsome of the pair), on their way to Mexico for a fishing trip, pick-up a stranded motorist, Emmett Myers (William Talman- the prosecutor on Perry Mason) who turns turns out to be psychopath/escaped convict. Myers has a facial deformity which prevents one of his eyes from ever closing- creepy! He has murdered other good Samaritans; he taunts/threatens the two pals, getting joy from holding them hostage w/ his gun. Myers’s destination is a ferryboat in Baja, CA. Collins and Bowen hope to stay alive long enough to escape or maybe get rescued by Mexican cops.

Emmett Myers: You guys are soft. You know what makes you that way? You’re up to your neck in IOU’s. You’re suckers! You’re scared to get out on your own. You’ve always had it good, so you’re soft. Well, not me! Nobody ever gave me anything, so I don’t owe nobody!

The Hitch-Hiker is the ONLY film noir of the classic era directed by a woman- Ida Lupino! She was born/raised in England, then came over to the US as a teenager in the ’30s. At Warner Bros. (where she was contracted), Lupino often played characters much older than her years (b/c she had the maturity and talent). As a V slim/petite ingenue, she had her hair colored platinum. In the late ’40s, Lupino (inspired by Italian neo-realist directors, incl. Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini) decided to take on a new role; she and her writer/producer husband (Collier Young) may’ve been the first to coin the phrase “the filmmakers.” While Lupino was directing, she always wore pants, explaining that they were more suited to the work than skirts/dresses. Her production company wasn’t afraid of controversial topics or centering stories of females: Not Wanted deals w/ a teenager’s unwanted pregnancy, Never Fear is centered on a dancer who has polio, and Outrage considers what happens after a woman survives rape.

Ida Lupino is the most talented and versatile woman in the history of movies. -Eddie Muller, TCM host

This tense/atmospheric movie is available in the public domain; the run time is at 71 mins. It is based on an incident that happened in California in the early ’50s. At this time in the US, hitch-hiking wasn’t that uncommon. A man named Billy Cook murdered a family of 5, incl. 3 children, then killed a traveling salesman. He kidnapped 2 hunting buddies (James Burke and Forest Dameron) and took them across the border into Mexico, intending to kill them, too. However, Cook was captured by Mexican police and extradited to the US. Lupino somehow met Dameron at an event in Palm Springs, FL, and felt this story would make a compelling movie. She also met w/ Cook while he was on death row in San Quentin- wow!

Talman recalled an incident that happened shortly after the release of The Hitch-Hiker. He was driving his convertible in LA w/ the top down, and he stopped at a red light. Another driver in a convertible stopped next to him stared at him for a few seconds, then asked: “You’re the hitchhiker, right?” Talman nodded. The other driver got out of his car, slapped Tallman across the face, then drove off. Talman said: “You know, I never won an Academy Award, but I guess that was about as close as I ever will come to one.”

[1] This flawlessly acted and directed thriller sustains a uniquely tense atmosphere from start to finish, and this without reverting to explicit violence or dreadful clichés. 

[2] We’ve seen many similar plots over the years, but I thought this was a fresh and unpredictable. Lupino’s direction really suits the material, the tension builds throughout, and Talman is unforgettable.

[3] This is a low budget, black and white suspense thriller that has more tension in it than a dozen recent movies. The low budget works in its favour, with tight camera angles making for a claustrophobic viewing experience. Actress Ida Lupino certainly knows what she’s doing behind the camera, as she rarely puts a foot wrong here: the pacing is exact and the performances are excellent.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

 

Spoiler-Free Review: “Nightmare Alley” (2021) starring Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Colette, & Rooney Mara

In the late 1930s, Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) buries a body and burns down a house in a rural area. Stan gets a job w/ a traveling carnival, after helping the owner- Clem (Willem Dafoe)- capture one of the escaped performers, a “geek.” This term comes from the German word “geck,” meaning fool/simpleton; it “geek” was used around circuses/carnivals to describe a wild man/woman. A typical geek show in the mid-19th c. would have a person on stage biting the head off of an animal (a chicken is seen in this case) and drinking its blood. Stan is silent (Cooper doesn’t speak until 11 mins. into the movie) and observant for a time, taking in the new environment and its inhabitants. He starts working w/ clairvoyant act of “Madame Zeena” (Toni Colette- who I wanted to see more) and her older/alcoholic husband, Pete (David Strathairn- always great in any role). He has his eyes on a young performer, Molly Cahill (Rooney Mara), and approaches her w/ the idea of a 2-person act (away from the carnival). An older strongman, Bruno (Ron Perlman), is suspicious of Stan and protective of Molly.

I saw this move last week on HBOMax; it’s a mix of noir and horror (w/ a few gruesome images which may turn off sensitive viewers). Director Guillermo del Toro noted that this is NOT a remake of Nightmare Alley (1947) starring Tyrone Power, BUT a re-adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham’s novel. However, several critics/viewers commented that they saw callbacks to the original. Leonardo DiCaprio was originally picked for the lead, but when negotiations fell through, he was shortly replaced by Cooper. As one movie podcaster said: “I hope DiCaprio didn’t turn this down for ‘Don’t Look Up,’ b/c that isn’t a good movie.” I’m NOT a fan of Cooper or a hater; I don’t see the big appeal. I get the sense that his skills are suited to lighter (comedic) roles; Cooper lacks the gravitas of someone like DiCaprio. In his characterization of Stan, Power is more compelling; he’s able to convey the dangerous/dark side to his character.

I was impressed w/ the supporting actors, though Mara should’ve gotten a BIT more character development. In the original, Coleen Gray’s Molly exuded innocence/positivity; here, she is morose/jaded. Do you think Stan loves Molly or is he just using her b/c she is young/impressionable? Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett) is a fascinating/mysterious character; she fits into the femme fatale role (a few critics were reminded of Lizbeth Scott re: her look). I enjoyed Blanchett’s scenes w/ Cooper, BUT it’s obvious who’s the more stronger/charismatic performer. The wealthy/powerful businessman, Ezra Grindle (Richard Jenkins), makes a more formidable adversary than in the original.

I wanted to love this movie (as a big fan of noir), BUT this is a case of style over substance. There are some good scenes, so it’s worth a look. Del Toro creates a world that is visually V interesting. The cinematography, musical score, production design, costumes/hair, etc. suit the story well. There are a few (creepy) people and props in the carnival that will stay in your mind- yikes! There is a B&W version; I’d be interested in seeing that sometime. Like MANY recent films, the running time is TOO long. It takes more than an hour to get out of the carnival atmosphere. There are a few elements which will remain a mystery, such as Lilith’s past and her motivation for what she is doing. I just expected more from such an ambitious film!

Noir City DC Film Fest: “Road House” (1948) & “Desert Fury” (1947)

Hey y’all, thanks for reading (hope you also subscribe)! I missed out on blogging re: movies during #Noirvember (yup- again), BUT am gonna share w/ you the 2 films I saw at a local film fest (at AFI in Silver Spring- a FEW blocks from my place). The best part- I met TCM host Eddie Muller (looking classy and full of funny stories) and got my book (Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir) signed!

Road House (1948) starring Ida Lupino, Cornel Wilde, Richard Widmark, & Celeste Holm

Jefty Robbins (Richard Widmark), owner of a roadhouse in a small town (near the Canadian border), hires tough-talking/world-weary Lily Stevens (Ida Lupino- who does her own singing) for a 6 wk. gig, despite the reservations of his manager/best friend, Pete Morgan (Cornell Wilde). Pete even tries to get Lily to go back to Chicago, offering her some money. Jefty is interested in Lily, as she’s “different from other girls.” He brings her breakfast in bed at her hotel. When Pete goes out of town for a fishing trip, Lily turns her charms on Pete, who is resistant. Pete usually dates the roadhouse cashier, Susie Smith (Celeste Holm). Events bring Pete and Lily closer together, until they fall in love. Lily turns down Jefty’s marriage proposal. Then, Pete and Lily have to face Jefty’s intense jealousy!

Susie: She does more without a voice than anybody I’ve ever heard!

Road House was director Jean Negulesco’s 1st film for 20th Century Fox; he had recently been fired by Warnes Bros. Darryl F. Zanuck told him, “This is a bad script. Three directors have refused it. They don’t know what they’re doing, because basically it’s quite good. Remember those pictures we used to make at Warner Bros., with Pat O’Brien and Jimmy Cagney, in which every time the action flagged we staged a fight and every time a man passed a girl she’d adjust her stocking or something, trying to be sexy? That’s the kind of picture we have to have with Road House.”

Not only was Lupino (one of Muller’s faves) a good actress, she also had a head for business (purchasing the rights to the movie for $20K). This film was a year after Widmark played a sadistic killer in Kiss Of Death. As Jefty, Widmark gets to show some of his “regular guy” side, but evolves (or devolves) into a very troubled man. Wilde’s role is as the straight man (which can be dull), but he does a good job. Wilde and Lupino have strong romantic chemistry. Holm gets the (thankless) role of the “girl next door” who’s overlooked, but she handles it well. I really liked the production design on this film; scenes in the roadhouse’s bowling alley were shot at a real alley located near the studio. Check this movie out- it’s one I think MANY will enjoy!

[1] Despite the hole-riddled ending, it’s still worth seeing because of Lupino’s and Widmark’s performances. She is great as the 2nd-rate singer (singing her own songs with a decent but obviously less than stellar voice–which was perfect for the role)… Widmark was interesting because he combined two totally different performances in one film…

[2] “Road House” is an engaging film–noir with a storyline of unrequited love and obsession. Ida Lupino has an impressive performance, singing with a wonderful husky voice. […] This film is also the third appearance of the outstanding Richard Widmark and his insane smile on the cinema. Cornel Wilde and Celeste Holm complete the dream cast of this unknown gem. 8/10

[3] Widmark’s character is by far the most interesting. A little unbalanced at the beginning, he turns crafty and bitter before he loses it altogether. There’s a good deal of pathos in the character.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Desert Fury (1947) starring Lizabeth Scott, John Hodiak, Burt Lancaster, Wendell Corey, & Mary Astor

Fritzi Haller (Mary Astor) is a powerful casino owner in Chuckawalla, a small town in Nevada. Her 19 y.o. daughter Paula (Lizabeth Scott) has quit school; she returns at the same time as racketeer Eddie Bendix (John Hodiak), who left under suspicion of murdering his wife a few years ago. Paula and Eddie become involved, despite the big age gap and her being warned against him. Fritzi, a deputy/Paula’s friend Tom Hanson (Burt Lancaster) and Eddie’s companion Johnny Ryan (Wendell Corey- his film debut) try to break up the relationship. Then, Eddie’s past catches up w/ him in an unexpected way!

This is the kind of B movie that ONLY a true fan of noir will like (or tolerate)- LOL! Seeing it w/ a audience helped, as did the intro from Muller. The music is unnecessarily dramatic, overpowering some scenes. Fans of this genre MAY be surprised to see Scott as the lead here; she was a limited actress (though V conventionally pretty w/ a distinctive/husky voice). Lancaster (looking esp. handsome w/ his tousled hair and leather jacket) has the straight-shooter role here; Tom (in his late 20s) cares for/is protective of Paula. She doesn’t have many friends in town; other kids stayed away from her b/c of her mother’s profession. The romance between Paula and Eddie isn’t as interesting as the (enigmatic) relationship between Eddie and Johnny. Corey gets a meaty role for his first role; a villain w/ many layers, Johnny is V protective over his friend.

[1] Made in 1947 in perfect glossy Technicolor to distract you from the beserkness and tawdry storyline, this is one terrific exercise in censorship busting antics that managed to fulfill it’s reputation. […] DESERT FURY is genuine queer cinema. With incest hinted, guns and car tire screeching, sinister sunglass wearing and cactus pricks everywhere…

[2] Desert Fury is one of those several films from the studio days where gay was strictly taboo yet it somehow got to the screen. That scene where Corey tells Scott how he met a ragged and hungry Hodiak at the Automat and bought him a meal and took him home sure sounded like a pickup to me. Many from the generation before Stonewall told me that the Horn & Hardart Automat was one of the great pickup places in New York. Romances and flings have started in stranger places. No way that the writers would not have known that. Corey’s devotion to Hodiak can’t be explained any other way as the story unfolds. In fact he’s the stronger of the two.

[3] The best part of Desert Fury is Edith Head’s costumes. Every single scene, Lizabeth and Mary are dressed in gorgeous dresses that will have you oo-ing and ahh-ing for the entire running length. Lizabeth is very pretty in this film, and dressing her up in such beautiful costumes only makes it more fun to watch her, even when she’s exercising bad judgement.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Modern Film Noir: The Dark Side of Life (In Color)

Body Heat (1981)

This film is considered to be an erotic thriller; it is (obviously) inspired by classic noir. So, maybe we can consider this to be neo-noir? Matty (Kathleen Turner) is the femme fatale; she has a secrets in her past. Ned (William Hurt) is the not-so-smart/playboy/lawyer who gets caught in her web.

Read my review.

Blade Runner (1982)

Many critics consider this to be the first sci-fi noir. It is a deep film that makes us wonder re: the nature of humanity. Many have wondered if Deckard (a young-ish Harrison Ford) was a human or a replicant. If you find this interesting, you may also like the sequel- Blade Runner 2049 (starring Ryan Gosling).

Dir. Ridley Scott and D.P. Jordan Cronenweth achieved the “shining eyes” effect by using a technique invented by Fritz Lang (“Schüfftan Process”) where light is bounced into the actors’ eyes off of a piece of half mirrored glass mounted at a 45 degree angle to the camera. Lang is known as a titan of the noir genre.

Miller’s Crossing (1990)

This is a lesser-known Coen bros film w/ young-ish Gabriel Byrne and Marcia Gay Harden (who I saw on the NYC subway years ago) that I really enjoyed. You see fine character actors in a world of their own which is very engaging (as expected from the Coens).

Read my review.

Cape Fear (1991)

This is the remake of the classic film dir. by Scorsese; the stars are Nick Nolte, Robert De Niro (sporting long-ish hair and fake tattoos), Jessica Lange, and a teenaged Juliette Lewis. You will also see cameos from Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum (I got a kick out of that). It’s NOT as good as the original, but still worth a look.

Heat (1995)

This film is loved by many who like action films, but also want strong character development. Fans of De Niro and Pacino will definitely want to check it out!

Read my review here.

The Usual Suspects (1995)

I haven’t seen this movie in a long time- think will give it a re-watch soon! It’s been on “modern noir” lists I looked up.

Fargo (1996)

Perhaps the Coens’ most well-known/loved film; we find quirky characters, dark humor, crime, moments of lightness, etc. Frances McDormand is the pregnant cop who you just can’t help but admire and root for, as she works to investigate some shady events in her small/snowy/usually safe community.

L.A. Confidential (1997)

Three young cops w/ different approaches to their work: Russell Crowe (looking hot), Guy Pearce (also looking hot), and Kevin Spacey investigate a series murders in 1950s LA. Kim Basinger revives her career w/ a strong (supporting) role. I will re-watch this soon.

Se7en (1997)

I’ve only seen this film once; I didn’t like it that much (aside from Morgan Freeman’s role). You get to see a young/lonely wife (Gwenyth Paltrow) and her hubby/rookie detective (Brad Pitt); they are newlyweds starting their lives in the big city (Chicago). Of course, the baddie (Spacey) steals the show, as many of you know. We know dir. David Fincher made a big splash w/ this controversial/bloody/creepy film.

Training Day (2001)

You all probably know I’m a big fan of Denzel Washington; I also really like Ethan Hawke. They make a great/unlikely duo in this film, which has good supporting actors, action, dark humor, crime, etc. Denzel is really good as a baddie, though he’s NOT a one-note villain!

No Country For Old Men (2007)

Wow, the Coens really hit it out of the park here! I recall many/diverse viewers commenting that they enjoyed this film; they were also scared (or at least, on edge). I became a fan of Javier Bardem (who they ugly-fied for his baddie role). I also enjoyed seeing Tommy Lee Jones; also, I think Kelly Macdonald should’ve gotten even bigger roles (as she’s good in everything).

Gone Girl (2014)

I saw this film w/ a group of (mostly) single gal pals in one of our local theaters; we were NOT expecting what we saw (LOL)! Is this a farce (as some critics have noted)? Is the depiction of dysfunctional marriage meant to be taken (mostly) seriously? You can hate exurban life in the Midwest (BUT not as much as the wife played by Rosamund Pike)! Ben Affleck had his Batman physique then; I found that somewhat distracting (he’s supposed to be a underemployed teacher/writer). I liked the detective (Kim Dickens) and the defense lawyer (Tyler Perry); they were the ONLY characters that seemed somewhat normal/relatable. Maybe I’m just NOT a fan of Fincher’s cold/slick style? Thank goodness for my single life!

Hell or High Water (2016)

This is a Western neo-noir set in the Southwest starring the (always great) Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine (in a rare non-glam/anti-hero role), and Ben Foster (a fine character actor I’ve admired since he was a teen). The two working-class bros at the center of the story can’t seem to get ahead, so they take a (criminal) turn. A must-see for fans of smart films!

Read my review.

Film Noir takes on “Bonnie & Clyde”: “Gun Crazy” (1950) starring John Dall & Peggy Cummins

Thrill Crazy… Kill Crazy… Gun Crazy -A tagline for the film

Since he was a little boy, Bart Tare (John Dall) has loved guns. After 4 yrs. of reform school, then a stint in the Army, he returns home to his small town. His older sister (Ruby)- who raised him after they lost their parents- is now married w/ 2 young kids. His two best friends (a cop named Clyde and a newsman named Dave) take him to a carnival; he meets Annie Laurie Starr, a blonde/petite woman who is a sharp-shooter. Laurie loves guns as much as Bart- even getting him a job! They end up getting married, leaving the carnival (after the boss hits on Laurie), and have a long honeymoon where they live it up. When they get low on money, Laurie tells Bart her idea- robbery!

I told John, “Your c*ck’s never been so hard,” and I told Peggy, “You’re a female dog in heat, and you want him. But don’t let him have it in a hurry. Keep him waiting.” That’s exactly how I talked to them and I turned them loose. I didn’t have to give them more directions. -Joseph H. Lewis, director

This film is based on a story written by McKinley Kantor reworked by Dalton Trumbo (who was blacklisted). Here we see the linking of sex and violence; it also reveals that guns are a big part of American life. Though this was an inexpensive B movie, it has some fine elements that were ahead of its time. Director Joseph H. Lewis uses long takes, angles, deep focus, and jerking camera movements. Lewis also gave the actors permission to improvise. As the hosts commented on Out of the Podcast, “Bart and Laurie are equals” and “are the only ones who understand each other.” Though Bart avoids shooting anyone, Laurie isn’t as careful; she tells him early on that she’s “no good” and wants some “action” (excitement). Dall and Cummins have great chemistry; they are like two magnets instantly drawn to each other. Coming from the theater, Dall is also not afraid to express emotions (incl. fear and doubt).

Dall and Cummins did all their own driving in the film; only one process shot (i.e., rear projection behind the actors pretending to drive) was used in the film. The cinematography by Russell Harlan is a standout. The bank heist sequence was done in one take, with no one outside the principal actors and people inside the bank aware that a movie was being filmed. When Bart says, “I hope we find a parking space,” he really meant it. At the end of the scene, someone screams that there’s been a bank robbery; this was a bystander who saw the filming and assumed the worst.

[1] It’s psychological side of danger, pathological lies, and the pattern of a downward spiral in having to commit violent acts (even un-intentionally), becomes what really pulls in the viewer into the picture, aside from the more loose, on-location ‘real’ style and interesting camera-work.

[2] Peggy Cummins is really good in this. …her baby-doll voice creates an effective contrast to her colder-than-ice attitude. She’s crooning into her lover’s ear one minute and itching to kill someone the next.

I thought John Dall was at first odd casting for the role of Bart. Annie is supposed to think of him as a man’s man, and Dall, with his willowy physique and gentle mannerisms is far from that. But then when we realize that he’s at heart really too gentle for the life he and Annie have chosen for themselves, his casting makes sense.

[3] What is the quintessence of a film-noir? A good answer is: an evil strong woman that manipulates a weak, although basically decent, man, involving him in a crazy love, doomed to a tragic ending. Then we can safely state that “Deadly is the Female” [the original title] is a perfect instance of film-noir.

The movie has outstanding merits. The cinematography, and especially the camera-work are excellent, and comparable to the best achievements in the film-noir genre.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews