“Berlin Express” (1948) starring Merle Oberon, Robert Ryan, Charles Corvin, & Paul Lukas

Trapped on a Train of Terror! -A tagline (on the movie poster)

In a divided Germany (shortly after WWII), passengers from several nations are on a train heading to an international conference. Lucienne (Merle Oberon) is a French secretary who catches the eye of almost every man on the train. Dr. Bernhardt (Paul Lukas) is Lucienne’s German employer. Robert Lindley (Robert Ryan) is an American working for the Dept. of Agriculture. Perrot (Charles Corvin) is a French businessman. Sterling (Robert Coote) is an Englishman. Lt. Maxim Kirosilov is young Soviet soldier. When one of these passengers (working for peace) is kidnapped in Berlin, the others set aside their differences/work together to find him. Would you risk your life to help a stranger, IF it was for the good of the world?

Narrator: [voiceover] That’s right – the dove of peace was a pigeon. A dead pigeon.

The director, Jacques Tourneur, also directed the film noir classic Out of the Past (1947). The cinematographer, Lucien Ballard, was married to Oberon; he came up w/ a lighting technique which hid the scars on Oberon’s face. Cary Grant and John Garfield were considered for roles in this film. This is the 1st Hollywood production in Germany after WWII. The crew was the 1st to receive permission to film in Berlin’s Soviet zone. At the time of production, Berlin was divided into 4 separate sectors, controlled by the English, French, Soviet (now Russian), and American armed forces. American soldiers stationed at the I. G. Farben munitions building in Salzburg, left untouched during bombing raids (so the U.S. could use it as an occupation HQ), appeared in the film as extras.

Perrot: What chance has a European got with an American around?

Lindley: I’m afraid you overestimate us.

Perrot: Huh, not at all. How can we compete with your American charm, your chocolate…

Sterling: Your soap?

Perrot: Your cigarettes?

Lindley: Well, it’s more blessed to give than to receive.

Berlin Express is categorized as a crime drama, film noir, and thriller. It’s an unusual movie for its time; it has an international cast (before that became common) and was filmed on location (in rare/unexpected places). I rarely guessed what was going to happen next! I esp. liked the friendly banter between the 3 men (Lindley, Perrot, and Sterling) who seek the attention of Lucienne (who is NOT easily impressed). Each man has a different personality; it’s refreshing that they behave like gentlemen (instead of pushy jerks). Ryan is looking youngish/handsome and gets to show his charm/confidence in a (rare) good guy role. I’m NOT going to say much more; check this movie out! You can rent it on YouTube.

[1] Tourneur did a grand job in making use of the bombed out locations in Frankfurt where most of the story takes place. It certainly gives authenticity to the story.

[2] Filmed in the rubble of German cities in 1946 this film, basically is a very good and constantly weaving espionage drama; and not unlike NORTH BY NORTHWEST in deception, missing persons, terrific set pieces in ruins and epic visuals of genuine locations. Robert Ryan as the US everyman, all casual but tough, Merle Oberon gives ze Fronnch occent a good go, and a solid cast enjoying a provocative script.

[3] Some of the lines seemed stilted and staged, particularly toward the end, but given the time period when the movie was filmed, not at all surprising. There was a good mix of characters, but the real star of the film is the location: there are wonderful shots of Berlin and Frankfurt right after the war, and the devastation around the characters adds a powerful unspoken dimension to the film.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“I Walk Alone” starring Burt Lancaster, Lizabeth Scott, Kirk Douglas, & Wendell Corey

Two things I can handle baby… guns and dames! -A tagline for the movie

Frankie Madison (Burt Lancaster- one of my faves since I was a kid) returns to NYC after 14 yrs in prison. Noll Turner (Kirk Douglas), Frankie’s former partner in bootlegging, is now a successful nightclub manager/owner. Frankie is expecting him to honor a verbal “50-50” agreement they made before he was caught; Noll luckily got away. The two men’s friend, Dave (Wendell Corey), is the bookkeeper at the club. The club’s singer is Kay Lawrence (Lizabeth Scott); she is also Noll’s L/T gf. Mrs. Alexis Richardson (Kristine Miller) is the society lady w/ her eye on Noll.

Alexis: You know, you’re quite an attractive man.

Frankie: Keep goin’.

Alexis: How far do you want me to go?

Frankie: I’m at the plate. You’re doing the pitching.

This movie has great dialogue; the screenplay was written by Charles Schnee from a play by Theodore Reeves (The Beggars Are Coming to Town). Some viewers have called it a BIT “too wordy.” Schnee also wrote the screenplay for a must-see film noir, The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), which also starred Douglas. The director, Byron Haskin, worked his way up from commercial movie photographer to cameraman, then became an assistant director (AD) at Selznick Pictures. Haskin was a cinematographer in the silent era; he helped develop the tech that brought sound to the film industry. He began directing in the late 1920s at Warner Bros. Haskin made Disney’s 1st live-action film, Treasure Island (1950).

Alexis: [in Noll grabbing her by the arm] You’re hurting me.

Noll: And you love it.

As the hosts on Out of the Podcast commented: “You can tell everyone is young and hungry in this one.” This is Lancaster’s 5th film at age 33; the actor (6’2″ tall/classically handsome) started out as an acrobat, which explains his strong physical presence. He can fight (and make it look believable), as we see in this movie! Douglas (5’9″ w/ a striking face) came from the theater world and studied The Method; this is his 4th film at age 30. It MAY seem strange to some viewers to see Douglas as a villain; this was the case in his early roles. This is the 1st of 7 movies that Lancaster and Douglas made together; they also became close pals.

Noll [to Kay]: Sure, that’s why men take women to dinner – to have someone to talk about themselves to.

The husky-voiced Scott (who is NOT the most confident/versatile actor) raises her game here, perhaps b/c she is cast opposite (future) Hollywood heavyweights. Scott acted w/ Lancaster and Corey in Desert Fury (a weird movie, BUT may interest noir-istas). Frankie and Kay have strong romantic chemistry; Lancaster looks at Scott in a sweet/gentle way. Kay’s songs were NOT sung by Scott; her voice was dubbed. I loved ALL of Kay’s outfits (chosen by Edith Head); they are classy and seductive. Check this movie out!

[1] It’s the kind of movie where the stars are more memorable than the story.

Scott and Douglas, for example, really shine. Scott does some of the best acting of her career as the conflicted glamour girl. But I especially like Douglas’s slimy version of a smooth-talking mastermind who’s so self-assured, you can’t wait to see him get what he’s got coming.

[2] There’s a lot to like in the film- particularly the acting. In addition, the camera-work is great, as is the beating scene… The street scenes late in the film had a great use of shadows- a film noir trademark.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“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

“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