“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

“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

“Ophelia” (2018) starring Daisy Ridley, Naomi Watts, Clive Owen, & George MacKay

As a rebellious/motherless child, Ophelia, is taken into Elsinore Castle by Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts) as one of her ladies-in-waiting. Years later, a grown-up Ophelia (Daisy Ridley- who had her breakout role in the recent Star Wars sequel trilogy) captures the affections of Prince Hamlet (George MacKay). A romance kindles between the two in secret, as the kingdom is on the brink of war, amidst internal intrigue and betrayal. When Hamlet’s father (Nathaniel Parker- who has no lines) is murdered and the prince sets his mind on revenge against the new king/his uncle, Claudius (Clive Owen- wearing a terrible wig), Ophelia must choose between love and survival.

What happens when “the message” (feminism- in this case) and style (locations/sets, hair, costumes, etc.) are made more important than substance (good writing)? Well, we get movies like this (available on Netflix) from Aussie director Claire McCarthy. The cinematographer (or D.P.) is McCarthy’s husband, Denson Baker; I think he did a fine job. This movie was shot on location is the Czech Republic on a mere $12M budget- wow! I learned that it’s based on a young adult (YA) novel by Lisa Klein, NOT the tragic play Hamlet by Shakespeare. The chanting (repeated in several scenes) comes from Hamlet’s letter in Act 2, scene 2: “Doubt that the stars are fire. Doubt that the sun doth move. Doubt truth to be a liar. But never doubt I love.”

Things just don’t make sense here- which is frustrating! Young Ophelia is running around the castle dressed in raggedy clothes w/ a dirty face, though her father is the king’s main advisor. As a young adult, the other ladies-in-waiting belittle Ophelia as she wears flowers, NOT jewels (b/c Polonius can’t afford them). WTH!? As one astute reviewer noted, lines and scenes from other Shakespeare plays (Much Ado About Nothing; Romeo and Juliet) are used here. In the play, Hamlet hates the wild/drunken parties thrown by Claudius; here he wears a mask and dances w/ those at court. Of course, Ophelia (being NOT like other girls- eyeroll), is self-conscious b/c she “dances like a goat.” Whatever… There is V little development of the love story; I also didn’t see any chemistry btwn Ridley and MacKay. I’ve heard that MANY young actors want to tackle the role of Hamlet, BUT I felt kinda sorry for him here. Emasculating men or casting them ONLY as baddies is NOT going to improve stories of women. Just don’t waste your time!

[1] The all-star cast were OK in their roles, but nothing earth-shattering. The love story needed loads of developing and loads more could have been made of Clive Owen’s character being a threat to Hamlet’s family, crown and future. Naomi Watt’s duel roles was super confusing and brought nothing to either characters. (Which pains me to say as I love her as an actress). I really feel this film is style over substance.

[2] Hamlet is a non starter, some angry little boy. and the men of course are evil: deny education, don’t take care of their wife, kill other men, try to rape and so on.

[3] Preachy, not empowered. Lose the agenda and the attitude. Too bad, this could have been something interesting.

[4] I’m an ultra-lefty feminist and even I eyerolled. Why couldn’t it be a genuine dramatic tragedy? It didn’t need this type of girl power remake.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“Against All Odds” (1984) starring Rachel Ward, Jeff Bridges, & James Woods

Certainly, we’ve tried to retain certain qualities from the original film [Out of the Past], mainly the electric, dangerous interaction of the three main characters. However, the story itself, the background of the characters and the setting are very different. I think we’ve come up with a film that deals with the unique nature of power in Los Angeles and how that power consumes and almost destroys the three main characters. Years from now, I can see theaters playing this version and the original on the same bill and the audience seeing two very different films. -Taylor Hackford, director

Reluctantly, broke/injured football player- Terry Brogan (Jeff Bridges, at age 34)- accepts the job to track down Jessie Wyler (British actress Rachel Ward), the ex-gf of old friend/nightclub owner, Jake Wise (James Woods- always a believable villain). On the beaches of Cozumel, Terry NOT only finds the elusive woman, BUT unexpectedly falls in love w/ her. Soon, Terry finds himself trapped in a web of passion and intrigue, as Jessie starts to feel the burden of choice in this dangerous love triangle. Can they have a future together?

I saw this movie last week after learning it was a remake of one of my fave noir films- Out of the Past (1947) starring Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, and Jane Greer (who plays Jessie’s controlling mom/wealthy land developer, Mrs. Wyler). You can read my review here. It was V cool to see veteran actor Richard Widmark (looking fit at age 70); he plays Ben Caxton (Mrs. Wyler’s top lawyer/old friend). Woods and Bridges both loved working w/ Widmark, and remembered his love of pancakes. He used to have a plate waiting for him while shooting a scene, and Woods and Bridges would often hide it. Widmark refused to go back to shooting before the cakes had been recovered- LOL!

Terry: So what is it you don’t like exactly, football players, tacos, or beer?

Jessie: I like tacos and beer.

Bridges was Hackford’s 1st choice for the lead (played by Richard Gere) in An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), but Bridges had a packed schedule then (appearing in 3 movies). Hackford kept Bridges in mind when creating the character of Terry. Ward got top billing above her male co-stars; she was well-known at that time (after her work on the hit miniseries The Thorn Birds). For Bridges, this was his 1st lead role in a commercial film; he was more of a supporting actor before. The helmets and uniforms used by the football team Terry is playing for were from the (defunct) USFL’s LA Express. As a wide-receiver, his main role was to catch forward passes from the quarterback. He’d have to be fast, as on just about every play, the wide receiver needs to run at full speed.

Well, I consider myself a character actor, and leading man is a character that you play. -Bridges, when asked re: playing a leading man

Terry is cut from the team; he thinks it’s b/c of his recurring shoulder issue (though the team has been doing well). However, his friend/conditioning coach, Hank Sully (Alex Karras- best known as the dad in Webster), says that Terry is too expensive to keep on. Terry goes to see his long-time lawyer, Steve Kirsch (Saul Rubinek), but he refuses to help. Steve’s secretary, Edie (Swoosie Kurtz), has a bit of a crush on Terry. He seeks out Jake, who’s desperate to find his ex and know she’s safe. When Terry was getting started in his pro career, Jake helped him out (watch too see exactly what happened). Though they share a past, there is (underlying) tension between the two men’s interactions. Early in the film, they have a car race which is V tense/potentially dangerous. Jake’s black Ferrari 308 and Terry’s red Porsche were specially modified for high-speed driving w/ special onboard camera mounts. Bridges and Woods commented that many viewers went back to theaters to re-watch this scene.

There are millions of dollars in production values on the screen that one could never create in Hollywood. It’s exciting to think that many moviegoers will be seeing these fantastic locations for the first time. Stylistically, I wanted to contrast these rough, ancient Mexican textures with the cold, modern surfaces of Los Angeles. Often, L.A. has been used in films as a kind of lotus-land… people waking up in the morning, saying, ‘God, I can’t believe those palm trees’. But people from L.A., especially those who wield power, don’t feel or act that way. It’s not that the absurdities are lost on them; they’ve simply made their peace with the city and attend to business. That’s the point of view I’m taking in this film. Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward are both fugitives from the corruptive power and manipulation of Los Angeles. The romantic, other-worldliness of the Yucatan provides a setting for them to find each other… something that would never have been possible in L.A., because of their respective’ emotional baggage and class differences. -Hackford re: the importance of shooting in Mexico

We got along right away! It could’ve been awkward… […] It went smoothly. -Bridges, when asked re: shooting steamy scenes w/ Ward

Bridges looks gorgeous w/ his thick blonde mane, w/ or w/o full beard, and 6-pack abs (yowza)! He gets to wear some cool outfits, for those of you into fashion. There is much more to like about this movie, incl. the romance between Terry and Jessie. The actors have good chemistry together. Ward was newly married to Aussie actor Bryan Brown; they co-starred on The Thorn Birds (playing a married couple). Bridges was awaiting the birth of his 2nd child; he carried a beeper b/c it was tough to call LA from some of the shooting locations.

[1] Parts of “Against All Odds” are absolutely magnificent. The Mexican location photography is terrific. Rachel Ward looks great, as does Jeff Bridges.

[2] Bridges plays his role quite convincingly as a wounded man, a naive guy who put his foot in a place he never should have been in from the beginning. The man has a heavy burden on his shoulder and he succeeds very well in carrying it. […]

Though the story has its share of lopsided scenes, it is still one worthy enough to enjoy. For Jeff Bridges fans, who have overlooked this one, should see him in his prime. He brings his charm and personality here like he’s done in almost 45 years he has graced the silver screen. It will surely please everyone who enjoys romance, suspense and action.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

This is a good movie. The plot can be confusing. You may have to see it twice. -Gene Siskel

I agree, it’s good. Bridges is good in everything I’ve seen him in. -Roger Ebert

“The Prowler” (1951) starring Van Heflin & Evelyn Keyes

 A masterpiece of sexual creepiness, institutional corruption and suffocating, ugly passion. -James Ellroy, novelist (L.A. Confidential; The Black Dahlia) commenting on this film noir (his favorite movie)

I learned re: The Prowler while listening to The Big Picture podcast ep w/ guest Patton Oswalt; he’s also a big fan of the noir genre. John Huston (uncredited producer) conceived this project as a star vehicle for former wife, Evelyn Keyes, as a parting gift. She’d complained about her lack of challenging roles while under contract at Columbia Pictures. Keyes is best known as Sue Ellen, Scarlett O’Hara’s lil sis on Gone With the Wind (1939), though she appeared in many other films. I saw her in The Killer Who Stalked New York (1950); this is relatable in today’s pandemic life.

In an affluent suburb in SoCal, blonde/glam housewife, Susan Gilvray (Keyes), sees a prowler outside her house late at night and calls the police. Officer Webb Garwood (Van Heflin) and his partner, Officer Bud Crocker (John Maxwell), answer the call, but don’t find anyone. Later that night, Webb returns to Susan’s house with the pretext of checking if everything is OK. Susan (a former actress) invites him in to have coffee; it turns out they’re from the same small town in Indiana. Susan is married to the broadcaster of a late-night radio show; they don’t have any kids. Webb comes by another night and kisses Susan; she tries to put him off, but they soon become involved romantically.

Webb: [picking the lock of her husband’s storage box to get some cigarettes] Does he keep everything locked up?

Susan: Mostly.

Webb: You, too?

Susan: That’s a leading question.

Webb: Ha, probably does. A mean, jealous guy like that wants his wife all to himself. I can’t say I blame him, though. I’d do the same myself…

Webb: [opening the storage box] There. See how silly it is to keep things locked up?

Susan: Maybe. But it did delay you for a little while.

Webb: Is that all he wants, just to delay things?

Susan: Sometimes a little delay does the trick.

This film was considered shocking in its day; after all, it focuses on a cop that’s a bad guy. Heflin shifts about, scratches himself, and moves like a panther. Webb is an expert in gaslighting; he uses psychological manipulation to put self-doubt and confusion in Susan’s mind. Eddie Muller (host of TCM’s Noir Alley) became good friends w/ Keyes later in her life; this was her fave role. Muller noted that this film can be looked at through the lens of a woman desperate to have a baby. To bring attention to this issue, the song “Baby” is repeated a few times throughout the film.

[1] Very much a two character piece, The Prowler flips the favoured femme fatale formula around to great effect. Here it’s the male protagonist that is the seducer, a cop no less, the abuse of power hanging heavy over proceedings like, yes, some “prowler” lurking in your back garden. It’s made clear to us very early on that Garwood is troubled, he’s up to no good, with a snarl here and a shifty smirk there, we just know that poor Susan is under threat from a man meant to protect her. […]

A criminally undervalued actor in his generation, Heflin serves notice here that he could play a bad guy convincingly, almost terrifyingly so too. His shift from meek, almost puppy dog love yearner, to conniving bastard is handled adroitly and gives film noir one of its best homme fatales.

[2] This is the kind of film noir that has its foot rooted in the ‘B’ tradition. What I mean is Losey and his writers (including blacklisted Dalton Trumbo) are keeping their aims low, and scoring high within their limitations.

[3] It is very beautifully and atmospherically shot and tightly edited, although the sets are on the sparse side. While it is not exactly lavish or expensive-looking, ‘The Prowler’ also doesn’t look cheap. The music looms ominously without being intrusive. Joseph Losey directs with a sure and stylish hand, that indicates somebody who knew what he was doing. The script on the most part is taut and intelligent, and it was amazing too at how daring and subversive it was for back then.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews