“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

“Force of Evil” (1948) starring John Garfield, Thomas Gomez, & Marie Windsor

Harvard-educated lawyer, Joe Morse (John Garfield), wants to consolidate the small-time numbers-racket (gambling) operators into one (big/powerful) operation, on behalf of his (racketeer) boss, Ben Tucker (Roy Roberts). However, Joe’s older brother (nearly 50 y.o. w/ heart issues), Leo (Thomas Gomez), is one of the small-time operators who wants to stay that way, preferring NOT to deal w/ the gangsters who dominate the big time. These brothers share a volatile/guilt-ridden relationship; Leo raised Joe for some years after their parents died. To complicate matters, Tucker’s bored/unhappy wife, Edna (Marie Windsor- in the femme fatale role), has her eyes on Joe. Leo is concerned for those who work for him, esp. secretary, Doris Lowery (Beatrice Pearson; in her 1st/sole film role at age 28), who is the “good girl.”

Edna: You’re wide open, Joe. I can see into you without looking.

Joe: Don’t bother; besides it’s not nice to do.

Edna: More interesting than when you have a rock for a husband like mine. He’s a stone, that man. Whole world are rocks and stones to him.

Joe: Why tell me? Tell him.

Edna: Never tell him anything. Makes me feel unnecessary.

Joe: If I make you feel NECESSARY then I’m making a mistake.

Force of Evil was selected to the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress in 1994. It is included among AFIs 1998 list of the 400 movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies. This film is predicts the legalization of the numbers racket into state-run lotteries. It also involves wiretapping technology- innovative at that time. Critic Thom Andersen identified this as an example of film gris, a suggested sub-category of film noir incorporating a left-wing narrative. Force of Evil was a major influence on Martin Scorsese; it was the 1st movie he remembers having watched as a boy. Scorsese explained that it showed NYC the way he knew it to look in real life. As a young filmmaker, he studied it frame-by-frame; Scorsese said that you can see the influence in Mean Streets, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas.

Edna: A man could spend the rest of his life trying to remember what he shouldn’t have said.

This film is a tour de force for Garfield; it was released by MGM, but produced by Enterprise Productions (co-founded in 1946 by the actor and producers David L. Loew and Charles Einfeld). After Garfield’s contract w/ Warner Bros. ended, he wanted more creative control over his films. The (1st time) director and noted screenwriter is a childhood pal of Garfield’s- Abraham Polonsky. He collaborated w/ Ira Wolfert, the author of the source novel- Tucker’s People. In order to show cinematographer George Barnes how he wanted the film to look, Polonsky gave him a book of Edward Hopper’s Third Avenue paintings. The art director (AKA production designer) was Richard Day; he worked on Dodsworth, The Grapes of Wrath, and How Green Was My Valley. The musical score is by the David Raskin (Laura) and suits the movie well. Below are some lines from my fave scene; this dialogue is gold!

Joe: If you need a broken man to love, break your husband. I’m not a nickel, I don’t spend my life in a telephone! If that’s what you want for love, you can’t use me.

Edna: You’re not strong or weak enough.

“The force of evil here is capitalism itself, according to the author- Polonsky,” as Eddie Muller (TCM) commented. I saw this movie (free on YouTube) this week; the run time is only 79 mins. You may have to see it 2x, b/c they pack in a LOT at a fast pace. There are MANY character actors who add flavor to the story. As one astute viewer wrote: “see for a slightly more polished and sophisticated view of the noir world.” Though he comes from “the slums” and grew up poor, Joe now wears fancy 3-piece suits and has a spacious office. He admits to Doris that he decided to work for Tucker for the money.

Joe [to Doris]: I didn’t have enough strength to resist corruption, but I was strong enough to fight for a piece of it.

Have you seen actors in person? I’ve seen a few (esp. when commuting/walking in my NYC days); they’re usually a BIT shorter/slimmer than they appear onscreen. Garfield (5’7″) stood on an apple box for a scene between him and Windsor; the curvy/statuesque actress was several inches taller. Windsor said he had no ego about it though. Of course, she couldn’t wear high heels- LOL! Notice how they bend and shift so they’re usually sitting near each other, NOT standing. I wanted to see a BIT more of Windsor; she gets to wear some great outfits. Check this movie out!

…one of the most audacious and subversive movies of its era. […] In the cab, when Joe gives Doris a ride, Polonsky gives free range to an extraordinary flow of dialogue- unnatural language that seems to emerge straight from the character’s subconscious. From this scene, Force of Evil is unique, each scene coming at the viewer from slightly left-of-center, both artistically and politically. -Eddie Muller, hot of Noir Alley (TCM)

[1] Of course the fact that the film was shot totally on location in scintillating black and white noir in New York City, gave it a dimension that no other noir films have, save possibly Night and the City, which was also shot on location (in London).

[2] There are many more levels to this complex film and discussion of them all could fill many pages. Above all, it is a beautiful movie, expertly directed with tremendous black and white imagery. The dialogue combines snappy patter with almost poetic sensibility. And the performances of all concerned are top notch. This is truly a treasure of cinematic art. Be prepared to think deeply when you watch it.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“Nobody Lives Forever” (1946) starring John Garfield & Geraldine Fitzgerald

G.I. Nick Blake (John Garfield), a successful con man in pre-military life, has just received an honorable discharge from the Army. Rather than return to his old life, he plans to settle down in NYC (his hometown) w/ his blonde/glamorous/singer gf, Toni Blackburn (Faye Emerson; also daughter-in-law of FDR), and the money he amassed before WWI: $50,000. When that plan doesn’t pan out, Nick decides to head to LA w/ fellow con man/pal, Al Doyle (George Tobias- the comic relief), and live it up at the beach for a while. He is informed by Pop Gruber (Walter Brennan), his aging former mentor (now running small street cons in L.A.) of a potential big mark. A former associate, Doc Ganson (George Coulouris- one of Orson Welles’ Mercury Players in Citizen Kane), has found a Midwestern widow worth $2M vacationing in town, Gladys Halvorsen (Geraldine Fitzgerald; also Laurence Olivier’s wife in Wuthering Heights). Doc doesn’t have either the bankroll or the charms to carry out this con himself. Nick agrees both to bankroll and carry out the con, negotiating 2/3 of the take for himself, leaving Doc and his 2 associates w/ a minimum of $30,000. Doc doesn’t like the conditions, but he accepts the offer, being desperate for a score. The con becomes complicated as Nick must also deal w/ Gladys’ business manager, Charles Manning (Richard Gaines), gets recognized by people from his past, and grows to genuinely like Gladys (who is young, kind, and pretty).

Unlike in The Postman Always Rings Twice (which was also released in 1946), the romance here is more demure. […] The bad guys have more mirth than menace. -Eddie Muller, host of Noir Alley (TCM)

Garfield (as filmmaker Sydney Pollack commented) was a Method actor and a bridge between the classic Hollywood studio actors and those actors who changed acting forever- Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and James Dean. This is one of Garfield’s lesser-known films (a blend of noir and romance). Nick is a charmer who lies effortlessly; it’s easy for him to ingratiate himself into Gladys’ lonely life. They swim at the beach, eat fine meals, and share some convos. I esp. liked their day trip to the mission (a historical church w/ beautiful grounds); Nick is filled w/ regret and reveals some truth about his past. Despite thinking he won’t change, he does end up in love w/ Gladys and can’t bring himself to steal her money. The actors have nice chemistry, though it’s more sweet than steamy.

The screenplay is by W.R. Burnett, who also wrote a number of film crime classics, incl. Scarface, Little Caesar, High Sierra, and The Asphalt Jungle. Burnett’s dialogue is sharp and tough, and he displays insight (and even sympathy) for the criminal mind. Director Jean Negulesco knows how to create a mood. Cinematographer Arthur Edeson (Casablanca; Frankenstein) make this mood memorable and visually appealing. Though it lags at times, if you like the noir genre, it’s worth watching!

[1] Many films from the mid-40s deal w/ men struggling to readjust to their civilian lives after their wartime service. This film offers a twist: the hero’s pre-war career was as a successful con artist. He doesn’t have any trouble getting his job back, but does he still want it? WWII is a source of anxiety and moral confusion in many postwar noirs, but this film (set during the war) suggests that a stint with Uncle Sam can straighten out a crooked guy.

[2] The stars are lovely together, and the film has a rich atmosphere throughout, each setting clearly defining the moment. The nightclub scenes evoke the ’40s postwar feeling, the California scenes are bright and sunny, and the scenes on the pier are spooky and dense with fog. A very good film.

[3] The movie contains many elements of noir, as well as the fine cast. Despite these positive elements, Negulesco’s slow, deliberate pacing is more consistent with a romantic or psychological approach than with a crime drama.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“Side Effects” (2013) starring Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, & Catherine Zeta-Jones

One pill can change your life. -A tagline for the movie

Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) has just been reunited w/ her loving husband- Martin (Channing Tatum- at 33 y.o.)- who served a 4 yr. jail sentence for insider trading. However, the 28 y.o. graphic designer becomes V depressed (even attempting suicide by crashing her car into a wall). At the ER, Emily convinces the consulting psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), to release her instead of hospitalizing her for observation (as is commonly done). Emily explains that therapy was helpful for her in the past, and becomes his regular patient. Dr. Banks gives her some meds, BUT none of them are working for Emily. After conferring w/ her former psychiatrist, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Dr. Banks prescribes an experimental new medication- Ablixa.

Director Steven Soderbergh considered casting Lindsay Lohan for the role of Emily and he auditioned her 3x; however, producers felt that her ongoing legal issues would disrupt the production process. Blake Lively was originally cast as Emily, BUT the production company dropped out after learning of her casting; they returned after Mara took over the role. Law (then 41 y.o.) admitted that he felt insecure playing the lead role, as it was his 1st role as a husband/ father (as in real life), the 1st time using his real accent, w/ no hair/makeup changes. Soderbergh said that one of his biggest influences making the movie was the work of Adrian Lyne, esp. Fatal Attraction (1987).

If the character should be nude in the scene and it makes sense and I trust the person making the film, then I don’t see a problem with it. I certainly don’t want to be involved in anything that is gratuitous, but I don’t think the human body is something to be ashamed of. Every other person on the planet has the same parts as I do. So seeing them shouldn’t be a huge shock to most people. -Rooney Mara

The less you know about this movie, the more you will enjoy it. I learned about it from the most recent ep of Fatal Attractions podcast. As several critics have noted, Soderbergh (who also operates the camera) doesn’t stick to just one genre in his work. Here, the viewer thinks it will one type of movie, but then it takes a different turn after about 40 mins. The screenplay (by Scott Z. Burns) is V well-written. I wasn’t a fan of the lighting that was chosen for some scenes; the yellow/green tint doesn’t look appealing. The production design was well done; most of the interiors are apts and offices of modern-day NYC. The acting was strong, aside from some of the line readings/mannerisms of Zeta-Jones; she and Tatum have appeared in other of this director’s films. The supporting cast (incl. veterans of the NYC theater) add to the story. If you enjoy thrillers and don’t mind characters who operate in the “gray area,” check this out.

[1] There are surprises (one of them hinted at in the opening scene) and then further and further twists.

[2] The screenplay is incredibly well-written, creating characters that amaze us, disappoint us and deceive us all the while being a part of an interesting and complex story. […]

It’s more of an edge-of-your-mind thriller rather than an edge-of-your- seat thriller. Never really scared, always questioning the moral and psychological behaviour of these characters.

[3] For half of the movie, it is a persuasive indictment of the pharmaceutical industry and its crass behavior toward its patients; for the other half, it is a three- cornered mystery/thriller, with double crosses and framings galore.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“The World, the Flesh, & the Devil” (1959) & “Z for Zachariah” (2015)

Introduction

Post-apocalyptic sci-fi is set in a world/civilization after nuclear war, plague, or some type of disaster. I found a V long list of movies (on IMDB); here are ones I’ve seen so far: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), Children of Men (2006), Planet of the Apes (1968), The Matrix (1999), and The Handmaid’s Tale (1990). While dystopian fiction usually explores social or political struggle, society has NOT yet collapsed (BUT might be on the brink). In apocalyptic fiction, the focus is more on the characters or on man vs. nature.

The World, the Flesh, & the Devil (1959) starring Harry Belafonte, Inger Stevens, & Mel Ferrer

Ralph Burton (Harry Belafonte) is a miner trapped for several days after a cave-in somewhere in Pennsylvania. When he finally manages to dig himself out, it looks like civilization has been destroyed in a nuclear incident. He drives to NYC and finds it deserted. Making a life for himself in a luxury high-rise apt bldg, he’s shocked to eventually find another survivor, Sarah Crandall (Inger Stevens), a 21 y.o. blonde socialite. They start to rely on each other and form a close friendship. Some time later, they hear of another survivor who arrives via his small boat- Ben Thacker (Mel Ferrer). Ralph gives Ben an injection that saves his life; Sarah takes care of him while he recovers. In time, tensions start to rise as Ben and Ralph vie for Sarah.

Ben: I have nothing against negroes, Ralph.

Ralph: That’s white of you.

This unique/lesser-known movie showed up under recommendations on Amazon after I watched Z for Zachariah (see review below). The director here, Ranald McDougall, worked for Warner Bros. from 1944-50; he got an Oscar nom for his screenplay of the noir classic Mildred Pierce (1945) starring Joan Crawford. From the mid-’50s, he was primarily active in TV and worked on lower-budget films. Belafonte (who does sing a BIT here and looks gorgeous) was at the top of his career at this time. Though perhaps known more as a singer and civil rights activist, he acted in several V fine films and even had his own production company! So far, I’ve seen Belafonte in Carmen Jones (1954) w/ Dorothy Dandridge, Island in the Sun (1957)- which also contains a interracial love story, and the noir Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) w/ Robert Ryan.

The first 40 mins of the story is ALL about Ralph; we see a lonely (yet positive-minded) Belafonte navigate the empty/eerie streets of Manhattan. I hadn’t seen the acting of Stevens (a Swedish-American w/ a tragic life/early death) and Ferrer (Audrey Hepburn’s 1st husband; born to a Cuban father and American mother) before; they do fine in their roles. Race is a big issue here; a Black man and white woman wouldn’t be seen as equals or allowed be a romantic pair onscreen (in a segregated society). In one pivotal scene, we see the sexual frustration of both Ralph and Sarah as he gives her a haircut. Even on her birthday, Ralph doesn’t sit down to dinner w/ her, as Sarah wants, but provides the music and food. He acts like it’s OK when Ben and Sarah start to go out alone (on dates). The ending wasn’t quite what I expected, BUT it was intriguing! I think fans of classics will enjoy this movie.

[1] This movie will grab your interest and exercise your moral fiber. Race, prejudice and pride are but minor subplots in this excellent film. […] Black and white has never been so colorful.

[2] Belafonte is terrific especially in his early scenes and Miss Stevens registers quite strongly during their tense exchanges. Most of all, director Ranald MacDougall captures a barren, decimated-looking New York City to awesome, jaw-dropping effect.

[3] A very thought provoking movie that was not accepted at the time, but in retrospect, way way ahead of its time. In a racially charged world, it put forth the premise that race, in the final analysis, is superficial and meaningless. Once you strip away the layers of conditioning and socialization, you find, at the core, good and evil and the age old struggle as to which will prevail. A simple story, told directly and honestly.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

Z for Zachariah (2015) starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Margot Robbie, & Chris Pine

After the end of the world she thought she was alone. She was wrong. -A tagline for the movie

A woman in her early 20s, Ann Burden (Margot Robbie- an Aussie), lives w/ her dog (Faro) on a farm in the Appalachian Mtns, sheltered from radioactivity by rocky hills and a clean underground water supply. After about a year of being alone, Ann encounters John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor- a Brit), a research engineer who (aided by meds and a HAZMAT-type suit) walked from a govt bunker to her valley. Unknowingly, John bathes in a contaminated waterfall, so quickly gets V sick! He is nursed back to health by Ann in her house; she is a Christian and prays to God to save him (thinking he’s a good man). John regains his strength and starts to improve their lives w/ his ideas/skills. They become friends and- eventually- think of pursuing a romantic relationship. Before that can happen, about 42 mins in, Faro runs ahead of Ann to another survivor- Caleb (Chris Pine- an American)!

This movie is based on the sci-fi book Z for Zachariah (1974) by Robert C. O’Brien; after his death, his wife and daughter crafted it into a YA novel. The “love triangle” was added in by the screenwriter (Nissar Modi- a Brit); only Ann (a 16 y.o. farm girl) and Loomis (a middle-aged engineer) are protagonists in the novel. The books has many convos btwn the characters re: religion vs. science, as a few readers have noted. The director (Craig Zobel- an American) recently gained some attention for HBO’s Mare of Easttown (starring Kate Winslet). Tobey Maguire (who served as a producer) and Amanda Seyfried were originally cast in the lead roles, BUT both had to drop out. The title recalls a children’s book that John takes off a shelf: A is for Adam. As some viewers noted, Zachariah is the prophet murdered between the temple and the altar (the last of the prophets killed) in The Bible.

This movie was shot on location in New Zealand; the main set was about 40 mi. from the nearest town. Zobel commented that it “felt like a Summer camp” working w/ his small cast and crew. He and the 3 actors had a week of rehearsal; they did some improv while shooting (as I learned from watching a few interviews from Sundance film fest). Ejiofor (now in his mid-40s) is an actor I’ve admired since seeing his debut role in the indie Dirty Pretty Things (2002). He can express a LOT w/ little (or no) words; he has large/expressive eyes and was classically-trained (as many British actors). After Ejiofor was cast, one line was added in re: race (one of the funny moments). Speaking of great eyes… Pine (now in his early 40s) does quite well w/ his role here; Caleb knows how to use his sex appeal/charm on Ann. Robbie does well also: she (now just 31 y.o.) achieved a LOT of success at an early age. I learned that she just also started producing- V smart move. Check this movie out IF you’re looking for something thoughtful!

[1] Chiwetel Ejiofor gave a compelling performance. It was so real, I think the majority of us would understand what he’s going through. I was shocked by how outstanding Chris Pine was in this movie, just perfect. Margot Robbie was amazing as well, just a solid piece of acting by all.

It made for the perfect emotional love triangle. Even though only three people appear in this movie, it said so much about us as a society.

[2] This is probably the quietest and most understated post-apocalyptic movies you’ll ever see, but deep down, it is truly fascinating. With great performances, impressive directing and an intriguing plot, this film is massively engrossing and surprisingly simple to understand from start to finish.

…a fascinating study of humans in their most basic state: survival and animalistic desires, relating itself almost to Adam and Eve and biblical theory.

[3] Some films make you cry, some films make you laugh and some films just amaze you. Well, this one will make you think and digest information that you will see. Z for Zachariah may not be the most romantic film nor may it be an adventure, but hours after watching it, I was still thinking about what this film represents.

-Excepts from IMDb reviews

Cast interview with Rolling Stone
Cast and director interview with The Wrap