“Cry of the City” (1948) starring Victor Mature & Richard Conte

In NYC, thief turned cop killer- Martin Rome (Richard Conte)- arrives in the hospital badly wounded. A slimy lawyer, W.A. Niles (Berry Kroeger), tries to convince him to confess to another crime- a jewelry heist and killing the shop owner. Marty’s young girlfriend, Teena Riconti (Debra Paget), secretly visits him while he’s asleep. Later, Niles threatens Marty by saying he’ll find Teena and force her to confess in aiding w/ the robbery (as its known a woman was involved). When Marty is moved from the hospital to the jail, he escapes. Lt. Candella (Victor Mature) and Lt. Collins (Fred Clark) are on his trail. This case is personal for Candella (who is also Italian-American), knows the Rome family, and grew up in the same poor/immigrant neighborhood as Marty.

I had enough of that when I’m a kid. Crummy tenements, no food, no clothes. -Marty explains why he chose a life of crime

Oh, save it for the jury, Marty. Who do you think you’re kidding? l was brought up in the district too. I’ve heard that dialogue from you poolroom hotshots ever since l was ten years old. Get hip… only suckers work… don’t be a square… stay with the smart money. Let the old man get the calluses digging the ditches. No food… no clothes… crummy tenements. You’re breaking my heart, Marty. -Lt. Candella replies

You shouldn’t miss this gem of a film noir from director Robert Siodmak! I had tears in my eyes at the end; it’s captivating from its start to the (powerful) finish. Not only is it very well-made, it has a moral message (which is not dealt w/ in a pedantic manner). The characters (many of whom are European immigrants and first generation Americans) are fleshed out nicely, even the minor players. Veteran film noir-writer Ben Hecht worked on the script, though he is uncredited; this is a common practice in Hollywood even today. Quentin Tarantino is known for punching-up dialogue on several movies from different genres.

Victor Mature is surprisingly competent in the lead in what must be surely one of his best roles. Richard Conte is simply superb in a complex and tricky role. His method is one of economy and subtlety and a lesson to screen actors.

-Excerpt from IMDB review

I’ve haven’t seen Mature before; he’s 6′ 2″ and muscular w/ a striking profile, dark hair, and thick eyebrows. To modern audiences, he resembles Law and Order and SATC actor Chris Noth. Candella is usually on the move; he is a man who commands attention w/ his body and voice. In contrast, Conte (star of the lesser-known noir Thieves’ Highway) is much shorter w/ a slighter build. He is also handsome and has a strong screen presence. Marty is often confined, wounded by cops’ bullets, though his mind and eyes are always moving. There are many fine supporting characters (few who also speak in Italian), adding to the strength of the film. Classic film fans will notice a young Shelly Winters, one of the many ladies Marty has charmed.

Siodmak was a master of noir, as he blended German Expressionism w/ contemporary styles found in American film. He created atmospheric and memorable movies, perhaps most notably The Killers (1946), starring Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner. Though born in Memphis, Tennessee to Jewish parents who were visiting on business, Siodmak spent his youth in Germany, and even worked in banking (his father’s business) for a time. He also tried his hand at acting, which didn’t work out. When Hitler came to power, he joined his friend- Billy Wilder- in Paris and worked on editing and filming. In 1940, Siodmak was on the last ship leaving France for America on the eve of Germany’s occupation of Paris. His experience in France enabled him to create quality films which looked good on a low budget.

SPOILER-FREE Review: “Marriage Story” starring Adam Driver & Scarlett Johansson

This Netflix movie (released also 30 days in theaters) is based in large part on director Noah Baumbach’s own experiences when he divorced actress Jennifer Jason Leigh in 2013. Jason Leigh (the “Jason” was added as tribute to actor Jason Robards- a close friend of her parents), on whom the character of Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson) was based, had early success in the teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Baumbach and Leigh previously collaborated on movies together; during the 2009 filming of Greenberg, he and actress/director of Little Women– Greta Gerwig- fell in love. Theater director Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) lived in Indiana before moving to NYC; Driver grew up in Mishawaka, IN. The toys shown while Nicole plays w/ son Henry (Azhy Robertson) in the opening are from Star Wars, a reference to Driver’s connection to that sci-fi franchise. Celeb divorce lawyer, Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern- now winner of Best Supporting Actress Oscar), is loosely based on Laura Wasser (who represented Dern, Johansson and Baumbach) during their divorces. The mediation scenes were filmed in Wasser’s office building.

This film has something for everyone– domestic drama, comedy (arising from realistic situations), music, courtroom drama, etc. Charlie sings Being Alive (which Gerwig admitted Baumbach wouldn’t do), and Nicole sings You Could Drive a Person Crazy from Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 musical Company. Many of us know that Johansson can tackle challenging roles (having seen her since she was an ingenue at 16 y.o.); here Driver gets a chance to shine (and whoa, is he bright)! Both actors are very comfortable with each other; they play the quiet and intense scenes well. You really don’t see the acting- as it should be. You will see some similarities to Kramer vs. Kramer starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep; however, in this story- the wife gets an equal voice (which wasn’t given to Streep).

The supporting actors are all well-suited for their parts, no matter how small or meaty. The child actor comes off as very natural. Merritt Wever plays Cassie’s older sis (also an actor); she provides some comic relief, as does the mom (who is a big fan of her son-in-law). Charlie’s theater troupe includes a few familiar faces, such as Wallace Shawn (best know as the villain in The Princess Bride). Alan Alda’s soft-hearted lawyer breaks down what men really go through in a divorce. On the other hand, we see the intimidating/shark-like lawyer (Ray Liotta) who gets results.

Hitchcock in Color: “Rope”(1948) starring James Stewart, John Dall, & Farley Grainger

1. The story unravels in typical Hitchcock fashion. The suspense is built, then lessened by some well timed comedy, and then built again to a final crescendo.

2. The dialogue is natural and flowing. The finest bit of timing involves a swinging kitchen door, the rope, and the fear of discovery.

3. ..it seems to be a very modern film.

4. There’s plenty of black humor throughout.

5. He manages to fit in many of his trademark angles and closeups in, without it seeming forced.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Brandon (John Dall) and Philip (Farley Grainger- later starred in Strangers on a Train) are two young men who share a spacious NYC apt. They consider themselves “intellectually superior” to their friend, David Kentley, and decide to murder him. In the first scene, they strangle David (w/ a rope), place the body in an old chest, and hold a small party. The guests incl. David’s father, his fiancĂ©e Janet (Joan Chandler), and their former prep school housemaster, Rupert Caddell (James Stewart). While Brandon is cocky and keeps joking, Philip is fearful (esp. since Rupert is at the party).

The story was loosely based on the (real-life) case of Leopold and Loeb, two wealthy students at the University of Chicago who in 1924 kidnapped and murdered 14-year-old boy. They committed the murder (called “the crime of the century”) as a demonstration of their perceived intellectual superiority, which, they thought, enabled them to carry out a “perfect crime” and absolved them of responsibility for their actions. This movie is very different from Patrick Hamilton’s play which was set in England. Sir Alfred Hitchcock made his own adaptation w/ Hume Cronyn (also a prolific character actor); they created new dialogue and characters for this adaptation.

This is Hitchcock’s first movie filmed in color and also his shortest (w/ a running time near 80 mins). The theatrical trailer features footage shot specifically for the ad that takes place before the beginning of the movie. David (the victim) sits on a park bench and speaks with Janet before leaving to meet Brandon and Phillip. Stewart narrates the sequence, noting that’s the last time Janet (and the audience) would see him alive. This movie, considered the director’s most controversial (at that time), was banned in several American cities b/c of the implied homosexuality of Phillip and Brandon.

Rope was filmed entirely in the studio, except for the opening credits (where we see the street outside the apt). The clouds seen out the window were made out of fiberglass. Hitchcock created a (new) way of editing by making the movie look like one continuous shot. He later said that the 10 min. takes were “a stunt” (a challenge for himself). Most of the props and some of the walls were movable. The cast had to avoid tripping on cables on the floor, b/c of the moving cameras and lighting.

This is the kind of movie that you need to see more than once to appreciate, esp. if you saw it as a teen or young adult. There are undercurrents that less mature viewers may not get, particularly the nature of the relationship between the two killers. Stewart is one of my faves, but some critics/viewers have commented that this “dark” role would’ve suited someone like James Mason better. This was the only movie Stewart made with Hitchcock that he did not like; he felt miscast as the professor. The actor was paid $300,000 (a huge portion of the $1.5M budget). The first choices for Philip and Rupert were Montgomery Clift and Carey Grant, but they both passed (due to the gay subtext).

The Awful Truth (1937) starring Cary Grant & Irene Dunne/His Girl Friday (1940) starring Cary Grant & Rosalind Russell

The Awful Truth

Before their divorce becomes final, Jerry (Cary Grant) and Lucy Warriner (Irene Dunne) BOTH do their best to ruin each other’s plans for remarriage. They divorced (hastily) b/c they suspected that cheating was going on; Lucy learns that he lied re: going away to Florida and Jerry is VERY disturbed upon learning that she was stuck (overnight) w/ her (suave/French) music teacher. It’s up to the audience to decide IF they actually cheated! Lucy meets an earnest Okie oilman- Daniel Leeson (Ralph Bellamy)- while living w/ her outgoing auntie at a fancy hotel. Jerry visits their pet dog (a fox terrier), Mr. Smith, as was decreed by the judge; the dog (obviously) doesn’t like the couple being apart. One night, while Lucy and Daniel are out at a fancy club, they run into Jerry and his date- a wanna-be actress named “Dixie Belle Lee.” She is young, blonde, and Southern; she reveals that she changed her name (b/c her family disapproves of show business). They all watch (w/ bemusement) as Dixie Belle happily screeches out a song; at certain points, her skirt blows up (a la Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch). One day, BOTH the music teacher and Jerry show up at Lucy’s hotel and confusion ensues! Jerry seriously begins seeing a socialite- Barbara Vance- who is covered in the society pages. Jerry tells Lucy that he’s going to meet the parents; she barges in on them, calling herself Jerry’s “sister.” The Vances, a humorless bunch, look on w/ horror as Lucy does her own impression of Dixie Belle, complete w/ a burlesque-style dance.

Much of the film (adapted from a Broadway play) was improvised by its director, Leo McCarey, and the cast each day. This caused Grant much anxiety, BUT it became a big hit. After a time, Grant realized that McCarey was deliberately creating nervous tension in him to enhance the performance. By keeping the cast slightly off balance, the director was building scenes from spontaneous moments between the actors. There is clever/fast dialogue, physical humor (incl. w/ the energetic dog), and great chemistry between the leads. The supporting actors do a good job, too; they add to this screwball comedy.

His Girl Friday

It all happened in the “Dark Ages” of the Newspaper game- When to a reporter “Getting That Story” justified anything short of murder. Incidentally you will see in this picture no resemblance to the men and women of the press of Today. Ready? Well, once upon a time… –Opening title card for the film

Having been away 4 mos, Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell), walks into the offices of The Morning Post, where she is a star reporter; her purpose is to tell her boss/editor, Walter Burns (Grant), that she is quitting. She got a divorce in Reno (from Walter- who admits he “wasn’t much of a husband”) and had a vacation in Bermuda. Hildy wants to “have a home” and “live like a real human being,” instead of chasing after stories. She plans to take the 4PM train to Albany, where she will be getting married the next day to an earnest/doting insurance agent, Bruce Baldwin (Bellamy- yet again the guy who doesn’t get the girl). Walter doesn’t want to lose Hildy, as a reporter or a wife, so he does whatever he can to delay her trip and convince her that she belongs w/ the paper- and him!

You’ve got an old fashioned idea divorce is something that lasts forever, ’til death do us part.’ Why divorce doesn’t mean anything nowadays, Hildy, just a few words mumbled over you by a judge. -Walter explains to Hildy

What were you when you came here five years ago – a little college girl from a school of journalism. I took a doll-faced hick... -Walter says

Well, you wouldn’t take me if I hadn’t been doll-faced. -Hildy retorts

Well, why should I? I thought it would be a novelty to have a face around here a man could look at without shuddering. -Walter replies

He forgets the office when he’s with me. He doesn’t treat me like an errand boy, either, Walter. He treats me like a woman. -Hildy comments re: her fiance, Bruce

This (fast-talking) screwball comedy influenced MANY films that came after it, from rom coms to workplace comedies. There are jokes aimed at the behavior, looks, and speech of journos (who were almost ALL men that time). I’ve seen this film several times over the years; I recently learned that Hildy was first written as a man (in the play- The Front Page). For the film, the studio (producers) decided to change it to a woman, so there could be a romance (instead of bromance) element. In the middle section of the film, Hildy is at the helm of the story, and we see things from her POV. The other reporters covering the case admire Hildy for her talent (writing); they even bet on how long she’ll last as a housewife! The female Hildy was a rarity for Hollywood; she had a career, was confident, smart, and independent-minded. She wears cool hats, coats, and (menswear-inspired) skirt suits. Grant (then in his 30s) looks great (as usual); he projects charm, humor, and mischievousness in his scenes. Walter (who rarely shows vulnerability, BUT is still easy to relate to) is one of Grant’s MOST known/loved characters.

Possessed (1931) starring Joan Crawford & Clark Gable

The script is sharp and believable, the direction good and there are some incredibly lavish settings. Also Crawford and Gable are just great in their roles and both of them look incredibly beautiful.

It’s in these early Crawford films that you really see what the shouting was all about. She is beautiful, vulnerable, strong, sweet and, most importantly, a powerful screen presence. And she can show you all those sides of herself in the same scene.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

If I were a man it wouldn’t frighten you! You’d think it was right for me to go out and get anything I could out of life, and use anything I had to get it. Why should men be so different? All they’ve got are their brains and they’re not afraid to use them. Well neither am I! -Marion declares to her mother (before leaving home)

This is a short (76 mins) and simple story re: Marion Martin (Joan Crawford), a young woman working at a small factory town. She dreams of the good life, so rejects the cement worker who wants to marry her, Al Manning (Wallace Ford), and leaves home for NYC. Marion meets wealthy lawyer- Mark Whitney (Clark Gable)- and becomes his mistress. Three yrs. go by and we see Marion in her spacious apt, wearing fancy clothes and jewels. Though she yearns for the status/respectability of marriage, Mark doesn’t want to marry again. He was scandalized when his ex-wife cheated on him w/ their driver. One day, Marion (who goes by “Mrs. Moreland” and is assumed to be a widow) learns that Al is coming to the city on business. Al admits that Marion leaving him was the best thing that happened in his life; he worked hard and became a contractor. Al wants to take Marion out. Marion is deeply in love w/ Mark, BUT also worried about her future. Does Mark love Marion and will he change his mind? Or will Marion settle for Al this time around?

Marion is the hero of her own story; the audience wants her to get a happy ending. Notice how kindly Marion speaks to the unsophisticated mistress of one of Mark’s party guests; she realizes that they are in the same boat. Gable (w/o his trademark mustache) is only 30 y.o. here. He does a good job, though (as MANY critics have said), he doesn’t have much range. Crawford was just 25 y.o. in this movie, yet she commands the screen w/ her confidence, physical grace, expressive eyes and- of course- voice! I was surprised b/c I’d ONLY seen her in ’40s & ’50s films. This film was made before the Hays Code came into effect; it deals w/ mature subject matters in subtle ways.