“High Sierra” (1941) starring Ida Lupino & Humphrey Bogart

Bogie was a medium-sized man, not particularly impressive off-screen, but something happened when he was playing the right part. Those lights and shadows composed themselves into another, nobler personality: heroic, as in “High Sierra.” I swear the camera has a way of looking into a person and perceiving things that the naked eye doesn’t register. -John Huston (who wrote the script), when asked about Bogart’s unique appeal on this movie

Roy “Mad Dog” Earle (Humphrey Bogart) was broken out of prison by an old associate who wants him to help w/ a robbery of a casino on the California-Nevada border. The two young punks who’ll be assisting are Babe (Alan Curtis) and Red (Arthur Kennedy, before he became a well-known character actor). When the robbery goes wrong (a cop is dead), Roy is forced to go on the run. Also in the mix are a loyal dog, Pard (played by Bogart’s own dog) and two potential love interests- former dancehall girl, Marie (Ida Lupino), and Okie farmgirl, Velma (Joan Leslie). Police and press are hot on his trail; he hides in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Roy Earle: Of all the 14 karat saps… starting out on a caper with a woman and a dog.

Bogart also sent many telegrams to Hal B. Wallis and studio head Jack L. Warner asking to be cast as Earle (who was modeled on John Dillinger). Paul Muni left Warner Bros. after a contract dispute and George Raft turned down the role, so Warner called Bogart. This was the last movie Bogart made where he didn’t receive top billing; the studio decided that Lupino should have top billing, as she’d been a big hit in They Drive by Night (1940). Though Marie admires and falls for Roy, Lupino didn’t like the way Bogart treated her and his use of sarcasm. Director Raoul Walsh saw Bogart more as a supporting player, not a leading man. He wrote  in his biography that Bogart complained about everything: food chosen for lunch, settings, conditions of shooting, etc.

Roy Earle: I wouldn’t give you two cents for a dame without a temper.

Roy is a lonely/romantic man; he came from a small town, as he tells Pa (the farmer he meets on the road). He falls in love w/ Pa’s granddaughter, Velma, a pretty/club-footed young woman who sees him as a friend/benefactor. Roy has emotions which run deep; he wants to give up crime and marry a “good girl.” He has a soulmate in Marie; she is weary, straight-forward, and cares deeply for him. Roy prefers the one he can’t get- of course! Bogart and Lupino have very strong chemistry here.

[1] Not cocky like Cagney and Muni, not psychopathic like the early Edward G. Robinson, not as smooth as Raft, Bogart is a ruthless professional with a wide stripe of sentimentality. His Roy never shirks from killing, but he doesn’t get off on it. He’s more a rebel than a gangster, a poetic soul denied respectability, a man longing for the innocence of his youth.

[2] Bogart’s interpretation already showed signs of the special qualities that were to become an important part of his mystique in a few more films.

Here, for the first time, was the human being outside society’s laws who had his own private sense of loyalty, integrity, and honor. Bogart’s performance turns “High Sierra” into an elegiac film.

[3] Many fine moments [for Lupino] with Bogey… including a memorable speech within his cabin hideout. This is one of the best portraits of a desperate outlaw in film history. A blueprint for all the antihero films that would follow over the years…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“The Man Who Cheated Himself” (1950) starring Lee J. Cobb, Jane Wyatt, & John Dall

Lois: I didn’t know what I was doing! You know the truth!

Ed: The truth can get you twenty years!

In San Francisco, Lois Frazer (Jane Wyatt AKA Spock’s mom in Star Trek), is set to divorce her fortune-hunter husband, Howard. Once he leaves for the airport, she finds out that he bought a gun, and thinks he plans to kill her. Lois frantically calls her lover, who happens to be an experienced homicide detective, Lt. Ed Cullen (Lee J. Cobb). Ed arrives at her house to calm Lois down. Soon after, Howard unexpectedly returns, and she shoots him dead! Ed (though he knows better) feels compelled to cover up the killing. Soon, he’s assigned to investigate the case. His younger brother/new detective, Andy (John Dall), is also assigned and anxious to prove his merit. Andy is getting married in a few days.

Ed: [to Andy] Better learn one thing: never take a case to bed.

We see locations in and around the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, Telegraph Hill and Fort Point (which was used in Hitchcock’s Vertigo). There are some colorful supporting characters who add to the drama. The action (incl. car chase) scenes are done well. TCM’s Eddie Muller explained that this film was made on a small budget and produced by Jack M. Warner, who was fighting w/ his father, the Jack Warner. The son wanted to make films on his own. The director, Felix Feist, was a freelancer (not tied to any studio); he was married to Lisa Howard (who plays Janet- Andy’s wife).

Unlike Dall, Howard’s performance is natural and easy. Andy needed more characterization; he comes off as too dreamy-eyed for a cop. You also have to ignore the fact that Dall (tall/blonde/slim) and Cobb (short/dark-haired/stocky) look and sound nothing alike! It’s rare to see Cobb as a leading man; he tones down the brooding intensity and growling voice (which we know/love from his character roles). Sadly, Cobb and Wyatt (cast against type as the femme fatale) lack romantic chemistry. I did like their last scene together, which was enigmatic and had some smolder! Cobb got this role after a successful run on Broadway in Death of a Salesman. Arthur Miller wrote the role of Willy Loman w/ Cobb in mind -WOW!

[1] …it is relentless and edgy, with no time for polish or emotional depth. Cameraman Russell Harlan (Blackboard Jungle; To Kill a Mockingbird) does a brilliant job with great angles and framing. It isn’t elegant, but it’s visually sharp.

[2] A fast, curious, edgy crime film that depends on a fabulous, simple twist, which you learn right at the start and keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time. The clash of two cops who are brothers begins innocently, and turns and builds in a very believable way

Lee J. Cobb… just perfect in his role, right to the last scene when you see him look down the hall with the same feeling he has at the beginning of the film.

-Excerpts from IMDB movies

“Boomerang!” (1947) starring Dana Andrews, Lee J. Cobb, Arthur Kennedy, Jane Wyatt, & Ed Begley

[1] This is a pretty good, taut, realistic, gritty film-noirish film

[2] Most of the film’s dramatic moments take place in the courtroom, but there is a backstory involving municipal corruption

[3] Boomerang is the story of how the man who eventually became U.S. Attorney General, Homer Cummings, used the prosecutor’s office to prove the INNOCENCE of an arrested murder suspect. How often do you see that happen?

[4] …Lee J. Cobb, as the cop who changes his mind, is excellent, and so is Karl Malden, who has less to do. I’ve always loved Sam Levene… the cynical wisecracking reporter was made for him. Playwright Arthur Miller lived near where the film was shot; in the police line-up, he’s the tall man in the dark coat on the far left.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

The film was directed by Elia Kazan who got the New York Film Critic’s Award for this and Gentleman’s Agreement. Boomerang! got an Oscar nom for Best Screenplay (adapted by Richard Murphy). The story starts off w/ narration re: life in a seemingly idyllic community, which could be any town in America. The peace is shattered when an elderly Episcopal priest is shot on a street corner. When the investigation stalls, pressure is put on the cops to come up w/ a suspect. A reporter, Dave Woods (Sam Levene), writes a series of articles criticizing the city government for inaction. Many men are picked up for questioning, just b/c they wear a dark coat and light hat (as the killer is alleged to have worn). In a police line-up, seven witnesses identify John Waldron (Arthur Kennedy), a former WWII vet w/ no job, as the murderer. Waldron (who was carrying a gun) denies the crime. After being questioned by Chief Robinson (Lee J. Cobb), Det. White (Karl Malden in an uncredited role), and a psychiatrist, the suspect confesses. District Attorney Henry Harvey (Dana Andrews) is put on the case. His friends urge him to win the case and run for governor, while facts lead him to believe the suspect may be innocent.

Kazan aims for realism, making it seem like we’re watching events as they unfold. This film was shot on location and features many locals (non-actors) in the crowd scenes. Fans of Star Trek will recognize Jane Wyatt (AKA Spock’s mom); she plays Madge Harvey, the wife to the D.A. She’s the loving/supportive wife, but also on top of things. This is the film debut of Ed Begley; he’ll later appear in 12 Angry Men (w/ Cobb). Begley is a small-time bureaucrat; he sweats and acts nervous. Kennedy plays an ambiguous character, the police interrogate him for two days, depriving him of sleep until he breaks down. Cobb carries Kennedy over to a cot, as you’d do w/ a sleeping child. The second act of the film is the courtroom drama. You can rent this movie on YouTube.


“The Big Heat” (1953) starring Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin, & Jocelyn Brando

[1] Glenn Ford is super bad ass in this film . He is 100% convincing as a complex man living in 2 worlds. Family life vs. the crime underworld.

It is some of the best writing in film noir history. Almost every line is a gem. There are tons of one-liners.

[2] He conveys so much in a look, a facial expression. And you are with him the whole way; he comes just close to the edge, but not so that he loses your sympathy.

[3] Glenn Ford now looks like one of the most quietly powerful actors of Hollywood`s “Golden Age”… He had a rare ability to portray a kind of slow-burn tension…

[4] Gloria Grahame was born for roles like this one, both tough and vulnerable, the ultimate tragic moll.

-Excerpts from reviews on Amazon

This (must-see) film noir is directed by a giant of this genre- Fritz Lang. It’s based on the novel by former Philly crime reporter William P. McGivern. It’s included on Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies” list and received an 100% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. In the town of Kenport, Sgt Dave Bannion is an on the trail of a criminal syndicate which he suspects holds power over the local police force. Bannion is tipped off after another cop’s suicide; his fellow officers’ suspicious silence lead him to believe that they’re being paid off. When tragedy hits home, Bannion seeks revenge; he gets help from the gangster’s spurned girlfriend, Debby. They must use any means necessary to get to the truth.

Executive Producer Jerry Wald hoped to cast either Paul Muni, George Raft, or Edward G. Robinson as Bannion. It’s tough to imagine anyone else besides Glenn Ford in this role; he makes it look effortless. The best acting is in the eyes; if it’s not coming from w/in, the audience won’t find it believable. As has been said of Jimmy Stewart, I think that Ford was a great listener. You get the sense that he’s “in the moment” as he’s playing a scene opposite his fellow actors.

Bannion’s devoted wife, Katie, is played by Marlon Brando’s older sister, Jocelyn, who has looks and talent, too. In their domestic scenes, Brando and Ford have an easy chemistry, making them a relatable/happy couple. Columbia wanted to borrow Marilyn Monroe from 20th Century-Fox to play the role of Debby Marsh, but Fox’s price was too high, so Gloria Grahame was cast instead. Grahame is flirty, funny, vulnerable, and (eventually) takes control of her own story. The gangster, Vince Stone (Lee Marvin), has a quick/dangerous temper; he only fears the most powerful mobster in the area. There is violence against women (described and shown); some lines were unusual for the era. You can rent it on Amazon or YouTube.

Hitchcock on Catholic Guilt: “I Confess” (1953) starring Montgomery Clift, Anne Baxter, & Karl Malden

German refugees, Otto Keller (O.E. Hasse) and his wife Alma (Dolly Haas), work as caretaker and housekeeper at a Catholic rectory in Québec City, Canada. While robbing the house of a lawyer (who he sometimes works for), Otto ends up killing the man. Racked w/ guilt, he heads to the church where Father Michael Logan (Montgomery Clift) is up late. Otto confesses to murder; he says he wore a cassock that night as a disguise. After two schoolgirls come forward as witnesses, the police question all the local priests. Inspector Larrue (Karl Malden) suspects Fr. Logan from the start, sensing that he’s hiding something. It turns out that the deceased was blackmailing Ruth (Anne Baxter), who grew up w/ Logan and loved him before he went off to fight in WWII. She loves him still, though is married to a politician.

Fr. Logan: I never thought of the priesthood as offering a hiding place.

Sir Alfred Hitchcock (who was raised Catholic) told a New York Times reporter in August 1952, that he chose Québec for filming because “in no American city do you find a priest walking down the street in a cassock.” This movie was based on the 1902 play “Nos deux consciences” by Paul Anthelme, a journalist. In the play, the priest and his lover had a baby, and the priest was hanged at the end. These elements had to be removed from the movie b/c of the Hays Code. I Confess was banned in Ireland b/c it showed a priest having a relationship w/ a woman (even though it took place before the character took orders). The screenwriter (George Tabori) wanted the script to be a subtle dig at the McCarthy hearings, as it centered on a man unable to tell the truth when questioned by authorities. Tabori found that Hitchcock only wanted to make a thriller. Peter Bogdanovich noted that this is a favorite of French New Wave directors.

Hitchcock created detailed storyboards for each scene, as was his custom. He couldn’t understand Clift’s Method acting technique; he became frustrated after the actor blew take after take, failing to follow instructions. Tension occurred over Clift’s insistence on having his acting coach (Maria Rostova) by his side. Hitchcock found that Clift didn’t listen to him at all. Karl Malden, who was friendly w/ Clift, found the process difficult. Clift would immediately turn to Rostova for feedback after each scene. Clift was drinking heavily also; he’d come on-set hungover (which wasn’t unusual for leading men in Hollywood’s Golden Age). As a closeted gay man, I’m sure he had a lot of pressure on his shoulders.

This isn’t your typical Hitchcock- it lacks the sly humor, memorable music, and (of course) the suspense he was known for. However, it’s atmospheric, moody, w/ a thread of foreboding running throughout. French is spoken a bit by supporting characters. There are towering old churches, crosses and crucifixes of all styles, marble statues, and houses of Parliament. There is a flashback section that’s quite engaging, where you see a lighter side of Clift and Baxter. I liked Clift and Malden together; they project very different energies. Malden famously played a priest in On the Waterfront; fans of The West Wing know him as President Bartlet’s priest. Baxter has her hair dyed blonde (which I thought was distracting) and wears some stylish outfits, thanks to Orry Kelly.

[1] Forced into complicity with the murderer, Father Logan behaves as though he is guilty despite his innocence…

[2] The movie is a somber psychological drama, and the story of a forbidden love, and perhaps a Christ allegory (the priest has to suffer for another man’s sins- he has to bear his own cross).

[3] When the camera sweeps up to a full screen view of Clift’s face and you see those glowing, brooding eyes, you fall under their collective spell.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews