Brief Reviews of Recent Views (DEC 2022)

Dead End (1937) starring Sylvia Sydney, Joel McCrea, Humphrey Bogart, Wendy Barrie, & Claire Trevor

The Dead End Kids (a teen ensemble of actors who’d also appeared on Broadway) are introduced in their Midtown East (NYC) slum, overlooked by the new apts of the ultra-rich. Their antics, some funny, some vicious, alternate w/ subplots: jobless architect Dave (Joel McCrea- one of Hollywood’s “Everyman” actors) is torn btwn Drina (Sylvia Sydney- a big star of the ’30s), his hard-working/childhood friend and Kay (Wendy Barrie), the glam mistress of a rich man; gangster “Baby Face” Martin (Humphrey Bogart- before his leading man days) returns to his old neighborhood and finds that nobody is glad to see him. Then violent crime, BOTH juvenile and adult, impacts the neighborhood and its inhabitants.

Samuel Goldwyn acquired the rights to Sidney Kingsley’s play for $165,000 – a V large amount at the time (equivalent to nearly $3M today). The play had been a huge success on Broadway; its content had to be altered b/c of censorship in film. As some of my fellow classic movie fans know, producers had a LOT more power than directors in the Hollywood studio system. William Wyler (director) wanted to film on location on the streets of NYC, but Goldwyn insisted that the movie be made in the studio. Richard Day (art director) was assigned to design the sets, which were the some of the MOST elaborate sets in film history. Bogart (who was borrowed from Warner Bros.) got his role after George Raft turned it down; James Cagney was Goldwyn’s 1st choice. In order to get past the censors, references to Francey (a young Claire Trevor) being a prostitute were veiled (though mentioned in the original play).

The Mark of Zorro (1940) starring Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, & Basil Rathbone

The Jagged Mark of His Sword Struck Terror to Every Heart – But One! -A tagline for the movie

I’m a big fan of The Mask of Zorro (1995) starring Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Anthony Hopkins. Many of you will know re: the premise of this movie: a young Spanish aristocrat, Don Diego Vega (Tyrone Power- 26 y.o.), pretends to be a “fop,” BUT protects the poor/powerless folks of Los Angeles (then a part of Mexico) as the masked vigilante- Zorro (“fox” in Spanish). Many viewers have commented that Zorro (who hails from the early 1820s) is a precursor to the superheroes we know/love today. Lolita Quintero (Linda Darnell- just 16 y.o.) is the love interest; she meets Zorro (in disguise) and is impressed by his words. Lolita’s greedy/corrupt uncle, Don Luis Quintero (J. Edward Bromberg), has taken over Diego’s father’s job; his elegant/shrewd wife, Inez (Gale Sondegaard), dreams of being presented in the royal court of Spain. However, the main threat to Zorro is Don Luis’ right-hand man- Capt. Esteban Pasquale (Basil Rathbone- a trained fencer). The swordfight btwn Power and Rathbone will amaze you- WOW!

Blood and Sand (1941) starring Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, Rita Hayworth, & Anthony Quinn

Love flamed in the shadow of death! -A tagline for the movie

Illiterate Spanish peasant Juan Gallardo (Tyrone Power) rises meteorically to fame and fortune as a bullfighter, ONLY to sow the seeds of his own downfall. This movie didn’t impress me as much as the previous one; Power and Darnell are paired up again, BUT then Hayworth comes into the mix. The costumes looked great (IMO), esp. the ones worn by the bullfighters. There is a steamy (for that time) dance btwn (real) Latin hotties- Hayworth and Anthony Quinn (who plays Power’s friend/competitor). Power was Irish-American, though this dark hair/eyes and gorgeous looks got him cast in “exotic” roles.

The Racket (1951) starring Robert Mitchum, Lizabeth Scott, & Robert Ryan

The big national crime syndicate has moved into town, partnering up with local crime boss Nick Scanlon (Robert Ryan). There are ONLY two probs: First, Nick is the violent type, preferring to do things the old-fashioned way instead of using the syndicate’s more business-like methods. The 2nd prob is Capt. McQuigg (Robert Mitchum), an honest cop and the loyal Officer Johnson (William Tallman). They take on the Nick and try to foil the syndicate’s plans to elect Welch, the crooked prosecutor running for judge. I wanted to see it b/c of Mitchum and Ryan; Eddie Muller (TCM) commented that they should’ve switched roles. Muller also noted that it had 3 different writers and 5 directors over its (V troubled) production! Mitchum later said there were many reshoots.

Back from Eternity (1956) starring Robert Ryan, Anita Ekberg, & Rod Steiger

A South American plane loaded with an assortment of characters crash-lands in a remote jungle area in the middle of a storm. The passengers then discover they are in an area inhabited by cannibals, so MUST escape before they are found. Ryan is giving it his 100% (as he does in every role), BUT he doesn’t come in until 15 mins. into the movie. He speaks a BIT of Spanish- V cool! Swedish model Ekberg (sadly) can’t act and is NOT confident w/ her English. That doesn’t matter to the director/producers, as she’s there mainly for her looks (tall, blonde, and curvy). Later on, there is an (unneeded) catfight btwn Ekberg and another actress- ugh! The standout here is Steiger (looking youngish w/ dark/curly hair); he gets the best lines and is the most interesting (yet potentially volatile) character. Beulah Bondi (mom/grandma in MANY classic films) finally gets out of the house- LOL!

Socially Conscious Noir: “Crossfire” (1947) starring Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, & Robert Ryan

Homicide Capt. Finlay (Robert Young) finds evidence that one or more of a group of soldiers is involved in the death of a middle-aged/kindly Jewish man, Joseph Samuels (Sam Levene). In flashbacks, we see the night’s events from different viewpoints, as Army Sgt. Keeley (a youngish Robert Mitchum) investigates on his own, trying to clear the sensitive/young Mitchell, to whom circumstantial evidence points. Then the real (and ugly) motive for the killing begins to dawn on both Finlay and Keeley. This was the breakout role for Robert Ryan, who played Montgomery, one of the experienced/jaded soldiers. Ryan didn’t like the negative aspects of his character- that resulted in him being typecast in villain roles. In real life, Ryan was a liberal progressive actively involved in the Civil Rights movement. A very young Gloria Grahame (who was loaned from MGM) plays a dancehall girl who meets Mitchell.

Finlay: Hating is always the same, always senseless. One day it kills Irish Catholics, the next day Jews, the next day Protestants, the next day Quakers. It’s hard to stop. It can end up killing men who wear striped neckties. Or people from Tennessee.

The film is based on Richard Brooks’ first novel, The Brick Foxhole (1945), written while he was a sergeant in the Marine Corps. One of the subplots dealt w/ homophobia, but that was changed to anti-Semitism. The decision was made by producer Adrian Scott (who purchased the rights) knowing that any depiction of homosexuality would not pass the Hayes Code. Brooks would write the screenplays for other notable noirs, incl. The Killers (1946) (uncredited), Brute Force (1947), Key Largo (1948), and Mystery Street (1950). Due to of the film’s tight (24 day) shooting schedule, it was able to beat the similarly-themed Gentleman’s Agreement to theaters by 3-1/2 months and stole some of its thunder. However, Oscar acclaim went to Gentleman’s Agreement, which won 3 out of its 8 noms, incl. Best Picture. Crossfire was overlooked; it had 5 noms. It has been suggested that one reason it didn’t win any Oscars was director Edward Dmytryk and Scott’s testimony before HUAC in late 1947. They refused to state whether they were, or had been, Communists and were subsequently blacklisted.

[1] Ryan, creates a fully shaded and frighteningly convincing portrait of an ignorant, unstable bigot; we see his phony geniality, his bullying, his resentment of anyone with advantages, his “Am I right or am I right?” smugness; how easily he slaps labels on people and what satisfaction he gets from despising them.

CROSSFIRE’s message seems cautious and dated now, though not nearly so much as GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT. […] The script seems afraid to mention any real contemporary problems. […] Still, it did take some guts to depict, immediately after World War II, an American who might have been happier in the Nazi army, and the movie’s basic premise is still valid.

[2] Crossfire is a “message” movie but it is also a cracking good drama, and that’s what I enjoyed about it. Plus the cast is dynamite – Roberts Preston, Mitchum and Ryan, and the beautiful Gloria Grahame. Mitchum doesn’t have a big a role as you might expect (the movie was released the same year as Out Of The Past in which he gives a much more substantial performance), but he’s always great to watch, and Robert Ryan steals the movie as a very nasty piece of work.

[3] As late as 1947, it was a big deal for a movie to announce that anti-Semitism existed, and that it was bad. (It was unthinkable, of course, for Hollywood to address the real subject of the book on which the movie was based- its victim was a homosexual.) Nevertheless, thanks to good writing and excellent acting, CROSSFIRE remains a persuasive examination of what we would now call a hate crime.

-Excerpts from IMBD reviews

Getting Started with Noir: 10 Films to Watch

  1. The 39 Steps (1935) starring Robert Donat & Madeleine Carroll [https://knightleyemma.com/2019/11/16/the-39-steps/]

2. The Maltese Falcon (1941) starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, & Sydney Greenstreet

3. Laura (1944) starring Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price, & Judith Anderson [https://knightleyemma.com/2008/10/15/classic-movie-review-laura/]

4. Notorious (1946) starring Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, & Claude Rains [https://knightleyemma.com/2019/10/30/notorious/]

5. The Big Sleep starring Humphrey Bogart & Lauren Bacall

6. The Killers (1946) starring Burt Lancaster & Ava Gardner [https://knightleyemma.com/2014/02/08/the-killers-1946/]

7. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) starring Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Kirk Douglas, & Lizabeth Scott [https://knightleyemma.com/2011/09/10/the-strange-love-of-martha-ivers-1946/]

8. Out of the Past (1947) starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, & Kirk Douglas [https://knightleyemma.com/2009/08/05/out-of-the-past-1947/]

9. In a Lonely Place (1950) starring Humphrey Bogart & Gloria Grahame [https://knightleyemma.com/2009/08/23/in-a-lonely-place-1950/]

10. Strangers on a Train (1951) starring Farley Granger, Robert Walker, & Ruth Roman

Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957) starring Robert Mitchum & Deborah Kerr

I watched his film (w/ my mom) this past week at AFI in Silver Spring, MD (theater across the street from my current apt). I’d seen it before (on TCM), BUT let’s face it- Mitchum is a big man meant for the big screen. This film was shot on location in the Caribbean (Trinidad and Tobago) in Cinemascope. This film is rightly compared to The African Queen w/ a female being a religious missionary and a hell-raising male thrown together in wartime. The African Queen was set during WWI; this film is set on a small Pacific island in WWII.

John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Clark Gable and Marlon Brando all wanted to play, or were sought for, the part of Mr. Allison before Robert Mitchum was cast. Mitchum worried that Kerr would be like the prim characters she often played; after she swore at director John Huston during one take, Mitchum (who was in the water) almost drowned laughing. The two actors were friends until Mitchum’s death in 1997.

Deborah Kerr is a nun who hasn’t yet taken her final vows.  Being alone on the island with Mitchum is a temptation, no doubt- LOL! At that time, the Catholic church imposed strict censorship laws on films dealing with religious situations/characters. In the original book by Charles Shaw (inspiration for this film), the marine and the nun fell in love. Huston created a resolution in which the marine and nun gain strength, hope and determination from each other. There’s a great parallel between Cpl. Allison and the Sister. Each dedicated themselves to their respective vocations- he is dedicated to the Marines; she is dedicated to the Catholic Church. Mitchum shows what depth and sensitivity he could bring to a part. Kerr earned an Oscar nom! 

The script called for several Japanese-speaking officers and a company of troops to be on the island. There were no Japanese men on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago; a few who spoke the language were eventually found in an emigrant community in Brazil. For the non-speaking Japanese troops, 50 Chinese men (who worked in the restaurants and laundries of T&T) were hired. Some locals were upset b/c work didn’t get done while these men had their 15 mins of fame.

[1] If you are looking for a movie with heart and real content, this could be perfect. The acting is top-notch, as is the cinematography. The plot flows beautifully and holds your attention to the very end. 

[2] It’s the subtlety that makes this film work they way it does. 

[3] Mitchum- an actor who only really has one persona, and yet is a good actor all the same. It didn’t matter whether he was playing… he was still the same sturdy, laconic Robert Mitchum. But within that one persona, he has a full range of expressiveness and credibility. This is among his best performances.

[4] Kerr- she conveys every thought and emotion through tiny gestures, facial twitches and changes in posture. Above all, she brings a very warm and believable character out beyond the stereotype.

-Viewer comments from IMDB

Holiday Affair (1949) starring Robert Mitchum & Janet Leigh

HolidayAffair_poster

[1] The story as well is told with such maturity and wit for those days… Here we see REAL people as it were. Real people with real problems. Especially in Leigh’s character…

[2] The dialogue is among the best and the long string of coincidences make this film charming, not clichéd. 

[3] Surprisingly quirky film isn’t the least bit obvious or clichéd, and Janet’s sceen-relationship with Gordon Gebert, the likable youngster playing her son, is very well handled. 

[4] Wendell Corey is excellent as the fiancé; he turns this very practical character into a sympathetic one and there are times you’re not sure who you want to win — or lose — Leigh’s hand.

HolidayAffair_gifts.jpg

This is one of my (new) holiday faves; I discovered it (thanks to TCM) about 5 yrs ago. A few days before Christmas, comparison shopper Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh) buys a train for work, BUT her 7 y.o. son Timmy (Gordon Gebert) finds it and assumes that it’s for him. When Connie goes back to the department store to return the train the next day, clerk Steve Mason (Robert Mitchum) quickly figures out her real purpose. He doesn’t turn her in to management, which gets him fired. They end up spending most of the day together, which Connie doesn’t reveal to her suitor of 2 yrs, Carl (Wendell Corey), a divorce lawyer.  Romantic complications follow. Also, look out for Harry Morgan (best known for M.A.S.H.) who plays a bemused police lieutenant.

HolidayAffair_drink

In the kitchen scene, Mitchum gives Leigh a sudden, passionate kiss. Leigh said: “The expression that is on my face of being overwhelmed was for real.” Mitchum explained: “I wanted to make the kiss memorable, as though the characters were never going to see each other again. The perks of being an actor are, at times, not bad.” Leigh enjoyed working with both Mitchum and Corey; the set was a relaxed and happy one (where BOTH men were full of practical jokes).