My plan for Noirvember is to link the next film with the previous one. The last film will link with the first. I will list the films I watched and the link between the two on this page.
Without further ado, my picks for Noirvember. Click on the links below to skip directly to that entry.
The Big Heat, 1953
Director: Fritz Lang
Starring: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Jocelyn Brando, Lee Marvin.
Plot: Police Officer Tom Duncan allegedly commits suicide due to ill health. He leaves behind an envelope addressed to the District Attorney behind. Duncan’s widow, Bertha, promptly places the envelope into her safe deposit box. The contents of the envelope are unclear, however, a local crime syndicate, led by mob boss Mike Lagana, want the contents of that envelope.
Sergeant Dave Bannion (Ford) is tasked with investigating the suicide of his colleague, Duncan. He soon becomes skeptical of Duncan’s widows claims as ill health being the motive for her husband’s suicide. As Bannion gets deeper and deeper into the investigation and closer to Lagana and his gang, the more his life is threatened.
There are two shocking scenes in this film that caught me off guard when I saw this film for the first time.
MY FAVORITE PART: When Gloria Grahame’s character, Debby, is preparing drinks while dancing is always a delight. I also love her ending scenes when she takes matters into her own hands.
Sudden Fear, 1952
Connecting Link to Previous Film: Gloria Grahame
Director: Joseph Kaufman
Starring: Joan Crawford, Jack Palance, Gloria Grahame
Plot: Successful playwright, Myra Hudson (Crawford) is in New York City watching rehearsals for her latest play. Lester Blaine (Palance) has been cast as the romantic lead. While watching him rehearse, Myra is unimpressed and requests that he be replaced. Lester is understandably upset.
Myra then boards a train home for San Francisco, when she meets up with Lester, who is supposedly headed to Chicago, but he ends up buying an additional ticket so that he can remain on the train all the way to San Francisco. During the length of time it takes to travel from New York City to San Francisco via train, Lester charms the pants off Myra and after a very brief courtship, they marry.
Lester soon learns that Myra is an heiress and is set to inherit an even larger sum of money from her recently deceased father’s estate. He then learns that Myra is also in the process of writing her will and is planning on leaving a bulk of her estate to a charity. Another person who has learned of Myra’s windfall is Lester’s former girlfriend, Irene Neves (Grahame). Irene sees the announcement of her former beau’s marriage to Myra and travels across country to try and get a piece of the pie.
Lester and Irene rekindle their romance and also put together a plan to murder Myra before she can sign her will, so that Lester will inherit her entire fortune. Unfortunately for them, Myra’s tape recorder was turned on and captured their entire scheme.
MY FAVORITE PART: The close-up shots of Crawford’s hands organizing the various things she needed to carry out her meticulously planned scheme. I also loved the scene of her imagining herself carrying out her plan.
Panic in the Streets, 1950
Connecting Link to Previous Film: Jack Palance
Director: Elia Kazan
Starring: Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, Jack Palance
Plot: A man by the name of Kochak is murdered by a gangster, Blackie (Palance) after making the mistake of beating Blackie and his goons, Poldi and Fitch, at a poker game in a warehouse near the docks in New Orleans. Kochak, visibly not feeling well, wants to go home. Blackie on the other hand, doesn’t appreciate losing and has Poldi and Fitch run down the man and murder him. After shooting and killing Kochak, Poldi and Fitch dump his body on a dock.
Kochak’s body is discovered, but is unable to be identified due to the man’s lack of identification. After his autopsy, the coroner grows concerned about the high levels of bacteria in the deceased man’s blood. He calls in Lieutenant Commander Reed (Widmark), a doctor and commissioned officer of the United States Public Health Service.
After inspecting the body, Reed diagnoses the dead man with “pneumonic plague,” i.e. bubonic plague. Reed immediately jumps into action giving vaccinations to all personnel who came in contact with Kochak’s body. Wanting to avoid a devastating pandemic from hitting New Orleans, Reed must identify the deceased man and identify and quarantine not only all persons who came into contact with Kochak, but also all persons who may have come into contact with people who may have come into contact with Kochak.
The police, especially Captain Warren (Douglas) are skeptical of Reed’s claims and panic to find all persons who may have come into Kochak, either directly or indirectly, but agree to aid the investigation. Reed also wants to suppress media coverage of the potential pandemic and a battle of ethics arises.
I really liked this film. It is definitely prescient today, especially when it comes to the idea as to whether the public deserves to know about a potential pandemic or whether it is okay to hide the information if it can avoid “panic in the streets,” especially if the health department and police can identify and quarantine the root of the pandemic before it’s allowed to spread.
MY FAVORITE PART: I don’t know if I have a specific scene that I enjoyed more than another, but I did like the overall moral question and the tone of the film.
Don’t Bother to Knock, 1952
Connecting Link to Previous Film: Richard Widmark
Director: Daniel Taradash
Starring: Richard Widmark, Marilyn Monroe, Anne Bancroft, Elisha Cook Jr.
Plot: Eddie (Cook Jr.) works as an elevator operator at a fancy hotel in New York City. He has a young niece, Nell (Monroe) who was recently released from a sanitarium. Oregonian (yay!) Nell was a patient for three years, following a suicide attempt. Nell has been struggling emotionally since the death of her pilot boyfriend, Phillip who perished in a plane crash in Hawaii.
Eddie arranges for Nell to babysit Bunny, the young daughter of Ruth (Lurene Tuttle) and Peter Jones (Jim Backus), a couple staying at the hotel. They are planning on attending an awards banquet at the same hotel. Nell arrives and is seemingly fine, just shy. However, it soon becomes apparent to Bunny that something is off with Nell. The first sign is Nell putting on Ruth’s negligee, robe, jewelry, and perfume. It seems that Nell does not come from very much money and as a result, has meager possessions. She just desperately wants to wear Ruth’s beautiful clothing and accessories and pretend like she’s a wealthy guest at the hotel.
While Nell is making herself at home in Ruth and Peter’s hotel room, she is spotted by Jed (Widmark), another guest at the hotel. He spots her prancing around in front of the window (still donning Ruth’s negligee) from his room across the courtyard. He figures out her room number and invites himself over.
Jed pretty much regrets his impulsive move as soon as he arrives at Nell’s room. It is very obvious that this woman is emotionally disturbed and has some serious mental problems.
There is a side plot which isn’t particularly interesting and it only really kind of showcases some relevance to the main plot at the end. The only reason that Jed is staying at the hotel is that he’s hoping to rekindle his romance with his ex-girlfriend, Lyn Lesley (Bancroft). Lyn is a singer and is currently performing in the lobby of the hotel where all the film’s action takes place. We see her intermittently throughout the film, but the strife between her and Jed is pretty dull compared to what’s going on with Nell.
MY FAVORITE PART: Marilyn’s entire performance. She isn’t known for being a dramatic actress, or a villain. However, she does both beautifully in this film. Marilyn is also able to make Nell multi-dimensional by not making her completely insane and revealing the vulnerable side of her character. Nell is a very deeply traumatized young woman. She needs mental therapy–not incarceration. Nor can she afford to be ignored.
The Asphalt Jungle, 1950
Connecting Link to Previous Film: Marilyn Monroe
Director: John Huston
Starring: Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, Marilyn Monroe.
Plot: Criminal mastermind, “Doc” (Sam Jaffe), is released from prison after serving a seven-year sentence. He immediately goes to see his bookie (as one does), who has arranged a meeting with lawyer, Alonzo Emmerich (Calhern). Since he had seven years to plan, Doc has come up with a heist worth $500k. All he needs is a box man, a driver, and a hooligan–which is true for practically anything.
Doc and Alonzo hire the three men needed to pull off the heist. They bring in a final man, Dix Handley (Hayden), an ex-con and friend of one of the men recruited to be the getaway driver. Dix’ girlfriend, Doll (Hagen), is in love with him. Dix’ sole motivation for participating in this heist is getting the funds to buy back a horse farm that his family lost.
This is such a fantastic heist film. I love seeing the plans for the heist and then seeing all the components come together. Sterling Hayden is such a great actor–he deserves to be more well known. Marilyn Monroe appears in a small part as Angela Phinlay, the young mistress of Alonzo and the person whom he contacts to set up an alibi.
MY FAVORITE PART: The actual heist taking place.
The Killing, 1956
Connecting Link to Previous Film: Sterling Hayden
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Elisha Cook Jr., Vince Edwards, Marie Windsor
Plot: Career criminal Johnny Clay (Hayden) is planning one last heist before he plans to go straight and marry his girlfriend, Fay (Gray). His plan is to steal $2-mil from the counting room at the local racetrack during the afternoon’s highlighted race. He painstakingly plans his heist and contacts all the components he’ll need to carry it off. Each man will be given a cut of the “proceeds.”
Among the men Johnny assembles: a corrupt cop (Ted de Corsia), a teller at the racetrack betting window (Cook Jr.), a sharp-shooter (Timothy Carey), a wrestler (Kola Kwariani), and the track bartender (Joe Sawyer). Before the heist can even come off, complications arise when the teller tells his materialistic wife (Windsor), about their imminent financial windfall. Not loving her husband whatsoever, she contacts her lover, Val (Vince Edwards). The two of them scheme to knock over Johnny and his associates after the heist is completed, and abscond with all the money.
This film is absolutely fantastic. It has a non-linear narrative that works well for the overall story. It’s fascinating how Kubrick shows the same scene from different perspectives so that we can see how each man carries off his part of the plan. This heist is so meticulously planned that it is fun to see how it comes off.
MY FAVORITE PART: Any scene with Timothy Carey. His character is absolutely insane and he spoke through clenched teeth the entire time. I also loved Marie Windsor and look forward to seeing more of her films.
The Maltese Falcon, 1941
Connecting Link to Previous Film: Elisha Cook Jr.
Director: John Huston
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Elisha Cook Jr.
Plot: San Francisco-based private detective Sam Spade (Bogart) and his partner, Miles Archer, are visited by a prospective client, “Miss Wonderly” (Astor). She is seeking their assistance in locating her missing sister who was supposedly last seen with a man, Floyd Thursby. Miles agrees to take on the case. He is killed later that evening, along with Thursby.
Wanting to investigate the murder of his partner and friend, Sam continues the investigation. He visits Miss Wonderly, who is now going by the name Brigid O’Shaughnessy. She tells Sam that Thursby was her partner. She assumes he killed Miles, but claims to have no idea who killed Thursby. Sam isn’t convinced and Brigid remains on his radar as a potential suspect.
Later, a man by the name of Joel Cairo (Lorre), visits Sam’s office. He offers Sam $5,000 for his assistance in locating a black bird figurine. Amused by the man’s offer, he tells Brigid about Cairo and the bird. Cairo then shows up at Brigid’s home and it becomes apparent that they are acquaintances. Cairo becomes stressed when Brigid reveals that “The Fat Man” aka Kaspar Gutman (Greenstreet), is in town.
Sam decides to meet The Fat Man, where he is followed by Wilmer (Cook Jr.) a young man who turns out to be affiliated with Brigid, Cairo and Gutman. At this point, the murder of Miles becomes a subplot as Sam decides to assist in locating this mysterious black bird figurine that this group seems so intent on finding.
MY FAVORITE PART: Toward the end of the film when Cairo has his meltdown and calls Sydney Greenstreet an “imbecile.”
Deadline- U.S.A., 1952
Connecting Link to Previous Film: Humphrey Bogart
Director: Richard Brooks
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ethel Barrymore, Kim Hunter, Ed Begley, Sr.
Plot: Ed Hutchinson (Bogart) is the managing editor of the New York City newspaper, The Day. Their circulation is smaller than their competitors, but their subscribers are loyal. The Day’s rival newspapers are more interested in providing more tabloid-esque stories and photos, complete with sensational headlines. They also include other features like comics, horoscopes, advice columns, and other things of that ilk that Ed feels distracts from the newspaper’s overall purpose of providing their readers with honest, well-researched journalism.
One day, the team at The Day see an item on the teletype machine stating that The Day is set to be bought out by a rival newspaper. It seems that The Day’s founder, Mr. Garrison has recently passed and his heirs are selling the ownership of the paper. Ed is fiercely loyal to Mr. Garrison’s widow, Margaret (Barrymore). It turns out that Margaret is not on-board with the buy-out of her husband’s company. Her daughters who also inherited a share in the newspaper, are spearheading this sale. Margaret submits a motion through the court to potentially purchase her daughter’s controlling shares herself and save the paper from closing.
Meanwhile, with the future of the newspaper (and their jobs) up in the air, Ed decrees that The Day will continue to produce high-quality journalism and content until the fate of The Day is revealed. He and his team latch onto a sensational story about a young woman whose nude body (cloaked in fur) is discovered. All fingers point to the local criminal, Rienzi. Ed encourages his team of reporters to follow leads and try to prove Rienzi’s involvement in the young woman’s murder. Ed knows that this could be The Day’s last important story, so he wants them to go out on top.
A subplot in this film has Ed trying to rekindle his relationship with his ex-wife, Nora (Hunter). But she reveals that she’s set to re-marry.
MY FAVORITE PART: The ending of the film is very poignant and timely today, when legitimate, unbiased journalism is so hard to find.
The Spiral Staircase, 1946
Connecting Link to Previous Film: Ethel Barrymore
Director: Robert Siodmak
Starring: Dorothy McGuire, George Brent, Ethel Barrymore, Rhonda Fleming
Plot: In 1906 Vermont, a young mute woman, Helen (McGuire), attends a silent film screening at a local inn. Helen is mute due to a traumatizing incident she witnessed during childhood–she witnessed her parents’ death in a fire. During the film, a crippled woman is murdered in her room by an unknown assailant.
A friend of Helen’s, Dr. Parry (Kent Smith), is also attending the screening and drives Helen home. Helen is employed as a live-in servant for Mrs. Warren (Barrymore), who is also an invalid. As Helen walks up the doorway, we spot a cloaked figure watching in the shadows. When Helen enters the home, she walks into a discussion between one of the other servants, Mrs. Oates (Elsa Lanchester), who expresses worry that Helen might be the next target. The crippled woman’s murder was the third such murder in the community, indicating that a serial killer might be lurking in town. The serial killer’s MO seems to be targeting disabled, i.e. defenseless, women. Helen’s inability to speak makes her a prime target.
As the film progresses, Helen’s paranoia and sense of danger heightens as she becomes further convinced that she’s being targeted.
Ethel Barrymore is amazing in this film. Despite her character being bedridden and supposedly weak, she is fantastic. She looks out for Helen and is really the only ally in the home that Helen has. Everyone else is too preoccupied with themselves to offer Helen any feeling of security and protection. Barrymore has one spectacular scene that almost steals the entire film from its star, Dorothy McGuire.
Speaking of McGuire, she is fantastic in this film. She conveys so much emotion through her eyes and face. She doesn’t need dialogue to explain how she is feeling. In fact, dialogue would undermine the effectiveness of her performance. She is a fantastic actress and deserves to be more well-known.
MY FAVORITE PART: The ending of the film is pretty awesome. But my absolute favorite part are all of the scenes of Ethel Barrymore being horribly awful to her nurse (Sara Algood). Every scene with Ethel and the nurse is hilarious.
Also, the cinematography in this film is incredible. I absolutely love Siodmak’s use of shadow in this film. He is able to create so much atmosphere and tension, just through the use of light and shadow.
Out of the Past, 1947
Connecting Link to Previous Film: Rhonda Fleming
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming
Plot: Jeff Bailey (Mitchum), owner of a local gas station, has a dark past. At the beginning of the film, Bailey has been a decent citizen in the small town of Bridgeport. He is dating Ann Miller (not that Ann Miller, Virginia Huston). Ann’s parents do not approve of Jeff, as they feel that there is something “off” with him.
One day, while fishing with Ann, Jeff is approached by his deaf and mute employee, known as “The Kid” (Dickie Moore). The Kid asks Jeff to come with him. It seems that Joe Stefanos was sent to Bridgeport by Whit Sterling (Douglas) to find Jeff. Whit is an old acquaintance of Jeff’s. Jeff agrees to go visit Whit, about 75 miles from Bridgeport. Ann accompanies Jeff for the drive.
While on the drive, Jeff gives Ann the scoop about his past. The story segues into a flashback where we learn that Jeff Bailey used to be Jeff Markham. He and his partner, Jack Fisher (Steve Brodie), were private investigators hired by Whit to find Whit’s girlfriend, Kathie Moffat (Greer). It seems that Kathie shot him and absconded with $40,000. Jeff is leery to take on the case as he gets the sense that he’s less interested in a reconciliation with Kathie, but more interested in revenge. Whit doesn’t like Jack and asks Jeff to handle the case alone. If he does and finds Kathie, Whit will split the money with him 50-50.
Greer is an amazing femme fatale. She doesn’t really have any regard for anyone, though she puts on a great show. Mitchum is fantastic as the weary, cynical detective. Douglas is always adept at playing the weasel.
MY FAVORITE PART: Mitchum’s “Baby I don’t care” line. It just sums up Mitchum’s entire persona and is so dismissive to Jane Greer. I love it.
Strange Love of Martha Ivers, 1946
CONNECTING LINK TO PREVIOUS FILM: Kirk Douglas
Director: Lewis Milestone
Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Kirk Douglas, Van Heflin, Lizabeth Scott, Judith Anderson
Plot: In 1928 Iverstown, PA, 13-year old Martha Ivers (Janis Wilson) and her friend Sam (Darryl Hickman) try to run away from the home of Martha’s domineering aunt, Mrs. Ivers (Anderson). They are found and brought back home by Martha’s tutor, Walter O’Neil, Sr. whose son, Walter O’Neil Jr. (Mickey Kuhn) ratted them out. Martha is scolded by her aunt, to which Martha makes it known that her family name is Smith (her father’s name), not Ivers.
Later that evening, during a power failure, Sam returns to try and help Martha out of the home. However, he hears Martha’s aunt calling for her and escapes. At this point, Martha’s contraband kitten comes out from hiding and Mrs. Ivers brutally kills it by beating it with her cane. This is a truly low point of the film, I will agree. Mrs. Ivers really has no redeeming qualities. She is a cold-hearted woman. Out of anger, Martha beats and kills her aunt with a fireplace poker. Martha lies about the incident to Walter Sr. Walter Jr. backs her up despite having witnessed the whole incident.
Fast forward to 1946, Martha (Barbara Stanwyck) and Walter Jr. (Kirk Douglas) are now adults and married. Martha has used her inheritance to expand the Ivers’ mining empire. Walter Jr. is the town’s District Attorney. Their marriage is one-sided. Walter Jr. loves Martha, but she does not love him. Sam (Van Heflin), a former soldier and current gambler, just happens to drive through town one day. After a minor accident, Sam leaves his car at the shop to be repaired. To kill time, he goes to his former childhood home, now a boarding house. He meets Toni Marachek (Lizabeth Scott) who has just been released from jail.
After Toni is picked up for a probation violation, Sam asks Walter Jr. to use his position to release Toni from jail. Walter Jr., becomes suspicious of Sam, since he knows that Sam knows the truth about Martha’s involvement in her aunt’s death back in ’28. It seems that Walter Sr. presented Martha’s version of the incident to the authorities and as a result, an innocent man was convicted and hanged for Mrs. Ivers’ death.
Martha’s joy at Sam’s return sets off jealousy in Walter Jr. The movie evolves into a 3-sided triangle with Lizabeth Scott, an unknowing bystander and pawn in their game.
MY FAVORITE PART: The ending with Martha and Walter is pretty great.
CONNECTING LINK TO PREVIOUS FILM: Barbara Stanwyck
Director: John Sturges
Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, Ralph Meeker
Plot: Doug (Sullivan) and Helen Stilwin (Stanwyck) and their young son Bobby are vacationing in Baja California, Mexico. The Stilwins set up camp near a fishing spot on a remote beach. Doug is aware of the location as it was a place he used to fish with his old military friends. Bobby allows his curiosity to get the best of him as he explores an old rotting jetty. He ends up getting his foot caught between the planks on the dock. As Doug pulls Bobby’s foot free, the jetty collapses. A wood piling falls on Doug’s leg, trapping him on the beach. He is not injured, but he cannot move the piling. To make matters worse, the tide is coming in. If Helen and Bobby don’t act quickly, Doug risks being drowned in the ocean.
After failing multiple times to free Doug’s leg, Doug asks Helen to take the car to find a stronger rope or help. Helen is on a tight timeframe as Doug estimates that they have about 4 hours before the tide comes in and drowns him. Helen takes the car and drives to the gas station they passed earlier. As she’s trying to procure a rope, she meets an escaped convict, Lawson (Meeker). She explains her predicament to him Lawson gets in her car and the two drive off.
Lawson isn’t particularly interested in saving Helen’s husband, he’s more interesting in escaping the Mexican police. However, knowing that this escaped convict might be her only chance to save her husband, Helen is willing to do anything, and I mean ANYTHING, to save him. Lawson is a pretty hunky, considering he’s an escaped convict and all. He and Helen have a pretty red-hot scene.
Honestly, Meeker is smokin’ in this movie. I would not have blamed her if she’d run off with Ralph and left Barry at the beach.
MY FAVORITE PART: I liked the part when Meeker changes the flat tire and Barbara plots her next move.
Kiss Me Deadly, 1955
Connecting Link to Previous Film: Ralph Meeker
Director: Robert Aldrich
Starring: Ralph Meeker, Albert Dekker, Maxine Cooper, Cloris Leachman, Jack Elam, Gaby Rogers
Plot: Private Investigator Mike Hammer is out driving in a rural area outside of Los Angeles. A hysterical woman named Christina, (Leachman), wearing nothing but a trench coat, steps out in front of Mike’s car in an attempt to flag him down for a ride. It is obvious that this woman is very disturbed. She has just escaped from a mental institution and acts as if she’s being chased. She tells Mike “remember me” in the event that she’s killed.
Well she is. And Mike has to remember.
The remainder of the film involves Mike performing his own investigation, trying to figure out who this woman was running from and why was she so scared. He pursues multiple leads that bring him into contact with Christina’s ex-roommate Lily Carver (Rogers) and gangster Carl Evello (Paul Stewart). Carl sticks his henchmen, Charlie Max (Elam) and Sugar Smallhouse (Jack Lambert) on Mike to keep him from getting too close to a mysterious box that they’re all chasing.
I love this film. The ending is fantastic and has to be seen to be believed. I love how brutal Mike Hammer is. He can be quite a jerk at times, but he is still likeable.
MY FAVORITE PART: Well the ending is great. But I love the whole scene with Mike and Friday, a very friendly woman who takes a shine to Mike VERY QUICKLY.
The Killers, 1946
Connecting Link to Previous Film: Albert Dekker
Director: Robert Siodmak
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien, Albert Dekker
Plot: “The Killers” is notable for being Burt Lancaster’s film debut. Lancaster plays “The Swede” aka Pete Lund. He is the intended target for two hitmen, Max (William Conrad) and Al (Charles McGraw). Pete works at a gas station. HIs co-worker tries to warn him of his impending murder, but Pete doesn’t seem to care and is killed easily.
Edmond O’Brien plays Jim Reardon, a life insurance investigator, who is assigned to locate the beneficiary of Pete’s $2,500 policy. Through a series of flashbacks, Reardon is able to piece together the story of Pete and how he became the eventual murder target.
It seems that the gist of Pete’s story is that he was a professional boxer whose career was cut short by a hand injury. He rejects an offer to join the police force and ends up falling in with a bad crowd. The leader of the bad crowd is “Big Jim” Colfax (Albert Dekker). Pete ends up dropping his girlfriend for the more glamorous Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner, in her star-making role). Pete ends up being arrested and placed in jail for three years after Kitty is caught wearing stolen jewelry and Pete takes the fall.
Upon his release from prison, Pete is recruited for a payroll robbery heist. The heist goes off without a hitch but Pete is left in the dark as to where the meeting place is. To make matters worse, during his three years in the clink, Kitty took up with Big Jim.
This is such a great film and like many of the amazing femme fatales, it is unclear as to where Kitty’s true loyalties lie. I loved the non-linear narrative. The cast is phenomenal and I also love how the film looks.
MY FAVORITE PART: I loved the party scene where we meet Ava Gardner’s character.
Connecting Link to Previous Film: Edmond O’Brien
Director: Vincent Sherman
Starring: Edmond O’Brien, Gordon MacRae, Virginia Mayo, Ed Begley, Sr.
Plot: The film opens on Christmas Eve of 1948. Former soldier Bob Corey (MacRae) is in the hospital. He received multiple spinal injuries at the end of WWII. He has undergone numerous surgeries to repair the damage. During his stay at the hospital, he and his nurse, Julie Benson (Mayo), have fallen in love. About a month prior, Bob’s friend, fellow soldier Steve Connolly (O’Brien), visits Bob and the two men discuss their plan to pool their GI Benefits (about $40k) to purchase a ranch in Scottsdale, AZ.
Bob undergoes a final spinal procedure in mid-December. He expects Steve to visit him while he recovers. Steve is MIA. One night, Bob is visited by a Swedish woman (Viveca Lindfors) who tells Bob that Steve has been in a horrible accident. His spine was shattered in an accident. Steve is in a tremendous amount of pain and just wants to die. The Swedish woman refuses to participate in assisted suicide. Bob advises her to hang tight and he’ll help her when he’s released from the hospital.
Bob is released shortly after New Years Day, 1949 and is immediately taken into custody by the LAPD. The police detective, Captain Garcia (Begley, Sr.) tells Bob that his friend Steve is wanted for the murder of a local gambler and racketeer. Bob insists that Steve would never murder anyone.
Bob enters amateur detective mode. With the help of his nurse fiance, Julie, Bob starts re-tracing Steve’s steps to figure out his whereabouts and why he’s wanted for murder. Along the way, Bob runs into another military friend, Ben Arno (Dane Clark).
Even though this film received lukewarm reviews upon its release in 1950, I really like it. No, it’s not the greatest film noir, but it’s fun and I really love the cast. Viveca Lindfors also has this amazing couch with a fantastic scenic print.
MY FAVORITE PART: Edmond O’Brien’s triumphant fall toward the end of the film.
Odds Against Tomorrow, 1959
Connecting Link to Previous Film: Ed Begley, Sr.
Director: Robert Wise
Starring: Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, Ed Begley, Sr., Shelley Winters, Gloria Grahame
Plot: In this classic heist film, Begley Sr. plays Burke, an ex-police officer who was fired for refusing to cooperate with state crime investigators. Bitter, he devises a heist with the intention of robbing a small town bank. He enlists the help of two men, Earle Slater (Ryan) and Johnny Ingram (Belafonte). Both men are experiencing financial trouble. Slater is an ex-con who is currently being supported by his girlfriend (Winters). He faces shame in not being able to support himself or her, most likely due to the fact that he’s an ex-con and he’s a mean, bitter racist. He’s also having an affair with his lonely neighbor (Grahame). Johnny is a singer at a local jazz club and overall seems to be a decent man, except that he’s in hock for $7,000 due to his gambling addiction. Johnny doesn’t want to commit a crime, but is desperate after his bookies make it clear that they expect to be paid. Burke has the heist meticulously planned, however Slater’s racist attitude toward Ingram threatens to undermine the whole plan.
MY FAVORITE PART: The ending is pretty spectacular and poignant. I don’t want to give it away though. My other favorite part are the two performances in the jazz club. Harry Belafonte is fantastic as is drunk Harry Belafonte interrupting the other singer’s set.
The Racket, 1951
Connecting Link to Previous Film: Robert Ryan
Director: John Cromwell
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Lizabeth Scott
Plot: Ryan plays Nick Scanlon, a big-time racketeer that has his hand in on all major gambling rackets in the city. To be able to keep up his influence, he has bribed many of the major law enforcement and government personnel. Much of Scanlon’s bribes are carried out by R.G. Connolly (Don Porter aka Sally Field’s dad in “Gidget”), the head of ACME Real Estate Company, a front for Scanlon’s enterprise.
The film opens with the Senate Crime Committee meeting with the state’s governor to address the crime problem in their city. They address the need to remove not only the center of the problem (Scanlon), but the layers of corruption need to be eliminated as well. The governor says that he will do what he can, but reiterates the need for evidence against Scanlon. At the same time, police Captain Tom McQuigg (Mitchum) has been transferred to yet another precinct. Apparently, his constant transfers are the result of him refusing to play along with his corrupt colleagues. McQuigg is an honest, good cop and runs his department accordingly. He refuses to bow to Scanlon.
When McQuigg takes over the reins at Precinct 7, he makes it known that he plans on eliminating Scanlon and his gang once and for all. One of Scanlon’s gang members meets and falls in love with Irene Hayes (Scott), a nightclub singer. McQuigg decides to use Hayes as a means to lure Scanlon to the precinct so that they can have their showdown once and for all. From watching this film, it’s apparent that up until now, Scanlon has been able to maintain a fairly low profile as nobody on the outside seems to know what he looks like.
MY FAVORITE PART: The ending is pretty great
Where Danger Lives, 1950
Connecting Link to Previous Film: Robert Mitchum
Director: John Farrow
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Faith Domergue, Claude Rains
Plot: Dr. Jeff Cameron (Mitchum) treats a patient, Margo Lannington (Domergue) who has just attempted suicide. She signs herself out of the hospital but sends Jeff a telegram asking her to come to her home. He breaks his date with his girlfriend (Maureen O’Sullivan), because he’s afraid to turn down Margo’s invitation, fearing that she may try to commit suicide again.
Jeff and Margo begin to fall in love. Jeff discovers that Margo is planning on flying to the Bahamas with her aged father, Frederick Lannington (Rains). He shows up to the Lannington’s home, unannounced and drunk. He proclaims to Frederick that he’s in love with the man’s daughter. Frederick then drops the bombshell that Margo is his wife, not his daughter. Disappointed, Jeff leaves the home; but comes back when he hears Margo scream. It seems that Frederick ripped an earring out of her ear. Jeff and Frederick scuffle, culminating with Frederick hitting Jeff in the head with a fireplace poker. Lannington also falls on the floor and hits his head. Jeff is dazed, with a probable concussion. He goes to the bathroom to determine his condition. When he returns, he finds Frederick dead on the floor.
Margo then takes advantage of Jeff’s cloudy judgement and persuades him to run off to Mexico with her. Jeff continues to have headaches and mental fog and diagnoses himself with a concussion. He warns Margo that he has between 24-48 hours before paralysis and a coma will set in if he continues on without treatment. As their trip continues and Jeff’s condition worsens, it becomes apparent that there is more to Margo than what meets the eye.
MY FAVORITE PART: Any of the scenes where Robert Mitchum is wearing his face mask. It seemed very timely.
The Unsuspected, 1947
Connecting Link to Previous Film: Claude Rains
Director: Michael Curtiz
Starring: Claude Rains, Audrey Totter, Joan Caufield
Plot: Claude Rains stars as Victor Grandison, the host of a popular crime-themed radio show. At the beginning of the film, we see Victor ambling around his country estate. He then attacks and murders his secretary, Roslyn, and leaves her body hanging from his chandelier. He stages her death to look like a suicide. He then goes to the radio station to perform his latest crime tale. Victor writes the stories in addition to performing them. His murder mystery tales are full of the murderer committing the perfect crime.
This dark scene is juxtaposed in the next scene at Victor’s home where we see Victor’s niece, Althea (Totter), entertaining guests at the surprise birthday party she’s organized for Victor. Victor shows up and is suitably surprised and annoyed. Also at the party are Althea’s heavy-drinking husband, Oliver (Hurd Hatfield), and Steven Howard (Ted North). Steven shows up and announces that he is married to Mathilda (Joan Caufield), the ward of Victor and former fiancee of Oliver. It seems that Mathilda was recently presumed dead after a freighter she was on caught fire and burned.
Meanwhile, the homicide detectives show up to investigate Victor as he’s a suspect in his deceased secretary’s death. They also overhear Victor’s discussion with Steven regarding Mathilda. Mathilda’s multi-million dollar estate is also about to be settled. We then cut to a scene of Mathilda boarding a plane in Rio de Janeiro. Mathilda also sends a telegram to Victor advising of her imminent return. Althea also has the hots for Steven when she discovers that he’s wealthy. As Steven spends more time at the estate, the more he becomes convinced that Victor’s secretary’s death was not suicide.
MY FAVORITE PART: Any of the scenes that shows Claude Rains recording his radio show.
The Postman Always Rings Twice, 1946
Connecting Link to Previous Film: Audrey Totter
Director: Tay Garnett
Starring: Lana Turner, John Garfield, Cecil Kellaway, Audrey Totter
Plot: Frank Chambers (Garfield) is a drifter who hitches a ride with Kyle Sackett (Leon Ames) whom Frank learns is a District Attorney. Kyle drops Frank off at the Twin Oaks, a gas station/diner located on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Frank spots a “Man Wanted” sign outside the cafe and goes inside to inquire. He meets the proprietor Nick (Kellaway) and is given the job. Then Frank meets Nick’s wife, the much younger Cora (Turner). Cora is a gorgeous, trim blonde. Lana Turner makes one of the all-time great film entrances when she approaches the doorway in all white. White heels, short white shorts, a white crop top, and a white turban. Frank is immediately smitten. Cora acts cool toward him, but there’s no denying that there’s some sexual tension between her and Frank.
This is a hot movie. Frank and Cora are sizzling together.
Frank and Cora inevitably start a hot and heavy affair and fall in love. Cora tells Frank that she wants to leave Nick because he has no vision for their restaurant. She wants to turn the restaurant into something worthwhile, instead of something average. At first Frank and Cora decide to run away together. Cora writes a note and the duo set off, on foot, hoping to hitch a ride somewhere. However, they’re unable to hitch a ride. Cora decides that she should return to Nick and her restaurant. Frank reluctantly agrees and they return to the Twin Oaks. Cora then tells Frank that they should murder Nick. That way, he’s gone and they can stay and have the diner. Frank agrees.
Their first approach is a failure, but they succeed in their second try. However, complications ensue when Kyle Sackett just happens to see Cora emerging from the cliffside where she, Frank, and Nick supposedly crashed and Nick died. Frank is hospitalized due to not getting out of the car quick enough when trying to roll it down the hill. While in the hospital, Kyle shows up and tricks Frank into signing a complaint against Cora. Cora will be tried for Nick’s murder and attempted murder of Frank.
Meanwhile, Cora’s attorney, the slimy Arthur Keats (Hume Cronyn), convinces Cora to sign a confession. Cora’s goose looks like it’s cooked. Then we’re treated to a glorious showdown between Arthur and Kyle.
MY FAVORITE PART: Any time the cop comes around to talk about cats. We get it. The cat is dead as a doornail.
He Ran All the Way, 1951
Connecting Link to Previous Film: John Garfield
Director: John Berry
Starring: John Garfield, Shelley Winters, Wallace Ford
Plot: At the beginning of the film, Nick Robey (Garfield) and his partner, Al Molin, scheme to rob an employee of the week’s payroll. They shoot and wound the employee and escape with $10,000. In the process however, Al is seriously wounded and they’re spotted by a police officer. Nick shoots the police officer. He escapes and tries to hide out in a public pool. While swimming, Nick meets Peg Dobbs (Winters). She’s somewhat charmed by him and invites him to her family’s apartment.
At this point in the film, the police are aware that a second man (Nick) was involved in the robbery and the shooting of the police officer, but they do not know the man’s identity. Nick decides to use the Dobbs’ apartment as his hideout. The next morning, a front-page newspaper article announces that the policeman shot by Nick has died. Nick’s photo is also printed in the newspaper. Upset that he’s murdered a policeman and that he’s now wanted, Nick takes the family hostage. He acts in a very abrasive and volatile manner, scaring the family half to death.
As the action of the film wears on, Nick becomes increasingly paranoid that he will be discovered and that the Dobbs Family will not keep their promise to not turn him in. Peg initially finds herself attracted to Nick (because it’s John Garfield. He’s hot hot in all his movies, even when he’s terrifying), but obviously, since he’s violent and a nut, he loses his appeal. Nick, thinking that Peg still loves him, makes it known that she is the only one who can help him escape.
Sadly, this was Garfield’s last film. After being blacklisted by HUAC for refusing to name names, he suffered a fatal heart attack and died in 1952. It is said that the stress of the blacklist is what caused his heart attack.
MY FAVORITE PART: The ending is pretty fantastic. I think it’s in the scene when Peg comes home all dolled up for Nick, where John Garfield is pretty hot when he discovers that Shelley Winters bought a new dress and got her hair done just for him.
The Big Knife, (1955)
Connecting Link to Previous Film: Shelley Winters
Director: Robert Aldrich
Starring: Jack Palance, Ida Lupino, MISS Shelley Winters
Plot: Charlie Castle (Palance) is a successful movie star who seems to have everything that one would need for happiness. However, his wife Marion (Ida Lupino), is ready to file for divorce. Marion has tired of Charlie’s womanizing and how he’s given up his morals and ethics to live-up to the image expected of him. A Hedda Hopper-esque gossip columnist wants the dirt about the marriage, but neither Charlie nor Marion are willing to divulge. The gossip columnist’s influence over someone’s career continues to loom over the entire film, even though she is not seen again after her first appearance.
Charlie’s contract with his studio is up for renewal. His boss, Stanley Shriner Hoff (Rod Steiger), is a loudmouth, manipulative, jerk who is known for giving phony impassioned speeches and breaking down in tears when things don’t seem to be going his way. Marion will not consider reconciliation with Charlie if he renews his contract. Charlie is also tired of being under the studio’s thumb and does not want to renew. Hoff and his right-hand man, “Fixer” Smiley Coy (Wendell Corey) show up and go to work on convincing Charlie to re-sign. After Hoff’s crocodile tears do not sway Charlie’s decision, Hoff and Smiley remind Charlie that they have dirt on him. It seems that Charlie was involved in a hit-and-run automobile death that led to the fatality of another person. Smiley fixed the situation by paying off the right people, and Charlie’s accident is not made public.
The main conflict of the story is in the form of MISS Shelley Winters (as she’s billed in this film) as Dixie. Dixie was the passenger in the vehicle during the evening of Charlie’s accident. She is the only person outside the studio who knows the truth about the accident. To keep her quiet, the studio offered Dixie a small contract. However, Dixie is unhappy with not only the quality (and size) of her roles, but also with the shabby treatment she receives at the studio. To improve her standing, she is threatening to tell her side of the story. When Charlie invites Dixie over to ask her to reconsider, she informs him that she wants to hurt Hoff, not him. The studio not only wants to protect Charlie, but they also want to protect themselves.
MY FAVORITE PART: The ending was pretty intense. But I think my favorite parts were any scenes that Rod Steiger, aka graduate from the Lee J. Cobb School of Overacting, was not in. He was so annoying in this film.
Road House, (1948)
Connecting Link to Previous Film: Ida Lupino
Director: Jean Negulesco
Starring: Ida Lupino, Cornel Wilde, Richard Widmark, Celeste Holm
Plot: Ida Lupino plays nightclub singer, Lily Stevens, who is hired by Jefty (Richard Widmark), the proprietor of a small town “Road House.” This road house seems to be a combination bar/bowling alley–definitely much tamer than Patrick Swayze’s road house in Road House (1989). The most action that happens in this road house is when a big, fat drunk guy tries to grab Ida Lupino and he starts a massive one-sided bar brawl, culminating with Cornel Wilde beating him up and pinning him to the ground until the cops show up.
Anyway, it seems that Jefty recently took a trip to Chicago where he met Lily and offered her a position entertaining at his bar. It seems that Jefty has a history of traveling, getting drunk and then offering women jobs as “entertainers” at his club. Presumably, part of the job entails being Jefty’s lover as well as the chanteuse at the club. Once Jefty tires of the woman, he tasks his manager, Pete (Cornel Wilde) to kick the women to the curb and accompany them back to the train station to send them away. Pete very understandably is tired of doing Jefty’s dirty work, so when he sees “Lily, the new entertainer from Chicago,” he is not pleased. To save time, he drives her to the train station and tries to pay her off, but Lily is not easily dissuaded and she stays in town.
We see Lily perform “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)” while playing the piano. Her voice is very weak (Ida Lupino did her own singing), but it has an enchanting, mesmerizing quality about it. As cashier Susie (Celeste Holm) says, “She does more without a voice than anybody I’ve ever heard!” Lily is a sensation at the club. I think we’re supposed to believe that part of the reason for Lily’s success is that she dresses a little more provocatively than the other women in town. We hear constant comments from women saying things like: “My husband would never let me wear that!” or Pete telling Lily that she’ll need to wear slacks for her bowling lesson. And a lot of other comments alluding to the idea that Lily’s dresses are too revealing. Imo, her dresses are fine and they’re cute. She seems to favor halter top necklines and one-strapped dresses. I loved that Lily continued to dress how she wanted. Personally, I loved her clothes and would wear them if I had Ida’s figure and it wasn’t 40-something degrees and raining.
Anyway, the main conflict in this film is that Jefty likes Lily, because “she’s different than other women” (a theme repeated throughout the film). However, Pete and Lily find themselves falling for one another, much to the chagrin of Susie who seems like she either liked Pete too, or she was Pete’s girl (but nothing serious) until Lily showed up. Anyway, the main conflict erupts when Jefty finds out about Pete and Lily’s romance.
MY FAVORITE PART: The ending was pretty fantastic. I also loved the scenes of Ida singing.
Leave Her to Heaven, (1945)
Connecting Link to Previous Film: Cornel Wilde
Director: John M. Stahl
Starring: Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, Vincent Price, Jeanne Crain
Plot: Gene Tierney plays Ellen Berent, a socialite traveling from Boston to New Mexico. She is enroute to New Mexico to spread her father’s ashes. She’s accompanied by her cousin Ruth (Jeanne Crain) and her mother (Mary Phillips aka Ex-Mrs. Humphrey Bogart #2). While on the train, Ellen spots Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde). They are immediately smitten with one another and spend the remainder of their journey chatting. Ellen and Richard then discover that they’re all staying at the same New Mexico resort and Richard is invited to dinner. It is at the dinner when Richard learns that his resemblance to Ellen’s beloved, deceased father is one of the reasons why she was interested in him. Ellen’s beau, District Attorney Russell Quinton (Vincent Price) shows up and Ellen announces (to Russell) that she and Richard are engaged–much to Richard’s surprise.
This all should be a red flag. But Richard goes along with it. Richard announces that he’s planning on visiting his polio-stricken brother, Danny (Darryl Hickman) at a hospital in Warm Springs, Georgia. Richard and Ellen marry. While in Georgia, Danny announces his intention to travel with Richard and Ellen to Richard’s “Back of the Moon” lakeside cabin in Deer Lake, Maine. We (the audience) see Ellen beg Danny’s doctor to step in and prevent the trip. She also refers to Danny as “the cripple.” Ellen’s true colors are showing.
Deer Lake, Maine is where all the most infamous action of Leave Her to Heaven takes place. This is a gorgeous lake locale–lush with trees and emerald green water. The lake is vast and serene. Deer Lake is just one of the gorgeous locations in Leave Her to Heaven. The beautiful, tranquil settings are juxtaposed with the beautiful, yet psychotic Ellen. Multiple references are made to Ellen “loving too much.” It seems that Ellen loved her father so much that she actually drove a wedge between her father and her mother. Cousin Ruth is Ellen’s adopted sister as she was taken in by the Berent family at a very young age. Ruth makes a comment referring to “being adopted by Mrs. Berent” instead of by both Mr. and Mrs. Berent. One could assume that Mrs. Berent adopted Ruth after being basically left by the wayside by both her husband and daughter. Ellen then promises Richard to “Never let [him go]. Never Never Never.”
And she means it.
MY FAVORITE PART: This entire film is amazing; but I really love the infamous scene of Ellen and Danny at the lake.