30 Days of Noir #30: The Stranger (dir by Orson Welles)


“No, you must not miss the newsreels. They make a point this week no man can miss: The war has strewn the world with corpses, none of them very nice to look at. The thought of death is never pretty but the newsreels testify to the fact of quite another sort of death, quite another level of decay. This is a putrefaction of the soul, a perfect spiritual garbage. For some years now we have been calling it Fascism. The stench is unendurable.”

Those words were written in 1945 by director Orson Welles.  He was writing about the footage that had been filmed at the Nazi concentration camps during the final days of World War II.  These films not only revealed the crimes of the Third Reich but they also proved the existence of evil.  With World War II finally ended and Hitler dead, many people were eager to move on and forget about the conflict.  Many even claimed (and some continue to do to this very day) that the reports of the Nazi death camps were exaggerated.  Writing in his syndicated column for the New York Post, Welles told those doubters that the reports of the Nazi death camps were not exaggerated and that, unless people confronted the horrors of the Nazi regime by watching the newsreels and seeing for themselves, history would repeat itself.

A year later, Welles would use that documentary footage in a key scene of his 1946 film, The Stranger.  A government agent named Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson) shows the footage to Mary Longstreet Rankin (Loretta Young), the daughter of a Supreme Court justice.  Wilson is hoping that, by showing her the footage, he’ll be able to convince her to help him bring a Nazi war criminal to justice.  Complicating things is that Wilson believe that the Nazi war criminal is Mary’s new husband, Professor Charles Rankin (played by Orson Welles, himself).

In this shot, the horrors of the Holocaust are literally projected onto Edward G. Robinson’s face, a reminder that is on us to prevent it from ever happening again.

Rankin’s real name is Franz Kindler.  One of the architects of the Holocaust, he escaped from Germany at the end of World War II and, after making his way through Latin America, he ended up in a small town in Connecticut.  He got a job at the local prep school, where he instructs impressionable young minds.  He also found the time to work on the town’s 300 year-old clock.

When we first see Kindler/Rankin, he’s walking out of the school and it’s obvious that all of his students love him.  Rankin has a quick smile, which he uses whenever he has to talk to Mary or any of the other townspeople.  However, that smile disappears as soon as he’s approached by another Nazi fugitive, Konrad Meinike (Konstantin Shayne).  Rankin assures Meinike that he’s merely biding his time until he can establish a Fourth Reich.  Meinike, meanwhile, announces that he’s found God and he suggests that Rankin should turn himself in.  Correctly deducing the Meinike is being followed by Wilson, Rankin promptly strangles his former collaborator and spends the rest of the movie trying to cover up his crimes.

Welles was best known for playing characters who had the potential for greatness in them but who were ultimately brought down by their own flaws.  Think about Charles Foster Kane or Harry Lime or the detective in Touch of Evil or even Falstaff in Chimes at Midnight.  The Stranger is unique as one of the few instances in which Welles played an outright villain.  Unlike Kane or Falstaff, there’s no greatness to be found in Rankin/Kindler.  He’s fooled the town into thinking that he’s a good man but, instead, he’s a soulless sociopath who is even willing to murder his wife if that’s what he has to do to protect his secret.  Franz Kindler is the Third Reich and, by having him thrive under a new name in America, Welles argues that the Nazi threat didn’t end just because Hitler killed himself in Berlin.

And that’s an important message.  It was an important message in 1946 and, I would argue, it’s an even more important message today.  Anti-Semitism is on the rise in both America and Europe, with activists on both the Left and the Right embracing the type of bigotry and conspiracy-mongering that previously allowed madmen like Adolf Hitler to come to power.  Just today, I read a story about a Jewish professor at Columbia who arrived at work on Wednesday, just to discover that someone had vandalized her office with anti-Semitic graffiti.  Watching The Stranger today, it’s important to remember that the Franz Kindlers of the world are still out there and many of them are just as good at disguising themselves as Charles Rankin as Kindler was.

The Stranger was Welles’s third completed film as a director.  It was a film that he reportedly agreed to direct in order to prove that he was capable of bring in a film on budget and ahead-of-schedule.  Because Welles was largely acting as a director-for-hire on this film, there’s a tendency to overlook The Stranger when discussing Welles’s films.  While that’s understandable, The Stranger is clearly a Welles film.  From the use of shadow to the skewed camera angles, the film has all of Welles’s visual trademarks.  Thematically, this is another one of Welles’s films about a man who is hiding a secret underneath his ordinary facade.

It’s a good film, with Welles giving an appropriately evil performance as Kindler and Loretta Young providing strong support as Mary.  That said, the film’s soul is to be found in Edward G. Robinson’s performance.  Robinson was born Emmanuel Goldenberg in Romania.  In 1904, his family fled to America after one of his brothers was attacked by an anti-Semitic mob.  As someone who had experienced anti-Semitism firsthand, Robinson brought a righteous fury to the role of Mr. Wilson.  Wilson isn’t just pursuing a fugitive in The Stranger.  Instead, he’s seeking justice for the six million Jews who were murdered by men like Franz Kindler.

The Stranger is an important film and it seems like the right film with which to end my 30 Days of Noir.  Noirvember is ending and so ends our 30-day walk through the shadowy streets of noir cinema.

Lisa Marie’s Oscar Predictions for November


Here are this month’s Oscar predictions!

The Oscar picture is finally clearing somewhat.  Star is Born, Roma, and Green Book all seem to be guaranteed nominations but what will join them?

To see how my thinking has evolved over the year, check out my nominations for January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, and October!

Best Picture

Black Panther

Boy Erased

Eighth Grade

The Favourite

First Reformed

Green Book

If Beale Street Could Talk

A Quiet Place

Roma

A Star is Born

Best Director

Bo Burnham for Eighth Grade

Bradley Cooper for A Star is Born

Alfonso Cuaron for Roma

Peter Farrelly for Green Book

Barry Jenkins for If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Actor

Christian Bale in Vice

Bradley Cooper in A Star is Born

Ethan Hawke in First Reformed

Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody

Viggo Mortensen in Green Book

Best Actress

Toni Collette in Hereditary

Olivia Colman in The Favourite

Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade

Lady Gaga in A Star is Born

Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali in Green Book

Sam Elliott in A Star Is Born

Richard E. Grant in Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Josh Hamilton in Eighth Grade

Michael B. Jordan in Black Panther

Best Supporting Actress

Nicole Kidman in Boy Erased

Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk

Thomasin McKenzie in Leave No Trace

Emma Stone in The Favourite

Rachel Weisz in The Favourite

The Detroit Film Critics Society Nominates Eighth Grade and Jesse Plemons!


The Detroit Film Critics Society announced their nominees for the best of 2018 today and what can I say other than I absolutely love them?

Seriously, Josh Hamilton and Jesse Plemons for Best Supporting Actor?  How can you not love that?  That said, the DFCS is not one of the more influential critical groups so I wouldn’t put down any money on either Plemons or Hamilton picking up an Oscar nomination just yet.  Still, both of them deserve the consideration and I love the fact that the DFCS is willing to go against the conventional wisdom when it comes to who they nominate.  I mean, really, this is what the critics need to be doing during awards season.  I mean, we all know that A Star is Born and Green Book are going to pick up nominations regardless.  We need the critics to remind the Academy that “hey, some of these guys were pretty good too!”

In fact, if there is a theme that can be found this early in the precursor season, it appears to be that the critics would like to make sure that the Academy doesn’t forget about First Reformed and Eighth Grade.

Here are the DFCS nominees.  Winners will be announced on Monday!

BEST PICTURE

  • A Quiet Place”
  • “Eighth Grade”
  • “First Reformed”
  • “Green Book”
  • “Roma”

BEST DIRECTOR

  • Bo Burnham, “Eighth Grade”
  • Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born”
  • Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma”
  • Adam McKay, “Vice”
  • Paul Schrader, “First Reformed”

BEST ACTOR

  • Christian Bale, “Vice”
  • Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born”
  • Ethan Hawke, “First Reformed”
  • Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody”
  • John David Washington, “BlacKkKlansman”

BEST ACTRESS

  • Toni Collette, “Hereditary”
  • Olivia Colman, “The Favourite”
  • Elsie Fisher, “Eighth Grade”
  • Lady Gaga, “A Star Is Born”
  • Melissa McCarthy, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • Mahershala Ali, “Green Book”
  • Sam Elliott, “A Star Is Born”
  • Richard E. Grant, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
  • Josh Hamilton, “Eighth Grade”
  • Jesse Plemons, “Game Night

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • Amy Adams, “Vice”
  • Regina King, “If Beale Street Could Talk”
  • Thomasin McKenzie, “Leave No Trace”
  • Emma Stone, “The Favourite”
  • Rachel Weiss, “The Favourite”

BEST ENSEMBLE

  • “Crazy Rich Asians”
  • “Eighth Grade”
  • “The Favourite”
  • “Roma”
  • “Vice”

BREAKTHROUGH

  • Bo Burnham, Writer/Director (“Eighth Grade”)
  • Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs, Writers/Actors (“Blindspotting”)
  • Elsie Fisher, Actress (“Eighth Grade”)
  • Lady Gaga, Actress (“A Star Is Born”)
  • Boots Riley, Writer/Director (“Sorry to Bother You”)

BEST SCREENPLAY

  • Bo Burnham, “Eighth Grade”
  • Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara, “The Favourite”
  • Adam McKay, “Vice”
  • Paul Schrader, “First Reformed”
  • Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly, “Green Book”

BEST DOCUMENTARY

  • “Free Solo”
  • “RBG”
  • “Three Identical Strangers”
  • “Whitney”
  • “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

  • “The Incredibles 2”
  • “Isle of Dogs”
  • “Ralph Breaks the Internet”
  • “Smallfoot”
  • “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”

BEST USE OF MUSIC

  • “A Star Is Born”
  • “Bohemian Rhapsody”
  • “Green Book”
  • “Mandy”
  • “Mary Poppins Returns”

 

Confessions of a TV Addict #11: The Small Screen Adventures of Larry Cohen!


cracked rear viewer


I was a Larry Cohen fan before I even knew there was a Larry Cohen! Before IT’S ALIVE! , before  BLACK CAESAR , I was watching the following Cohen Creations on my parents big, bulky TV console:

BRANDED (ABC 1965) – Cohen’s first series as creator debuted as a midseason replacement for Bill Dana’s failed sitcom. THE RIFLEMAN’s Chuck Connors  returned to TV as Jason McCord, a disgraced Cavalry officer court martialed and drummed out of the service after being falsely accused of cowardice. McCord then wanders the West getting involved in a new adventure every week while trying to clear his name. Viewers welcomed Connors back to the small screen, and the half-hour black and white Western was renewed for a full season – this time “in living color”! The show featured a memorable opening theme song by Dominic Frontiere and Alan Arch…

… unfortunately, Jason McCord never did…

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Music Video of the Day: Obsession by Animotion (1985, directed by Amos Poe)


Obsession was originally written and recorded as a duet by Michael Des Barres and Holly Knight.  The original version was included in the soundtrack for a forgotten 80s film called A Night In Heaven, which featured Lesley Ann Warren as a professor who has an affair with one of her students, a male stripper played by Christopher Atkins.  The film was a flop but the song caught the attention of the band, Animotion.  Their cover version is not only the best-known version of the song but it was also Animotion’s biggest hit.

Directed by underground filmmaker Amos Poe, the video featured the band performing in front of a pool and in a luxury house while dressed up in different costumes.  Why Mark Anthony and Cleopatra?  Why Amelia Earhart and Rudolph Valentino?  Why not?  It was the 80s and cocaine was very popular.  The important thing is that both the video and the song came to epitomize an era.

I know this is running the risk of becoming a cliché but this is another song that I originally came to appreciate while playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.  It was the perfect song for going for a midnight joyride in a stolen car.  I crashed any number of vehicles into the ocean while listening to Animotion.

Is Benjamin Marra An “American Psycho”?


Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

In a way, I suppose, it makes sense that a cartoonist as image-conscious as Benjamin Marra would find “inspiration” in the ultimate story of excess and artifice, American Psycho, but for a guy who’s spent most of his career deliberately confounding readers as to how much of what he’s doing is sincere and how much is, as the Brits would say, a “piss-take,” his decision to do a bunch of pencil-and-ink drawings based not on Brett Easton Ellis’ novel but, specifically, on the Mary Harron cinematic adaptation starring Christian Bale is, if anything, too obvious — after all, when you strip away any pretense of “spoof” from Marra’s work, you rob it of a pretty good chunk of whatever ostensible “power” it may possess. “I just dig this shit” is an honest enough statement to make, however surreptitiously, but when you steadfastly refuse to answer the natural follow-up question…

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