30 Days of Noir #20: He Walked By Night (dir by Alfred L. Werker and Anthony Mann)


The 1948 film noir, He Walked By Night, opens with a policeman named Rawlins on his way home from work.  As he drives down the street, he sees a man walking alone at night.  Because there’s been a number of recent burglaries in the area and the man’s a stranger, Rawlins decides to pull over and ask the man for his ID.

What Rawlins doesn’t realize is that the man is Roy Morgan (Richard Basehart) and yes, Roy is indeed the burglar.  Roy is something of a mystery man.  (Needless to say, Morgan is not his real last name.)  In the pre-Internet age, he has very carefully and very meticulously avoided leaving any sort of paper trail.  He lives, by himself, in a small apartment, his only companion being an adorable dog and the police scanner that Roy uses to always stay a few steps ahead of the cops.  When Rawlins pulls him over, it’s the closest that Roy has ever come to being caught.  Roy get out of the situation by shooting the cop and then running into the night.

The rest of the film deals with the efforts of two police detectives (played by Scott Brady and James Cardwell) and their captain (Roy Roberts) to discover who shot Rawlins and bring him to justice.  It’s not easy because not only has Roy done a good job of obscuring his very existence but his police scanner always gives him advanced warning whenever they cops start to close in on him.  The only lead that the cops have is a salesman named Paul Reeves (Whit Bissell).  Reeves has been buying and reselling the electronic equipment that Roy’s been stealing from houses all over Hollywood.  When Reeves tells the cops that he had no idea the stuff was stolen, the cops all share a weary roll of the eye.  No matter whether Reeves is telling the truth or not, he’s now the key to tracking down a cop killer….

He Walked By Night is a police procedural and, while the plot may sound familiar, the film is elevated by the atmospheric direction of Alfred Werker and an uncredited Anthony Mann.  As visualized by Werker and Mann, the streets of Los Angeles have never been darker and more menacing.  Roy emerges from the fog to commit his crimes and then disappears back into the mist, like some sort of paranormal spirit.  The film reaches its high point when the police chase their quarry through the sewers of Los Angeles, a scene that will remind many of the famous finale of The Third Man.

Though the film offers up clues to Roy Morgan’s motivation, he remains an enigma for much of the film.  Richard Basehart plays him as a paranoid man who only seems to be confident and happy when he’s stealing or when he’s outsmarting the police.  In many ways, regardless of whether he escapes the police or not, Roy’s destined to spend his life trapped in a prison of his own design.  Even hiding out on the fringes of society, Roy knows that his time is limited.  There’s only so many times one person can escape their fate.  Until he’s either captured or killed, Roy is destined to always walk the night, alone.

Dark Genesis: STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR (RKO 1940)


cracked rear viewer

“Tuesdays in Noirvember” continues with what many consider to be the first film noir…

Fans of the film noir genre often cite movies like THE MALTESE FALCON or REBECCA among the first entries in this stylistic category, but a case can certainly be made for STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR, a bizarre B-film made by director Boris Ingster. It features all the elements associated with the dark genre: a big city setting, interior monologues, an extended nightmare sequence, flashbacks, Expressionistic set design… hell, it’s even got noir’s favorite patsy Elisha Cook Jr ! The only thing missing is that downbeat cynicism you find in post-war films, but since America hadn’t yet entered World War II, we can forgive the happy ending and concentrate on what makes this movie the seminal film noir.

First, there’s the plot: star reporter Michael Ward is the key witness in a murder case against young…

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30 Days of Noir #19: Never Trust A Gambler (dir by Ralph Murphy)


Never Trust A Gambler is a 78-minute noir gem from 1951.

It tells the story of Steve Garry (Dane Clark) and his ex-wife, Virginia (Cathy O’Donnell).  Virginia divorced Steve because he was a degenerate gambler but that doesn’t mean that she no longer has feelings for him.  Or, at the very least, that’s what Steve is hoping when, out of the blue, he shows up at her door and tells her that he needs a place to hide out.

As Steve explains it, a friend of his had been accused of murder and Steve is being pressured to testify at the man’s trial.  In a move of pure gaslighting, Steve explains that his friend is innocent but, if Steve testifies, it will lead to his friend being wrongfully convicted.  Hence, unless Virginia wants to be responsible for sending an innocent man to death row, she has to give Steve a place to hide out.  Furthermore, Steve swears to her that he’s no longer a gambler and that he’ll only need to stay with her for a few days.  Reluctantly, Virginia agrees.

Later, while Virginia is at a grocery store, she’s approached by a police sergeant named McCloy (Rhys Williams).  At first, it seems like McCloy might be following her because he’s looking for Steve but, instead, it turns out that he used to date Virginia’s former roommate, Delores.  After clumsily trying to flirt with her at the grocery store, McCloy follows Virginia home.  When McCloy tries to force himself on her, Steve comes out of the shadows and beats McCloy to death.

So now, Virginia and Steve have a dead body to contend with.  Because Steve is hiding from the cops and Virginia’s been allowing him to hide out in her house, calling the police is not an option.  Steve promises Virginia that he’ll take care of the whole thing.  Steve’s solution is to put McCloy in a car and push it over the edge of a cliff.  Given that McCloy was a drunk, it’s reasonable to think that the police might assume that McCloy was driving drunk and cashed his car.  Now, Steve and Virginia both wait to find out whether or not Steve’s plan worked….

Technically, the protagonist of this film is Sgt. Donovan (Tom Drake), the detective who investigates McCloy’s death but, for the most part, Donavon’s something of a stiff.  Instead, the film really belongs to Dane Clark and Cathy O’Donnell.  Cathy O’Donnell gives a poignant performance as a woman whose efforts to escape the past and live a normal, drama-free life are continually made unnecessarily difficult by the selfish men surrounding her.  Meanwhile, Dane Clark tears through the film like a force of nervous nature.  Clark always seems to be on the verge of jumping out of his own skin and a good deal of the film’s suspense comes from wondering when Steve is going to lose control.  At the same time, Steve Garry is a character about whom most viewers will have mixed feelings.  On the one hand, he’s sleazy and selfish but, on the other hand, he saved Virginia from someone who was even worse.  Does Steve really love Virginia or is he just taking advantage of her?  This movie will keep you guessing.

Never Trust A Gambler is a well-done and intelligent film noir and definitely one that deserves to be better known.

30 Days Of Noir #18: C-Man (dir by Joseph Lerner)


At the center of the 1949 film, C-Man, is a man named Cliff Holden (Dean Jagger).  When we first see Cliff, he’s cheerfully walking down the street in New York City, looking pretty happy underneath his new fedora.

And really, why shouldn’t Cliff be happy?  He’s a U.S. Customs agent!  He investigates crimes and tracks down smugglers and, perhaps most importantly, his best friend is a customs agent as well!  Who wouldn’t want to work with their best friend, right?  Anyway, Cliff eventually reaches his office and he discovers that nobody else appears to share his good mood.  For that matter, Cliff’s step losing its cheerful spring when he finds out that his best friend has been …. MURDERED!

His friend was investigating the theft of a very valuable necklace.  The Treasury Department has reason to believe that an international criminal named Matt Royal (Rene Paul) will be smuggling that necklace into the United States.  Looking to not only avenge his friend but also protect the reputation of the United States, Cliff takes over the case.  Using the name William Hannah, he flies out to Europe so that he can then board the same plane that Royal will be taking to the States.

While Cliff/William is waiting at the airport, he meets a Swiss woman, named Kathe van Bourne (Lottie Elwin), who is flying to New York so that she can be reunited with her fiancée, Joe.  However, after they board the plane, Kathe is suddenly taken ill.  Luckily, there’s a doctor on the plane, a courtly gentleman named Doc Spencer (John Carradine).  Spencer takes Kathe to the back of the plane to examine her and, while no one’s looking, he hides the necklace underneath a bandage that he wraps around her head.

Back in New York, Royal is pulled off the plane and thoroughly searched.  When it’s discovered that he doesn’t have the necklace, Cliff realizes what has happened.  However, Kathe has already been taken off in an ambulance and, when Cliff goes to Joe’s apartment, he discovers that Joe has been murdered….

C-Man is a film that kind of sneaks up and takes you by surprise.  That it was an extremely low-budget production is obvious from the minute the movie starts.  The black-and-white images are grainy.  The sets are small and sparsely furnished.  The whole film has a rather cheap and ragged feel, as if it might burst into flame and dissolve at any moment.  And yet, that low-budget feel works perfectly for the story that C-Man is telling.  Despite the oddly cheery narration that’s provided by Dean Jagger, this is a sordid tale about people on the fringes of society.  Watching C-Man feels like taking a trip to all of the places that most tourists would never want to visit during their trip to New York City.  For instance, when Cliff searches for the alcoholic Doc Spenser, his search leads him from one liquor store to another and it’s obvious that some of the desperate souls that Cliff passes on the streets weren’t actors.

Gail Kubick’s pounding and relentless score adds to the film’s overall dreamlike feel and Joseph Lerner’s direction is just quirky enough to keep things interesting.  (When one character is bludgeoned to death, the film suddenly starts to spin as if the viewer has become trapped in the killer’s madness.)  Dean Jagger seems a bit miscast as a the tough customs agent but the actors playing the criminals are all properly menacing.  Harry Landers, as the most violent of the jewel thieves, makes a particularly threatening impression.

All in all, C-Man is a surprisingly effective poverty row noir.

Film Review: Hotel Artemis (dir by Drew Pearce)


Oh, Hotel Artemis.

I had such high hopes for you.

Hotel Artemis, you may remember, was initially released way back in June and, at the time, it was advertised as being some sort of nonstop action thrill ride.  The commercials made it look totally over-the-top and exciting, which was I wanted to see it.  Of course, I didn’t see it because …. well, actually I don’t remember what was happening in June that kept me from going to the movies.  But there had to have been something going on because I not only missed seeing Hotel Artemis in the theaters but I also missed Ocean’s 8 and Hereditary as well.

Well, regardless of why I missed it the first time, I did finally get a chance to watch Hotel Artemis earlier this week and, unfortunately, it turned out to not be anything special.  It’s certainly not terrible.  It has its moments and the film looks great but, at the same time, it’s hard not to feel somewhat let down by the film.  Hotel Artemis has promise but much of its goes unrealized.

The film takes place in one of those vaguely defined futures where there’s a lot of rioting and a lot of militaristic cops.  In fact, the film opens with Los Angeles in the middle of one such disturbance.  The riot scenes attempt to go for a Purge-style intensity but, for the most part, they just kind of fall flat.  There’s a lot of scenes of people yelling and occasionally, a police transport rolls by but, for the most part, there’s no danger to the film’s riot.  It’s all just a bit too obviously choreographed.  You never get the feeling that things could just randomly explode.

The Hotel Artemis is a combination of a hotel and a hospital.  It’s run by Jean Thomas, who is better known as Nurse and who is played by Jodie Foster.  Jean was once a doctor but, haunted by the death of her son, she became an alcoholic and lost her license to practice medicine.  Severely agoraphobic, Jean has spent 22 years inside of the Hotel.  She only treats criminals and other people on the fringes of society.  Helping her is Everest (Dave Bautista), who helps to keep order in the often chaotic hotel.

All of Jean’s patients are given codenames, based on which room their occupying in the hotel.  There’s Acapulco (Charlie Day), who is wealthy and short-tempered and who is waiting for a helicopter to come pick him up.  And then there’s Nice (Sofia Boutella), an international assassin who gets to beat people while wearing this red gown that is absolutely to die for.  There’s also Wakiki (Sterling K. Brown), who is a bank robber who is worried that his partner, Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry), is going to die from the wounds that he suffered during a robbery-gone-wrong.  Further complicating things is a gangster named The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum) and Morgan (Jenny Slate), who needs Jean’s help but who also happens to be a cop.  Zachary Quinto is also in this film, playing the Wolf King’s son, because you really can’t make a pretentious genre film without giving a role to Zachary Quinto.

Anyway, there’s a pretty good action sequence towards the end of the film but it takes Hotel Artemis forever to get there.  Before that, you have to deal with a lot of talking but, unfortunately, none of the conversations are particularly interesting.  Hotel Artemis may clock in at 94 minutes but it feels considerably longer.  On the plus side, the cast is big and interesting but, on the negative side, nobody really seems to be that invested in their role.  It’s fun to watch Charlie Day play a bad guy but otherwise, the majority of the actors struggle with their thinly drawn (though certainly verbose) characters.  The majority of them struggle to convince us that they’re anything more than a group of talented actors slumming it in an action movie.  The fact that Jodie Foster received a good deal of praise for her performance in this film has everything to do with the fact that she’s Jodie Foster and little to do with anything that actually happens in the movie.

On a positive note, the movie looks great.  Visually, the Hotel Artemis is a fantastic creation that combines the decaying luxury of The Shining with the claustrophobic sterility of an underground bunker in a Romero zombie film.  (I’m thinking of the original Day of the Dead in particular.)  The Hotel itself is so fascinating that you can’t help but kinda resent that the film seems to be more interested in the boring people inside of the building than with the building itself.

Despite the superior production design, the film itself is slackly paced and never quite as a clever as it seems to think that it is.  Hotel Artemis is not a terrible film but it is a rather forgettable one.  It’s hard not to feel that it could and should have been a hundred times better than it actually was.

Gone With The Whaaat?: MANDINGO (Paramount 1975)


cracked rear viewer

If you’ve never seen MANDINGO, be prepared for loads of gratuitous sex, violence, debauchery, depravity, racism, incest, nudity, and other such unsavory stuff! Some people today discuss the film in a scholarly manner, dissecting the sociological implications of pre-Civil War decadence in the deep South, the plight of the abused slaves, the overindulgent cruelty of the slave owners, and blah blah blah. I’m gonna talk about what the movie really is: pure, unadulterated Exploitation trash, in which some scenes will have your jaw dropping in shock, while others will leave you laughing at the exaggerated overacting and ludicrous dialog!

The movie centers around the Maxwell family and their plantation home, Falconhurst. It’s no Tara; Falconhurst is a run-down, gloomy, decrepit mansion that looks like it belongs in one of those “hillbilly horror” schlockfests of the 60’s or 70’s. Family patriarch Warren Maxwell wants a grandson to carry on the family…

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30 Days of Noir #17: Loan Shark (dir by Seymour Friedman)


The 1952 film, Loan Shark, opens with a familiar film noir situation.

A man walks down a dark city street.  Judging from the way that the man keeps looking over his shoulder, he’s obviously nervous about something.  Suddenly, we hear two sets of footsteps approaching him and it quickly becomes apparent that the man has good reason to be so nervous.  The man is being pursued by two gangsters.  (We know that they’re gangsters because of the suits and the fedoras.)  The gangsters toss the man in an alley and proceed to beat the Hell out of him.

The local tire factory has a problem.  Though its employees are highly valued, they’re not highly paid.  In order to make ends meet, many of them have resorted to gambling.  Plant foreman Charlie Thompson (Russell Johnson) always seems to have the latest tip on a sure thing.  Interestingly enough, the tips never seem to pan out and, as a result, the workers are forced to go to the local loan shark, Lou Donelli (Paul Stewart).  Lou always loans them the money but he charges exorbitant interest and, when the workers can’t pay back the loans, he sends his thugs to beat them up.  The factory’s management knows that they have to do something to take this loan shark out of commission.

Now, what would you do if you were a part of management?  Would you go to the police and maybe see if they could arrange to put a trained undercover cop in your factory?  Or would you hire an ex-con and tell him to just take care of it on his own?

The ex-con in question is Joe Gargen (George Raft).  He’s just been released from prison, though the film is quick to point out that Joe didn’t really do anything that bad.  He just hit a guy who was being obnoxious.  The guy fell back and hit his head and, as a result, Joe was charged with assault with a deadly weapon.  (As Joe explains it, he’s a former boxer and, as a result, his fists are legally considered to be deadly weapons.)  When Joe is first offered the clandestine job at the tire factory, he turns it down.  As he explains it, he’s not looking to get in any more trouble with anyone.  But then when the loan sharks kill his brother-in-law, Joe reconsiders.

Soon, Joe is working at the tire plant.  (If you’ve ever wanted to see, in meticulous detail, how a tire is made, this is the film to watch.)  After Charlie gives him a bad tip on a horse, Joe finds himself in debt to Donelli.  However, when Joe manages to beat up the thugs that Donelli sends to collect, Joe finds himself with another job offer.  Soon, Joe is working for the loan sharks!  Because he can’t reveal that he’s undercover, everyone — from the administrative assistant (Dorothy Hunt) who he once took dancing to his own sister (Helen Westcott) — is disgusted by Joe’s actions.  Joe finds himself a pariah but he’s still determined to discover the identity of Donelli’s boss.

With it’s combination of the mob and exploited blue collar workers (not to mention it’s use of an ex-boxer as its protagonist), Loan Shark lightly treads on the ground that would later be covered, in a far more exacting manner, by On The Waterfront.  Unfortunately, Loan Shark suffers a bit from the miscasting of George Raft in the lead role.  Raft was a charismatic actor but, when he made Loan Shark, he was 51 and looked about 9 years older.  When Raft shares what is meant to be a romantic dance with Dorothy Hart, he looks more like a proud father dancing with his daughter at a wedding reception than anything else.  Loan Shark is one of those films that calls out for a younger actor, a William Holden or maybe a John Garfield.  That said, Raft was a genuine tough guy and, despite his advanced age, he still looked like he could go a few rounds.

That said, Loan Shark is a tough and shadow-filled film, one that features some genuinely exciting fight scenes.  Miscast or not, when George Raft throws a punch, you believe it.