Snap! Crackle! Pop!: TENSION (MGM 1949)


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The best films noir deal with post-WWII disillusionment, and that’s exactly what drives Richard Basehart’s sad sack Warren Quimby in TENSION. This cynical, downbeat, and downright sordid little tale of infidelity and murder is  boosted by first-rate performances from Basehart and scorchingly hot Audrey Totter as his manipulative bimbo of a wife, with a taut screenplay by Allen Rivkin and solid direction by John Berry. It may not make anyone’s top ten list (or even top thirty), but it’s one of those ‘B’ films that really works, provided you’re willing to suspend disbelief for an hour and a half.

Mild mannered pharmacist Quimby met and married Claire while stationed in San Diego during the war. He, like many others, hopes to someday live the American Dream: house, kids, the whole nine yards. Trampy Claire doesn’t give a crap about that; she prefers excitement, the high life. Claire is messing around…

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30 Days of Noir #23: Framed (dir by Richard Wallace)


The 1947 film noir, Framed, is the story of a loser.

That, in itself, is not a surprise.  The loser who finds himself stranded in a strange place where he’s manipulated by nearly everyone he meets is a film noir archetype.  This is especially true when it comes to movies about men who end up getting manipulated by another film noir archetype, the femme fatale.  I mean, let’s be honest.  Most film noir “heroes” fall victim to their own desperation.  If they weren’t so obviously desperate to find money or sex, they probably wouldn’t end up in the trouble that always seems to follow them around.

Framed tells the story of Mike Lambert (Glenn Ford).  When we first meet Mike, he’s sitting behind the wheel of an out-of-control truck.  While the truck recklessly speeds down a steep hill, Mike desperately tries to keep from crashing.  It’s not until Mike pulls into a small town that he finally gets the truck to stop.  Of course, in the process of stopping, he also dings the back of someone else’s pickup truck.

It turns out that, until recently, Mike was a mining engineer.  After he lost his job, he found temporary employment as a truck driver.  He needed the money so he didn’t bother to find out what he was hauling or even if the truck had working brakes.  When Mike calls up the man who hired him and tells him that the owner of the pickup is demanding that Mike’s employer pay for the damage, the man hangs up on him.  To recap, before we’re even 10 minutes into the movie, we’ve seen that Mike can be tricked into driving a truck with no brakes and that he can’t even convince his employer to help pay for the damage caused by those faulty brakes.  In other words: Loser!

Anyway, the local cops are planning on tossing Mike in jail for reckless driving but fortunately, a local waitress, Paula Craig (Janis Carter), is willing to pay Mike’s fine.  She even helps a drunken Mike find a hotel room.  Is Paula doing all of this out of the goodness of her heart or is it all just a part of an elaborate scheme?  While Mike is getting a job with a local prospector (Edgar Buchanan), Paula is meeting with her married boyfriend, Steve Price (Barry Sullivan), and bragging about how she’s finally found the perfect patsy.

Yes, to no one’s surprise, Paula and Steve have hatched a nefarious scheme and Mike is about to find himself stuck right in the middle of it.  Of course, since this is a film noir, it should come as no surprise to learn that Paula and Steve are just as willing to double cross each other as they are Mike….

Framed is an entertaining if slightly predictable noir.  From the minute that Paula first appears, we know that she’s not to be trusted but part of the fun of the film is that those of us in the audience are always a step or two ahead of poor Mike.  You watch Mike in amazement that someone could be so dense but, at the same time, Glenn Ford is likable enough that you do hope that everything will turn out okay for him.  As for the film’s main villains, Barry Sullivan is perfectly slick and sleazy as Steve Price but the film is really stolen by Janis Carter, who plays Paula as if she were a panther waiting to pounce on her prey.

Framed is a film that will definitely be enjoyed by those who appreciate the shadowy landscape of an old school film noir.  It may not rewrite the rules of genre but it’s still an undeniably entertaining film about a loser and the people who use him.

Insomnia File #28: The Arrangement (dir by Elia Kazan)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If, on Saturday you were having trouble sleeping at three in the morning, you could have turned on TCM and watched the 1969 film, The Arrangement.

The Arrangement is one of those films where a rich guy gets hit by a sudden case of ennui and, as a result, spends the entire movie acting like a jackass.  However, as often happens in films like this, The Arrangement makes sure that we understand that it’s not the guy’s fault.  Instead, it’s his wife’s fault for not being as much fun as his mistress.

In this case, the guy is an ad executive who goes by the name of Eddie Anderson (Kirk Douglas).  His original name was Evangelos Arness but he changed his name when he was younger because he apparently didn’t want anyone to know that he came from a Greek family.  When we first meet Eddie, he’s attempting to commit suicide by driving his car into an 18 wheeler.  If he had died, the movie could have ended quickly.  However, since Eddie survived, the audience is now required to spend two hours watching Eddie as he tries to figure out what it all means.

Eddie’s father (Richard Boone) is dying.  His long-suffering wife (Deborah Kerr) just doesn’t understand that Eddie needs more than a big house and a nice pool to feel like a man.  Eddie’s mistress is Gwen (Faye Dunaway), whose new baby may or may not be Eddie’s.  Who could blame Eddie, the film demands to know, for being disillusioned with his comfortable life?

The Arrangement was one of the last films to be directed by Elia Kazan, who was a big deal in the 40s and the 50s and whose goal with The Arrangement was apparently to prove that he should still have been a big deal in the 60s and 70s.  Kazan’s way of doing this is to fill The Arrangement with all types of tricks that were designed to make young filmgoers say, “Man, that Eliza Kazan may be old but he’s one of us!”

Freeze frames?  Kazan’s got them!  Flashback after flashback?  Kazan spreads them all throughout the movie, even when they don’t really have anything to show us.  Scenes where the action is sped up for no identifiable reason?  Just watch Kirk Douglas trot down that hallway!  Rack focus shots?  Zoom shots?  A scene where the young Kirk Douglas argues with the old Kirk Douglas?  Casual nudity that’s still filmed in such a way that it feels oddly reticent, as if the filmmaker was just including it to try to establish his rebel credentials?  The Arrangement has it all!

It also has a lot of close-ups of Kirk Douglas.  In far too many scenes, he’s just sitting around with this blank look on his face and it doesn’t quite work because, as an actor, Douglas has never exactly come across as the type to get trapped in an existential crisis.  We’re supposed to view Kirk as being depressed and conflicted but, in all of his films, Kirk has always come across as someone who hasn’t known a day of insecurity in his entire life.

There are also a few scenes of Kirk just laughing and laughing.  For some reason, movies in the late 60s and early 70s always seemed to feature at least a handful of closeups of people laughing uncontrollably.  I’m not sure why.  (If you want to see the most extreme example of this, check out Getting Straight.)  These scenes are always kind of annoying because there’s only so much time you can spend watching someone laugh at the absurdity of it all before you want them to just close their damn mouth.  Especially when the person in question is a middle-aged man.  I mean, shouldn’t have Kirk figured out that the world is absurd before his 50th birthday?

Anyway, The Arrangement is a pretentious mess.  Of course, most films from the 60s are pretentious.  The problem with The Arrangement is that it’s also boring.  If you’re going to be pretentious, at least have some fun with it, like The Graduate did.  The Arrangement goes on forever and it’s never quite as profound as it seems to think that it is.  I once read a short story that a former friend of mine wrote.  She explained that writing the story had caused her to realize that, the longer you know someone, the more likely your initial impression of that person is going to change.  “You had to write an entire short story to figure that out?” I replied.  (That’s one reason why she’s a former friend.)  But that’s kind of how The Arrangement is.  For all the drama and the technique and the pretension, it has nothing to teach us that we shouldn’t already know.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name

Happy 100th Birthday Kirk Douglas: THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (MGM 1952)


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Today is the 100th birthday of movie legend Kirk Douglas! Like Olivia de Havilland earlier this year, Kirk is one of the last living Golden Age greats. Bursting onto the screen in film noir classics like THE STRANGE LOVES OF MARTHA IVERS and OUT OF THE PAST , he first received top billing in the 1949 boxing noir CHAMPION, earning an Oscar nomination for his performance. Later, Kirk starred in some of the best films Hollywood has to offer: ACE IN THE HOLE, 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA , LUST FOR LIFE (his second Oscar nom, though he never won the statue), PATHS OF GLORY, SPARTACUS, LONELY ARE THE BRAVE. One of my personal favorites is 1952’s THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL.

One of those Hollywood movies about making Hollywood movies, THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL is expertly directed by insider Vincent Minnelli, who knew this material like the back of his hand. Aided…

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Lisa Marie Reviews The Oscar Winners: The Bad and the Beautiful (dir by Vincente Minnelli)


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What can I say about The Bad and the Beautiful?

Released in 1952 and directed by Vincente Minnelli, The Bad and the Beautiful is arguably one of the greatest films ever made.  It’s certainly one of my favorite films.

Perhaps appropriately, The Bad and the Beautiful is a film about the movies.

Jonathan Shields (played in a truly amazing performance by Kirk Douglas) is a legendary film producer.  He’s won Oscars, he’s got a reputation for being a genius, and, as the film begins, he is one of the most hated men in Hollywood.  It’s been years since Shields made a succesful film but he thinks that he’s finally come up with a movie that can put him back on top.  His assistant, Harry Pebbel (played with a weary dignity by Walter Pidgeon), invites Hollywood’s best director, actress, and screenwriter to a meeting and he proceeds to spend the rest of the film trying to convince them to help Jonathan make his comeback.

The only problem is that all three of them hate Jonathan Shields and have sworn that they’ll never work with him again.  Through the use of flashbacks, we see how each of them first met Jonathan and how each eventually came to despise him.

Director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan) first met Jonathan when Jonathan hired him to pretend to be a mourner at his father’s funeral.  With Jonathan’s help, Fred moves up from directing B-movies to finally getting a chance to make his dream movie, an adaptation of a believably pretentious novel called The Far Off Mountain.  With Jonathan’s help, Fred even gets womanizing film star Gaucho Ribera (a hilariously vain Gilbert Roland) to agree to star in Fred’s movie.  Jonathan also introduces Fred to Georgia (Lana Turner), the alcoholic daughter of Jonathan’s mentor.

Jonathan eventually makes Georgia into a film star and Georgia falls in love with him.  Of all the major actresses of the 1950s, Lana Turner seems to get the least amount of respect from film historians.  She’s more remembered today as the epitome of glamour and scandal but, in The Bad and the Beautiful, Turner gives one of the best performances of her career.  In her best scene, Georgia has a nervous breakdown while driving in the rain and, for those few minutes, you forget that you’re watching an iconic film star.  Instead, you’re just amazed by the performance.

Finally, the screenwriter is James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell), an intellectual novelist who is brought to Hollywood by Jonathan.  While the reluctant Bartlow finds himself being seduced by J0nathan, his flighty wife (Gloria Grahame) is seduced by Gaucho.

The Bad and the Beautiful is perhaps one of the few perfect movies ever made, a film that qualifies as both art and entertainment.  There are so many reasons why I love this film that its hard for me to describe them all.  The film snob in me loves the fact that Minnelli directed The Bad and the Beautiful as if it were a classic black-and-white film noir.  The entire film is lit and shot to emphasize shadows and moral ambiguity.  As played by Kirk Douglas, Jonathan Shields is as seductive and dangerous a figure as Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity.  My inner film historian loves the fact that the film is full of barely disguised portraits of real life Hollywood figures like David O. Selznick, Val Lewton, Alfred Hitchcock, and Diane Barrymore.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, my girly girl side loves that this film is basically a big melodramatic soap opera.  Lana Turner’s outfits are to die for and Jonathan Shields is the ultimate bad boy that we can’t help but love.

The Bad and the Beautiful received 6 Oscar nominations but it wasn’t nominated for best picture.  (This snub is all the more surprising when you consider what the Academy did name as the best picture of 1952 — Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth.)  Out of those six nominations, the Bad and the Beautiful won five Oscars.  (Of all the film’s nominees, only Kirk Douglas failed to win.)  As of this writing, The Bad and the Beautiful still holds the record for most Oscars won by a film that failed to be nominated for best picture.

A Quickie Horror Review: Planet of the Vampires (dir. by Mario Bava)


Later tonight, I’m going to watch Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath but before I do, I want to take a few minutes to review another one of Bava’s films, 1965’s sci-fi/horror hybrid Planet of the Vampires.

Taking place in the far future, Planet of the Vampires begins with two space ships receiving a distress call from an unexplored planet.  While landing, the two ships are separated from each other.  As the Argos lands, its crew is possessed by an unknown force and suddenly start trying to kill each other.  Only the ship’s captain (Barry Sullivan, who gives a surprisingly good performance in a role that most actors would have just sleepwalked through) is able to resist and he manages to snap the rest of the crew out of their hypnotic state. 

Once the Argos lands, search parties are sent out to find the other ship.  They find themselves on a barren planet where the surface is obscured by a thick, multi-colored fog.  As they wander through the planet, it quickly becomes apparent that they aren’t alone.  The searchers may have left the ship as human but they return as something else all together.  It all leads up to a surprisingly bleak conclusion.

If the plot of Planet of the Vampires sounds familiar, that’s because it’s probably one of the most influential, if not widely known, films of all time.   The film has been imitated in several other, far more expensive films but few of them manage to capture Planet of the Vampires’ sense of isolation and impending doom.  With this film, Bava again showed that he was one of the few directors wh0 could accomplish so much with so little.  While this isn’t an actor’s film, fans of Italian horror will squeal with delight to see Ivan Rassimov pop up here in a small role.

I’ve mentioned Planet of the Vampires before on this site when I was giving 10 reasons why I hated AvatarTo me, Planet of the Vampires stands as proof that you don’t need a gigantic budget to make an effective horror (or sci-fi film).  In fact, often times, all a huge budget does is shut down the audience’s imagination and quite frankly, nothing on film will ever be as impressive as what the audience can imagine.  With Planet of the Vampires, all that Mario Bava had to create an alien world were two plastic rocks and a smoke machine.  Working without the crutch of CGI, Bava had to pull off most of the film’s special effects “in camera,” and he would later say that one of the benefits of all that smoke was that it helped to obscure just how low budget this film was.  In short, Bava was working under circumstances that James Cameron would refuse to even consider and yet Planet of the Vampires holds up better upon repeat viewings than Avatar ever will.  The low-budget forced Bava to emphasize atmosphere over effects.  Yes, this film has its share of gore (it’s an Italian horror film, after all) but ultimately, this is another example of a horror film that works because of what it doesn’t show.  This is a film that exploits your imagination, working its way into the darker corners of your consciousness.  Bava creates a palpable atmosphere of doom that makes Planet of the Vampires into a surprisingly effective film.