30 Days of Noir #10: Roses are Red (dir by James Tinling)


As the 1947 film, Roses Are Red, begins, Robert A. Thorne (Don Castle) has just been elected to the office of district attorney.

Now, being the horror fan that I am, the thing that I immediately noticed was that the new district attorney had the exact same name as the character played by Gregory Peck in The Omen.  However, Roses Are Red has nothing to do with the son of Satan or the end of the world.  Instead, it’s just a briskly paced tale of swapped identity.

Robert A. Thorne is not just a brilliant lawyer.  He’s also an example of that rare breed, an honest politician.  He ran on a platform of reform and that’s what he’s intending to pursue now that he’s been elected.  As he tells his girlfriend, journalist Martha McCormick (Peggy Knudsen), cleaning up this country isn’t going to be easy but he’s determined to do it.  And the first step is going to be taking down the local mob boss, Jim Locke (Edward Keane).

The wheelchair-bound Jim Locke is a man who prefers to stay in the safety of his penthouse, where he can feed his fish and give orders to his subordinates, all of whom have names like Duke (Charles McGraw), Knuckle (Jeff Chandler), Buster (Paul Guilfoyle), and Ace (Douglas Fowley).  However, his man on the police force, Lt. Rocky Wall (Joe Sawyer), has warned him that this new district attorney might not respond to usual combination of bribes and intimidation.  That’s not good news because there are men who might be willing to testify against Locke in return for a shorter prison sentence.

However, things start to look up when none other than Robert A. Thorne shows up at Locke’s penthouse and says that the honesty bit was all a sham and that he wants to be on Locke’s payroll.  However, Locke soon figures out that he’s not talking to Thorne.  Instead, he’s talking to Don Carney (also played by Don Castle), a career criminal who has recently been released from prison and who just happens to look exactly like Robert Thorne!

Locke and Don come up with a plan that seems foolproof.  What if Knuckle kidnaps Thorne and holds him hostage for a few days?  During that time, Don can study Thorne and learn how to perfectly imitate all of his movements and expressions.  Once the two men are absolutely indistinguishable, Knuckle will murder Thorne and then Don will take his place.

Knuckle manages to kidnap Thorne with absolutely no trouble.  The police, under the prodding of Lt. Wall, announce that Thorne has obviously run off to avoid dealing with the local gangsters.  Don starts the process of studying Thorne but it turns out that the district attorney has a few tricks of his own….

With a running time of only 67 minutes, Roses are Red doesn’t waste any time jumping into its somewhat implausible plot.  Fortunately, the film is so short and quickly paced that most viewers won’t really have time to worry about whether or not the film’s plot actually makes any sense.  This is an entertaining, low-budget film noir, featuring a host of memorable performances and all of the hard-boiled dialogue that you could hope for.  Don Castle does a good job playing both the sleazy Don Carney and the upright Robert A. Thorne.  History nerds like me will immediately notice that, with his mustache and his slicked back hair, Castle bears a distinct resemblance to former Manhattan D.A. and two-time presidential candidate, Thomas E. Dewey.

All in all, Roses are Red is an enjoyable film for fans of old school gangster noir.  Check it out below:

 

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: ARMORED CAR ROBBERY (RKO 1950)


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Looking for a tough, no-frills ‘B’ crime drama? Look no further than ARMORED CAR ROBBERY, which is just what it says it is, the planning, execution, and aftermath of said dirty deed, with a cast of rugged mugs and hard-hearted dames directed by Richard Fleischer during his salad days at RKO. The movie echoes Robert Siodmak’s CRISS CROSS in its heist scene, and I’m sure Stanley Kubrick watched and remembered it when he made his film noir  masterpiece THE KILLING .

Make no mistake, ARMORED CAR ROBBERY isn’t on a par with those two films. It is, however, an enjoyable little 67 minutes of cops vs crooks. Criminal mastermind Dave Purvis assembles a gang of low-lives to pull the caper off, killing a cop in the process. The cop’s partner, Lt. Jim Cordell, is now determined to hunt the crooks down and avenge him. One of the participants, Benny McBride…

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The TSL’s Grindhouse: A Boy And His Dog (dir by L.Q. Jones)


(Nearly every Saturday night, the Late Night Movie Gang and I watch a movie.  On January 20th, we watched the 1975 science fiction satire, A Boy and His Dog.)

A Boy and His Dog begins, quite literally, with a bang.  A bang followed by a mushroom cloud.  And then a second mushroom cloud.  And then another.  And another.  When the explosions finally stop, we are informed that World War IV only lasted five days.  Of course, it destroyed most of society.  The year is now 2024 and … well, things aren’t great.

(For those of you keeping track, that means we’ve got another six years left.  Enjoy them!)

The world is now a barren wasteland, an endless stretch of desert.  There are a handful of survivors but they’re not exactly the types who you would want to survive an apocalypse.  Take Vic, for instance.  Vic (played by Don Johnson) is an absolute moron.  He can’t read.  He’s not very good at thinking.  He has no conscience.  He’s someone who kills and rapes without giving it a second thought.  When Vic isn’t scavenging for food and supplies, he’s obsessing on sex.  When we first meet him, the only thing redeeming about Vic is that almost everyone else in the world is even worse than he is.

That Vic has managed to survive for as long as he has is something of a minor miracle.  Vic has been lucky enough to team up with a dog named Blood.  Blood is not only surprisingly intelligent but he’s also telepathic.  Unfortunately, the same experiment that granted him telepathy also caused him to lose his instinct as a hunter.  So, Blood and Vic have an arrangement.  Vic keeps Blood supplied with food and Blood helps Vic track down women.

Blood’s voice is provided by actor Tim McIntire and, from the minute we first hear him, it becomes obvious that Blood may be cute on the outside but, on the inside, it’s a totally different story.  Blood rarely has a good word for anyone or anything.  He delights in annoying Vic, calling him “Albert” while still demanding that Vic get him food.  He’s a surprisingly well-read dog but you wouldn’t necessarily want to get stuck in a kennel with him.  Much as with Vic, Blood’s only redeeming trait is that everyone else is marginally worse than he is.

(Sadly, if there was an apocalypse like the one that starts this movie, most of the survivors probably would be like Vic.  The only people who would survive something like that would be the people who were solely looking out for themselves.)

A Boy and His Dog is a highly episodic film, following Vic and Blood as they wander across the wasteland and bicker.  They fight other scavengers.  They spend a rather depressing night at a makeshift movie theater.  Eventually, they come across a young woman named Quilla June (Suanne Benton).  Blood dislikes her but Vic says he’s in love.  (Mostly, he’s just excited that he’s now having sex regularly.)  Eventually, through a whole series of events, Vic discovers an underground city named Topeka, where everyone wears clown makeup.  The head of the town (Jason Robards) informs Vic that his sperm will be used to impregnate 35 women.  Vic is excited until he finds out that reproduction in Topeka is a matter of artificial insemination.

(Both the wasteland and Topeka are nightmarish in their own different ways.  The wasteland is world without morality or compassion.  Topeka is a world where everyone looks like a mime, there’s always a marching band, and order is maintained by a robot wearing overalls.)

Of course, while Vic is dealing with life underground, Blood waits above ground.  By the end of the film, Vic is forced to make a choice between settling down or remaining loyal to his dog.  It all leads to a final comment from Blood that will either make you laugh or throw a shoe at your TV.  I did both.

A Boy and His Dog is a strange movie.  It definitely isn’t for everyone.  It’s a comedy but the humor is pitch black.  Still, that strangeness — along with the talent of the dog playing Blood and Tim McIntire’s savagely sarcastic voice work — is what makes the film watchable.  There’s literally no other film like A Boy and His Dog.  By the time Vic ends up in Topeka, the film has become almost a fever dream of apocalyptic paranoia and satire.  The ultimate message of the film appears to be that the apocalypse would really suck so let’s try to not blow each other up.

Who can’t get behind that?

 

Horror on the Lens: The Night Stalker (dir by John Llewelyn Moxey)


For today’s horror on the lens, we have a real treat!  (We’ll get to the tricks later…)

Long before he achieved holiday immortality by playing the father in A Christmas Story, Darren McGavin played journalist Carl Kolchak in the 1972 made-for-TV movie, The Night Stalker.  Kolchak is investigating a series of murders in Las Vegas, all of which involve victims being drained of their blood.  Kolchak thinks that the murderer might be a vampire.  Everyone else thinks that he’s crazy.

When this movie first aired, it was the highest rated made-for-TV movie of all time.  Eventually, it led to a weekly TV series in which Kolchak investigated various paranormal happenings.  Though the TV series did not last long, it’s still regularly cited as one of the most influential shows ever made.

Anyway, The Night Stalker is an effective little vampire movie and Darren McGavin gives a great performance as Carl Kolchak.

Enjoy!

A Movie A Day #235: Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977, directed by Robert Aldrich)


In Montana, four men have infiltrated and taken over a top-secret ICBM complex.  Three of the men, Hoxey (William Smith), Garvas (Burt Young), and Powell (Paul Winfield) are considered to be common criminals but their leader is something much different.  Until he was court-martialed and sentenced to a military prison, Lawrence Dell (Burt Lancaster) was a respected Air Force general.  He even designed the complex that he has now taken over.  Dell calls the White House and makes his demands known: he wants ten million dollars and for the President (Charles Durning) to go on television and read the contents of top secret dossier, one that reveals the real reason behind the war in Vietnam.  Dell also demands that the President surrender himself so that he can be used as a human shield while Dell and his men make their escape.

Until Dell made his demands known, the President did not even know of the dossier’s existence.  His cabinet (made up of distinguished and venerable character actors like Joseph Cotten and Melvyn Douglas) did and some of them are willing to sacrifice the President to keep that information from getting out.

Robert Aldrich specialized in insightful genre films and Twilight’s Last Gleaming is a typical example: aggressive, violent, sometimes crass, and unexpectedly intelligent.  At two hours and 30 minutes, Twilight’s Last Gleaming is overlong and Aldrich’s frequent use of split screens is sometimes distracting but Twilight’s Last Gleaming is still a thought-provoking film.  The large cast does a good job, with Lancaster and Durning as clear stand-outs.  I also liked Richard Widmark as a general with his own agenda and, of course, any movie that features Joseph Cotten is good in my book!  Best of all, Twilight’s Last Gleaming‘s theory about the reason why America stayed in Vietnam is entirely credible.

The Vietnam angle may be one of the reasons why Twilight’s Last Gleaming was one of the biggest flops of Aldrich’s career.  In 1977, audiences had a choice of thrilling to Star Wars, falling in love with Annie Hall, or watching a two and a half hour history lesson about Vietnam.  Not surprisingly, a nation that yearned for escape did just that and Twilight’s Last Gleaming flopped in America but found success in Europe.  Box office success or not, Twilight’s Last Gleaming is an intelligent political thriller that is ripe for rediscovery.

Cleaning Out the DVR Pt 11: Five from the Fifties


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The 1950’s were a time of change in movies. Television was providing stiff competition, and studios were willing to do anything to fend it off. The bigger budgeted movies tried 3D, Cinerama, wide-screen, and other optical tricks, while smaller films chose to cover unusual subject matter. The following five films represent a cross-section of nifty 50’s cinema:

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BORDERLINE (Universal-International 1950; D: William A. Seiter)

BORDERLINE is a strange film, straddling the borderline (sorry) between romantic comedy and crime drama, resulting in a rather mediocre movie. Claire Trevor plays an LAPD cop assigned to Customs who’s sent to Mexico to get the goods on drug smuggler Pete Ritchey (Raymond Burr , being his usual malevolent self). She’s tripped up by Ritchey’s rival Johnny Macklin (Fred MacMurray , channeling his inner Walter Neff), and taken along as he tries to get the dope over the border. What she doesn’t know is he’s also…

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The Big Let-Down: CHANDLER (MGM 1971)


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“Some (producers) are able and humane men and some are low-grade individuals with the morals of a goat, the artistic integrity of a slot machine, and the manners of a floorwalker with delusions of grandeur”- Raymond Chandler, “Writers in Hollywood”, first published in Esquire Magazine, Nov. 1945

I had high hopes for CHANDLER, I really did. An homage to the hard-boiled fiction of Raymond Chandler (born July 23, 1888) with Warren Oates as the titular detective sounded like it’d be right up my dark alley. But as much as I wanted to like this movie, I was let down by its slow pace, convoluted script, and butchering by studio execs. Much of the film was cut, scenes were replaced, and the result is an evocative mood piece that ultimately doesn’t satisfy the noir lover in me.

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I don’t have a problem with Warren Oates as Chandler, with his Bogie-esque look and low-key performance…

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The Fabulous Forties #3: The Black Book (dir by Anthony Mann)


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The third film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was 1949’s The Black Book, which was also released under the title Reign of Terror.

The Black Book takes place during the French Revolution.  It is, to quote Dickens, both the best of times and the worst of times.  Actually, mostly it’s just the worst of times.  The Black Book portrays revolutionary France as being a dark and shadowy country, one where the only things that hold the people together are paranoia and terror.  It’s a country where anyone can be executed at any moment and where power mad tyrants excuse their excesses by saying that they are only doing the people’s will.  Considering that the The Black Book was made in 1949, its vision of revolutionary France can easily been seen as a metaphor for Nazi Germany or Communist Russia.  Or perhaps even America at the start of the Red Scare.

(It’s probably not a coincidence that the Nazis also had a document known as the Black Book, one that listed everyone who was to be arrested and executed if Hitler succeeded in conquering Great Britain.)

Maximilien Robespierre (Richard Basehart, giving a disturbingly plausible performance that will make you think of more than a few contemporary political figures) is on the verge of having himself declared dictator of France.  Unfortunately, his little black book has disappeared.  Inside that black book is the name of everyone that he is planning to send to the guillotine.  If the book ever became public, then Robespierre would be the one losing his head.

Robespierre summons a notorious prosecutor named Duval (Robert Cummings) to Paris and gives him 24 hours to track down the book.  He gives Duval the authority to imprison and interrogate anyone in France.  He also informs Duval that, if the book is not found, Duval will be the next to lose his head.

However, what Robespierre does not know is that Duval is not Duval.  He is Charles D’Aubigny, a rebel against the Revolution.  Charles murdered Duval and took his place.  Now, Charles has to find the book without his own identity being discovered.  Not only do some of Robespierre’s allies suspect that Duval may not actually be Duval but some of Charles’s former allies also start to suspect that Charles may secretly be working for Robespierre, even as he claims that he’s trying to bring him down.  At times, even the viewer is unsure as to who is actually working for who.

Oh my God, this is such a good film!   In fact, it was so good that I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of it before watching it last night.  The chance to discover a hidden gem like The Black Book is the main reason why I continue to take chances on Mill Creek box sets.

The Black Book was definitely made on a very low-budget but director Anthony Mann (who is best known for directing several landmark westerns) uses that low-budget to his advantage.  There’s little spectacle to be found in this historical epic but then again, there was little spectacle to be found in the reign of terror.  This is a film that takes place in shadowy rooms and dark, almost claustrophobic streets.  It’s a historical film that looks and plays out like the most cynical of film noirs.  Despite the fact that all of these well-known French figures are being played by very American actors, the cast all does an excellent job of capturing the fear and desperation of people living under oppression.  The subtext of The Black Book was undoubtedly clear in 1949 and it’s just as clear today.  Fanaticism remains fanaticism, regardless of when it happened or what ideology is used to justify it.

There is a somewhat awkward moment towards the end of the film when a French army officer is asked for his name.

“Bonparte,” the officer replies, “Napoleon Bonaparte.”

“I’ll remember that name,” someone snarkily replies.

But, other than that one moment (which immediately made me think of Titanic‘s infamous “Something Picasso” line), The Black Book is an intelligent and effective thriller.  And because it’s in the public domain, you watch it below!

 

Pounded to Death by Gorillas: HIS KIND OF WOMAN (RKO 1951)


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People don’t go to the movies to see how miserable the world is; they go there to eat popcorn, be happy“- Wynton (Jim Backus) in HIS KIND OF WOMAN

Right you are, Mr. Howell, err Backus. There’s an abundance of fun to be had in HIS KIND OF WOMAN, the quintessential RKO/Robert Mitchum movie. Big Bob costars with sexy Jane Russell in a convoluted tale that’s part film noir, part Monty Python, with an outstanding all-star cast led by Vincent Price serving up big slices of ham as a self-obsessed movie star. And the backstory behind HIS KIND OF WOMAN is as entertaining as the picture itself!

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But we’ll go behind the scenes later. First, let’s look at the movie’s plot. We meet down on his luck gambler Dan Milner (Mitchum) in a bar…. drinking milk! Dan just got done doing a 30 day stretch in a Palm Springs jail…

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Film Review: Chandler (1971, directed by Paul Magwood)


C1971chandler1handler (Warren Oates) is a former private investigator who quits his job as a security guard and gets back into the detective game.  An old friend of his, Bernie Oakman (Charles McGraw), hires Chandler to follow and protect a woman named Katherine Creighton (Leslie Caron).  Katherine is scheduled to testify against gangster John Melchior (Gordon Pinset) and Oakman tells Chandler that he believes Melchior may be planning on murdering her.  What Chandler does not know is that Oakman is being manipulated by a corrupt federal agent, Ross Carmady (Alex Dreier), who is planning on duping Chandler into killing Melchior so that Carmady can take over Melchior’s racket.  Though Chandler tries not to get emotionally involved in his cases, he ends up falling for Katherine.

In case you are keeping count, Chandler is the sixth Warren Oates film that I’ve reviewed this week.  Some of that is because TCM devoted all of Monday to showing his films but it’s also because Warren Oates was a really cool actor who died too soon and never got as much credit as he deserved.  Warren Oates combined the talent of a leading man with the face of a character actor and, as a result, he played some of the most memorable supporting roles of the 60s and 70s.  He was the tough guy who could talk a mile a minute and his upturned grin always showed up at the most unexpected of times.  Warren Oates brought humanity to outcasts and sympathy to villains.

Chandler is one of Warren Oates’s few leading roles.  Unfortunately, it’s not much of a showcase.  Director Paul Magwood and producer Michael Laughlin felt that the then-head of MGM, James Thomas Aubrey, interfered with the production of the film.  After the film’s release, Magwood and Laughlin took out a full-page, black-bordered ad in Variety that read:

Regarding what was our film Chandler, let’s give credit where credit is due. We sadly acknowledge that all editing, post-production as well as additional scenes were executed by James T. Aubrey Jr. We are sorry.

Chandler is a strange film to watch.  The plot is complicated but nothing really happens until the downbeat ending.  Much like Robert Altman’s far more successful The Long GoodbyeChandler tries to contrast the title character’s old-fashioned 1940s style and moral code with the 70s.  Chandler, who always wears a suit and drives an old car, is meant to be a man out of time.  Warren Oates does a good job, giving a Humphrey Bogart-style performance.  But since Chandler doesn’t seem to be sure what it is trying to say about either the 40s or the 70s, it’s all for naught.

Chandler is a forgettable film, one that is only worth watching for the rare chance to see Warren Oates as a leading man.

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Warren Oates as Chandler