The Strangers in 7A (1972, directed by Paul Wendkos)


Artie Sawyer (Andy Griffith) is a man who no one respects.  Having recently been fired from his long-time job, he’s forced to take a job as a superintendent for an apartment building in New York.  The tenants don’t think much of him.  His wife, Iris (Ida Lupino), is getting tired of his self-pity.  The only person who seems to like Artie is Claudine (Susanne Benton).  The young and beautiful Claudine approaches Artie in a bar and, after flirting with him, reveals that she needs a place to stay.  Artie agrees to let Claudine check out Apartment 7A.  At the apartment, Claudine rolls around in the bed, dances seductively, and then reveals that she has three male friends who are going to be staying in the apartment with her.  Billy (Michael Brandon), Virgil (Tim McIntire), and Riff (James A. Watson, Jr.) all served in Vietnam together and now they need to crash at the apartment for a while.  Artie can either let them stay or they can reveal to his wife that he was at a bar, trying to pick up young women.

Led by the psychotic Billy, the three men are planning on robbing the bank next door.  When Artie, who is having doubts about whether or not it was a good idea to let four obviously unstable people live rent-free in his building, discovers their plans, he and Ida are taken hostage.  When the bank robbery goes wrong, Billy tries to use the hostages and a bomb as leverage for his escape from the police.

As far as films about bank robberies goes, The Strangers in 7A is no Dog Day Afternoon.  While it’s interesting to see the usually confident Andy Griffith play a loser, he never seems like enough of a loser that he would actually risk a job that he clearly needs just because Claudine flashed a little leg at him.  Even when he’s playing a character who is down on his luck, he’s still Andy Griffith.  Along with the lead role being miscast, the bank robbers are too generic to really be credible or threatening.  Susanne Benton is sexy as the femme fatale and Ida Lupino is sympathetic as Artie’s wife but otherwise, The Strangers in 7A is forgettable.

The Strangers in 7A was made for television.  At the time, Andy Griffith was still trying to escape being typecast as Mayberry’s amiable Sheriff Taylor.  Griffith was a convincing villain in movies like Pray For The Wildcats and Savages but he’s just not believable as a loser in this film.

Women In Chains (1972, directed by Bernard L. Kowalksi)


Sandra Parker (Lois Nettleton) is the world’s most dedicated parole officer.  After one of her parolees is sent back to prison and then dies under mysterious circumstances, Sandra decides to investigate on her own.  For Sandra, this means changing her name to Sally Porter and arranging to be sent to prison on a phony charge.  For some reason, Sandra/Sally only tells one other person what she’s doing.  The plan is for Sandra to spend two weeks undercover and then her friend, fellow parole officer Helen (Penny Fuller), will reveal the truth to the proper authorities and get Sandra sprung from prison.  It doesn’t work out that away, as Helen is killed in the line of duty shortly after Sandra finds herself behind bars.

The prison is run by the tyrannical Claire Tyson (Ida Lupino!), a matron who is more interested in exercising power than in rehabilitation.  Claire’s main enforcer is a butch prisoner named Dee Dee (Jessica Walter!!).  As soon as she enters the prison, Sandra gets on Tyson’s bad side.  Sandra asks too many questions and makes the mistake of demanding that her fellow prisoners be treated humanely.  Sandra even demands that a prisoner be given aspirin for a migraine, which is the type insubordination that leads to a stay in solitary.  (What’s strange is that, in solitary, Sandra ends up sharing a cell with another prisoner which I would think would defeat the purpose of being in solitary.)  With Tyson openly plotting to kill her and the only person who knows where she is dead, Sandra has to figure out a way to escape the prison and reveal the truth about what goes on behind bars.

Compared to most women-in-prison films, Women in Chains is pretty tame.  This is a women-in-prison film that you could safely watch with grandma.  This one was made for early 70s television, so there’s no nudity, no strong language, and even the required prison riot is restrained.  The film asks us to believe that Sandra would not only be stupid enough to only let one person know that she was going undercover but also that a parole officer could somehow walk around the prison without running into any prisoners who she previously dealt with. Obviously, the film’s plot is not its strong point but viewers with an appreciation for camp will undoubtedly enjoy the performances of Ida Lupino and Jessica Walter.  They rule that cell block with an iron fist and are entertaining to watch.

Crashing Out: Humphrey Bogart in HIGH SIERRA (Warner Brothers 1941)


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Humphrey Bogart played yet another gangster in Raoul Walsh’s HIGH SIERRA, but this time things were different. Bogie had spent the past five years at Warner Brothers mired in supporting gangster parts and leads in ‘B’ movies, but when he read John Huston and W.R. Burnett’s screenplay, he knew this role would put him over the top. James Cagney and Paul Muni both turned it down, and George Raft was penciled in to star, until Bogie put a bug in his ear and Raft also refused it. Bogart lobbied hard for the role of Roy Earle, and his instincts were right: not only did HIGH SIERRA make him a star at last, it led to him getting the lead in his next picture THE MALTESE FALCON , the directorial debut of his good friend Huston.

Roy Earle is an old-school criminal pardoned from an Indiana prison thanks to the machinations…

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30 Days of Noir #12: The Hitch-Hiker (dir by Ida Lupino)


The intense 1953 film noir, The Hitch-Hiker, begins with news of a murderer at large.

His name is Emmett Myers (William Talman).  He’s the rough-looking man who you might occasionally see standing by the side of the road, asking for a ride with his thumb outstretched.  For me, it only takes one look at Myers’s unfriendly face and his shifty eyes to know that I would never slow down to give him a ride.  However, The Hitch-Hiker takes place in a more innocent era, at a time when everyone wanted to be of help.  Anyone who gives Emmett a ride ends up dead.  He steals their cars and then drives across country, abandoning the car only when he learns that his previous murder has been discovered.  Emmett has hitchhiked from Illinois to Southern California and he’s left a trail of dead bodies behind him.

Roy Collins (Edmond O’Brien) and Gilbert Bowen (Frank Lovejoy) don’t know who Emmett is.  They’ve missed all of the reports about Emmett’s killing spree.  They haven’t read the newspapers, all of which feature a picture of Emmett on the front page and a warning to never pick him up.  Roy and Gilbert have been too busy getting ready for a long-planned fishing trip in Baja California.  When they see Emmett hitchhiking in Mexico, they pull over and offer him a ride.

Unlike other movie hitchhikers, Emmett doesn’t waste any time before revealing who he is.  As soon as he gets in the car, he pulls a gun and tells the two men that they’re going to drive him deeper into Baja California.  He’s got a boat to catch and he says that all the two men have to do is follow orders.  Of course, both Roy and Gilbert know better.  They know that Emmett’s planning on killing them as soon as they arrive at their destination.  In fact, if Emmett learns that the police are looking for the two men, he’ll kill them sooner.  Roy and Gilbert not only have to keep Emmett from flying off the handle but they also have to keep him from discovering that both of them have been reported as being missing.

As the three men drive across California, Emmett continues to taunt his prisoners.  Repeatedly, he points out that the only reason they’re in this situation is because of their loyalty to each other.  As Emmett explains it, if the two men tried to run in opposite directions, Emmett would probably only be able to kill one of them.  If the two men both attacked him, Emmett would again probably only have time to kill one before the survivor subdued him.  Will Roy and Gilbert remains loyal to each other or will they finally embrace Emmett’s philosophy of every man for himself?

Oh, how you’ll hate Emmett Myers!  As played by William Talman, Emmett is not just a criminal but a bully as well.  The enjoyment that he gets out of taunting Roy and Gilbert will make your skin crawl.  Emmett is hardly the type of witty or charming master criminal who often shows up in movies today.  Instead, The Hitch-Hiker emphasizes that Emmett’s an idiot but, because he has the gun, he has the power.  Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy are also well-cast as the two friends who are forced to choose between survival and loyalty.

The Hitch-Hiker was one of the few films to be directed by a woman in the 1950s.  (It’s generally considered to be the only film noir to have been directed by a woman.)  Ida Lupino was not only an actress but also the only female director in the old Hollywood system and she made several hard-hitting films, the majority of which dealt with the type of issues that mainstream Hollywood was still too scared to handle.  With The Hitch-Hiker, Lupino emphasizes not only Emmett’s cruelty but also the bonds of friendship between Emmett’s two hostages.  Visually, she makes the wide open desert appears as menacing and as dangerous as any shadowy city street.  If urban noirs often suggested that threats could be hiding anywhere, The Hitch-Hiker takes the opposite approach.  The threat is in the back seat of the car and there’s literally no place to hide.

The Hitch-Hiker is an intense film that holds up well today.  Watch it below and never again make the mistake of helping out a stranger.

Cleaning Out the DVR #17: Film Noir Festival 3


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To take my mind off the sciatic nerve pain I was suffering last week, I immersed myself on the dark world of film noir. The following quartet of films represent some of the genre’s best, filled with murder, femme fatales, psychopaths, and sleazy living. Good times!!

I’ll begin chronologically with BOOMERANG (20th Century-Fox 1947), director Elia Kazan’s true-life tale of a drifter (an excellent Arthur Kennedy ) falsely accused of murdering a priest in cold blood, and the doubting DA (Dana Andrews ) who fights an uphill battle against political corruption to exonerate him. Filmed on location in Stamford, CT and using many local residents as extras and bit parts, the literate script by Richard Murphy (CRY OF THE CITY, PANIC IN THE STREETS, COMPULSION) takes a realistic look behind the scenes at an American mid-sized city, shedding light into it’s darker corners.

Andrews is solid as the honest…

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Horror on TV: Thriller 2.1 “What Beckoning Ghost” (dir by Ida Lupino)


For today’s adventure into the world of televised horror, we have another episode of the Boris Karloff-hosted anthology series, Thriller!

In this episode, a concert pianist (Judith Evelyn) is haunted by visions of mysterious piano and the sound of someone playing.  Is she losing her mind, is she being set up, or is her house truly haunted?  This enjoyable episode was directed by actress Ida Lupino.

A Movie A Day #155: Out of the Fog (1941, directed by Anatole Litvak)


When two aging fishermen (Thomas Mitchell and John Qualen) attempt to buy a new boat, they run into a problem with local mobster, Harold Goff (John Garfield).  As Goff explains, if they do not pay him $5.00 a week, something bad could happen to their boat.  When one of the fisherman’s daughter (Ida Lupino) falls in love with Goff, she makes the mistake of letting him know that her father is planning on giving her $190 so that she can take a trip to Cuba.  When Goff demands the money for himself, the fishermen attempt to go to the police, just to be told that there is nothing that the authorities can do.  Goff tricked them into signing an “insurance” contract that allows him to demand whatever he wants.  The two fishermen are forced to consider taking drastic measures on their own.  Out of the Fog is an effective, early film noir, distinguished mostly be John Garfield’s sinister performance as Harold Goff.

Out of the Fog is also memorable as an example of how Hollywood dealt with adapting work with political content during the production code era.  Out of the Fog was based on The Gentle People, a play by Irwin Shaw.  In the play, which was staged by The Group Theater in 1939, Harold Goff was obviously meant to be a symbol of both European fascism and American capitalism.  In the play, the two fisherman had Jewish names and were meant to symbolize those being persecuted by the Third Reich and its allies.  In the transition for stage to film, Jonah Goodman became Jonah Goodwin and he was played by the very talented but definitely not Jewish Thomas Mitchell.   The play ended with Harold triumphant and apparently unstoppable.  Under the production code, all criminals had to be punished, which meant the ending had to be changed.  Out of the Fog is an effective 1940s crime thriller but, without any political subtext, it lacks the play’s bight.

One final note: while Out of the Fog had a good cast, with up and comer John Garfield squaring against old vets Thomas Mitchell and John Qualen, the original Broadway play’s cast was also distinguished.  Along with contemporary film stars Sylvia Sidney and Franchot Tone, the play’s cast was a who’s who of actors and directors who would go on to be prominent in the 1950 and 60s: Lee J. Cobb, Sam Jaffe, Karl Malden, Martin Ritt, and Elia Kazan all had roles.

 

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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Horror on TV: Thriller 2.17 “La Strega” (dir by Ida Lupino)


For tonight’s excursion into televised horror, we have an episode of Thriller!

This episode is called T and it deals with an artist (Alejandro Rey) who saves a young woman (Ursula Andress) from drowning.  It turns out that the local villagers believe that the woman is a witch.  The artist has no time for superstition and takes the woman back to his home.  She starts as his model and then becomes his lover.  She may not be a witch but her mother (Jeanette Nolan) definitely is…

And, of course, this episode is introduced by the one and only Boris Karloff!

The episode premiered on January 15th, 1962.

Cleaning Out the DVR Pt 9: Film Noir Festival Redux


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Welcome back to the decadently dark world of film noir, where crime, corruption, lust, and murder await. Let’s step out of the light and deep into the shadows with these five fateful tales:

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PITFALL (United Artists 1948, D: Andre DeToth) Dick Powell is an insurance man who feels he’s stuck in a rut, living in safe suburbia with his wife and kid (Jane Wyatt, Jimmy Hunt). Then he meets hot model Lizabeth Scott on a case and falls into a web of lies, deceit, and ultimately murder. Raymond Burr  costars as a creepy PI who has designs on Scott himself. A good cast in a good (not great) drama with a disappointing ending. Fun Fact: The part of Scott’s embezzler boyfriend is played by one Byron Barr, who is not the Byron Barr that later changed his name to Gig Young.  

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THE BRIBE (MGM 1949, D:Robert Z. Leonard) Despite an…

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