30 Days of Noir #24: Fourteen Hours (dir by Henry Hathaway)

As a genre, film noir has always been associated with crime: murder, brutish gangsters, seductive femme fatales, and occasionally a cynical private detective doing the right thing almost despite himself.  However, not all film noirs are about criminals.  Some are just about desperate characters who have found themselves on the fringes, living in a shadow-filled world that appears to be monstrously indifferent to all human suffering.

That’s certainly the case with the 1951 noir, 14 Hours.  The film centers around Robert Cosick (Richard Basehart, who previously played a murderer in another classic noir, He Walked By Night).  Robert isn’t a gangster.  He’s not a private detective.  He doesn’t carry a gun and he doesn’t provide any sort of hard-boiled narration.  In fact, for the majority of the film, Robert is defined by less who he is and more by what he’s doing.  Robert Cosick, having earlier checked into a room on the 15th floor of a New York hotel, has climbed out of a window and is now standing on a ledge.  Robert says that he’s going to jump.

What has driven Robert Cosik to consider such an extreme action?  The film never settles on any one reason, though it gives us several clues.  When his father (Robert Keith) and his mother (Agnes Moorehead) show up at the scene, they immediately start bickering about old family dramas.  When Robert’s ex-fiancee (Barbara Bel Geddes) begs him to step in from the ledge, he listens a bit more to her than he did to his parents but he still refuses to come in from the ledge.

But perhaps the real reason that Robert Cosick is out on that ledge can be found in the film’s shadowy visuals.  Directed in a semi-documentary fashion by Henry Hathaway and featuring harsh, black-and-white cinematography that’s credited to Joe MacDonald, Fourteen Hours emphasizes the indifference of the city.  From the menacing landscape of concrete buildings to the crowds gathering below the ledge to see if Robert lives or dies,  New York City is as much as a character in this film as Robert, his family, or the cop (played by Paul Douglas) who finds himself trying to talk Robert into reentering his hotel room.  When night falls, the city may light up but it does nothing to alleviate the shadows that seem to be wrapping themselves around Robert.  For the fourteen hours that Robert is on that ledge, he may be the center of the world but the film leaves little doubt that New York City will continue to exist in all of its glory and its horror regardless of how Robert’s drama plays out.  Whether he lives or dies, Robert appears to be destined to be forgotten.

When the film isn’t concentrating on the cops trying to talk Robert into getting back in the hotel room, it shows us the reactions of the people who see him standing out on that ledge.  (If this film were made today, everyone would be holding up their phones and uploading Robert’s plight to social media.)  Some people are moved by Robert’s struggle.  For instance, a young woman played by Grace Kelly (in her film debut) reaches a decision on whether or not to get a divorce based on what she sees happening on the ledge.  Two office workers (played by Jeffrey Hunter and Debra Paget) even strike up a romance as they wait to see what will happen.  Some people view Robert as being a madman.  Others see him as being a victim.  And then there’s the many others who view him as being either a minor distraction or a piece of entertainment.  For them, it’s less important why Robert’s on the ledge or even who Robert is.  What’s important to them is how the story is going to end.

It’s not a particularly happy film but it’s made watchable by Hathaway’s intelligent direction and the performances of Paul Douglas and Richard Basehart.  With its theme of instant fame and hollow indifference, it’s a film that remains as relevant today as when it was initially released.

A Movie A Day #32: Number One (1969, directed by Tom Gries)

number-oneQuarterback Cat Catlan (Charlton Heston) used to be one of the greats.  For fifteen years, he has been a professional football player.  He probably should have retired after he led the New Orleans Saints to their first championship but, instead, the stubborn Cat kept playing.  Now, he is 40 years old and struggling to keep up with the younger players.  His coach (John Randolph) says that Cat has another two or three years left in him but the team doctor (G.D. Spradlin who, ten years later, played a coach in North Dallas Forty) says that one more strong hit could not only end Cat’s career but possibly his life as well.  Two of former Cat’s former teammates (Bruce Dern and Bobby Troup) offer to help Cat find a job off the field but Cat tells them the same thing that he tells his long-suffering wife (Jessica Walter).  He just has to win one more championship.

Number One is unique for being one of the first movies to ever take a look at the dark side of professional football.  At 40, Cat is facing an uncertain future.  His years of being a star have left him unprepared to deal with life in the real world.  He has no real friends and a wife who no longer needs him.  This would seem like a perfect role for Heston, who always excelled at playing misanthropes.  Heston is convincing when he’s arguing with his wife or refusing to sign an autograph but, surprisingly, he is thoroughly unconvincing whenever he’s on the field.  For all of his grunting and all the lines delivered through gritted teeth, Heston is simply not believable as a professional athlete, even one who is past his prime.  (When he played the 40 year-old Cat, Heston was 46 and looked like he was 56.)  Whenever Cat throws a football, he’s played by Heston in close-ups and very obviously replaced by real-life Saints quarterback Billy Kilmer for the long shots.  A football film is only as good and convincing as the football action and, on that front, Number One leaves much to be desired.

The 1969 press photo displays Heston's throwing technique.

This 1969 press photo displays Heston’s throwing technique.

Two final notes: For the scene in which Cat is tackled by three Dallas Cowboys (all played by actual players), Heston requested that the players actually tackle him.  Heston ended up with three broken ribs.

Finally, Number One was made the cooperation of the New Orleans Saints and features several players in the cast.  When Number One was filmed, the Saints were still a relatively new expansion team.  Cat is described as having already led the Saints to a championship but it would actually be another 40 years before the Saints would finally make their first trip to the Super Bowl.

Horror On TV: Darkroom Season 1 Episode 1&2 “Closed Circuit/Stay Tuned, We’ll Be Right Back” (dir by Rick Rosenthal and Paul Lynch)

While I was looking through YouTube for TV shows to use for this year’s horrorthon, I came across something called Darkroom.  Apparently, Darkroom was a horror anthology series that aired for a few months in 1981.

So, I figured, why not share!

(Apparently, each episode of Darkroom was made up of two thirty-minute stories.  For syndication purposes, it appears that the each 30 minute segment was considered to be a separate episode.)

Below is the first episode of Darkroom!  It originally aired on Nov. 27th, 1981.  In Closed Circuit, an aging anchorman discovers that he’s about to be replaced by a computer.  In Stay Turned, We’ll Be Right Back, a man discovers that his radio can be used to contact the past and must decide whether or not to change history.  The show is introduced and hosted by James Coburn.

Closed Circuit was directed by Rick Rosenthal, who directed Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween II.  Stay Tuned is directed by Paul Lynch, who directed Jamie Lee Curtis in Prom Night.



Film Review: There Was a Crooked Man… (1970, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

Crooked_manI first saw There Was A Crooked Man as a part of TCM’s tribute to the great actor Warren Oates.  Warren Oates was rarely cast in the lead but, as a character actor, he appeared in supporting roles in several great films.  Unfortunately, There Was A Crooked Man is not one of them.

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and written by the screenwriting team of Robert Benton and David Newman (best known for writing Bonnie and Clyde), There Was A Crooked Man is meant to be a comedic western.  Outlaw Paris Pittman (Kirk Douglas) is arrested while visiting a bordello.  Paris is sent to an Arizona prison, where everyone tries to get him to reveal where he has hidden the stash from a $500,000 robbery.  Pittman uses everyone’s greed to manipulate them into helping him attempt to escape.  Standing in Pittman’s way is the new warden, a liberal reformer played by Henry Fonda.

There Was A Crooked Man is a long movie that features a lot of familiar faces.  Burgess Meredith plays The Missouri Kid, who has been in prison for so long that he is now an old man.  Hume Cronyn and John Randolph play a bickering gay couple who eventually become a part of Pittman’s scheme to escape.  Even Alan Hale, the skipper from Gilligan’s Island, shows up as a guard named Tobaccy!  There Was A Crooked Man is a big movie but it’s also not a very good one.  It’s not serious enough to be a good drama but it’s not funny enough to be a good comedy either.

At least the movie has Warren Oates going for it.  Oates plays Harry Moon, a prisoner who is drafted into Pittman’s escape plot.  It is a typical Warren Oates supporting role but he steals every scene that he appears in.  Even in the smallest of roles, Warren Oates was worth watching and he’s the best thing about There Was A Crooked Man.

Hume Cronyn, Warren Oates, Kirk Douglas, Michael Blodgett, and John Randolph in There Was A Crooked Man

Hume Cronyn, Warren Oates, Kirk Douglas, Michael Blodgett, and John Randolph in There Was A Crooked Man

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #29: Pretty Poison (dir by Noel Black)


“I don’t care if critics like it; I hated it.  I can’t like or be objective about films I had a terrible time doing.”

— Tuesday Weld on Pretty Poison (1968)

It’s actually rather depressing to read that Tuesday Weld hates Pretty Poison because it really is an underrated gem, a nifty little thriller that acts as sly satire on youth, conformity, and small town life.  The main reason that the film works is because of the performances delivered by both Weld and her co-star, Anthony Perkins.

But then again, when we the viewers think back on a movie, we remember what we saw as a member of the audience and sometimes, we forget that just because a film is fun to watch, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it was enjoyable to make.  When actors and other technicians think back on a film they were involved with, they remember the experience of actually making it.  Reportedly, Weld did not get along with the director of Pretty Poison and couldn’t wait to get away from him.

Interestingly enough, in Pretty Poison, Tuesday Weld plays a teenage girl who doesn’t get along with her mother and who can’t wait to get away from her.  Perhaps being miserable while making Pretty Poison helped Weld to bring a miserable character to life.

Pretty Poison opens with a nervous-looking man named Dennis Pitt (Anthony Perkins) watching a group of high school cheerleaders practicing on a field.  His attention is focused on one cheerleader in particular, the blonde Sue Ann Stepanek (Tuesday Weld).  Even before the opening credits have ended, the film has established a familiar dynamic.  Sue Ann is the fresh-faced example of small town American innocence.  Dennis is the type of creepy older guy that every girl has had to deal with at some point in her life.  (When I was in high school, there were always guys like Dennis hanging out around the mall.  When I was in college, the Dennis Pitts of the world were the guy who still hung out around the dorms even though they hadn’t been a student in a decade.)

Having established this dynamic early on, Pretty Poison spends the rest of its running time turning that dynamic upside down.

Dennis has recently been released from a mental hospital.  Under the watchful eye of his parole officer (John Randolph), Dennis gets a mind-numbingly dull job at a local mill and tries to live a normal life.  When Dennis finally does get a chance to talk to Sue Anne, he lies to her and tells her that he’s a secret agent and that he’s in town on a mission.  Sue Anne responds to Dennis’s awkward flirting and soon, she’s accompanying him on his “missions.”  During one such mission near the mill, they’re spotted by a security guard.  Sue Anne responds by enthusiastically murdering him.

Yes, the cheerleader’s a sociopath.

Sue Anne’s tyrannical mother (Beverly Garland) does not approve of her relationship with Dennis.  Sue Anne wants her mother out of the way and she expects her secret agent boyfriend to help her out…

Pretty Poison is a sharp mix of dark comedy and heightened drama, one that gets progressively darker as it progresses.  From the minute the film first shows Sue Anne intensely practicing on that field while Dennis watches her, it’s pretty obvious that the film was meant to be an allegory for American society in 1968.  Sue Anne is the perfect, all-American cheerleader who kills people because she can.  Dennis is the neurotic outsider who knows that he’ll never be able to get anyone to believe the truth.

And it all works, largely because both Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld are so well-cast.  It is, of course, impossible to watch Perkins without first thinking about Psycho but he actually manages to make Dennis into a very different character from Norman Bates.  If Norman was a psycho who, at first sight, looked like an innocent, Dennis is an innocent who, at first sight, looks like a psycho.  Tuesday Weld, meanwhile, turns Sue Anne into a disturbingly plausible killer, the type who, within minutes, can alternate between moodiness and giddiness, all the while squealing with orgasmic joy while bashing in someone’s head.

Tuesday Weld may hate Pretty Poison but it’s still a pretty good movie.