Follow me on Twitter: @AFiendOnFilm
City That Never Sleeps (1953) film thoughts… I actually had the VHS of this film a couple of years ago, intending it for the 30 Film Noirs in 31 Days series I did but had more films than I needed then. Gig Young plays Johnny Kelly, a Chicago cop who just doesn’t care for his job or the marriage that he seems stuck in. He has a girl on the side and the plan is to run away with her to California and start over. He has an opportunity to make a small windfall before the trip and decides to take it. The problem is all the twists, double crosses and misunderstandings in this film are preventing him from making that task easy…
I did really like City That Never Sleeps. It doesn’t seem like the cheap programmer it was, the actual Chicago locations and the great look it has elevates it up to the bigger pictures. It does have a lot of changes in the story that keeps you on your toes. Before you think you know where it’s going, they throw another curve ball your way. Good acting from all players and I liked that Marie Windsor had a devious role in it. Definitely one to add to your film noir collection.
Tight Spot (1955) film thoughts… As I was looking for a film to close out the month’s viewing, I noticed this one on a TCM Film Noir Classics set I have. Ginger Rodgers in a lead dramatic role sounded good. She plays Sherry, a convict who apparently has been set up by the mob, has been taken out of prison by Edward G. Robinson, a US Attorney, in order to convince her to testify against the mobster Costain (Lorne Greene). Brian Keith is the man assigned to “break her down” and they are put up in a fancy hotel, thinking she will be safe there during this process. Little do the authorities know is that Costain has an inside man on the job (Guess who?) and proceeds to try and take out Sherry out. Will she testify? How many first class hotel meals can she consume before she makes her decision? You will have to see Tight Spot to find out.
I did like the film very much. It’s stage roots are apparent but that doesn’t mean it’s “stagey”. The actors are all great. Ginger Rodgers is chewing the scenery, along with the first class meals and Brian Keith plays his dual role out well. Everyone is in a potential no win situation which all will get sorted out in the end. Tight Spot is a definite recommend from the Fiend.
The Big Sleep (1946) film thoughts… Volumes have been written about this very famous film noir starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, so I don’t think I have to go into the plot too much. I am guessing I was not alone trying to figure out exactly what was going on throughout the story, it is a long one and somewhere in the middle you think the puzzle has been solved but no. What I wanted to comment on was how solid the acting was especially the depiction of the females in this film. It’s like Philip Marlowe must be the most desirable male on Earth. Women pretty much stop dead in their tracks and (if the Hays Code wasn’t in full effect) drop their panties. How on Earth does the man get a day’s work done with all that temptation? I don’t know.
Overall, this might be my favorite of the Bogart/Bacall films. I do need to see To Have and Have Not yet, but do finally get the appeal to them. I’m late to the party as always.
Night Train (1999) film thoughts… I have owned this DVD from Synapse Films for quite a bit and thought it actually might fit COEURS NOIRS well. After viewing, I’m wondering to myself why I barely hear anyone talking about it. Joe Butcher was once a top of the hill criminal, along with his brother. He gets sent away to prison for a stint, upon release finds out that his brother is missing, last seen in Tijuana. Determined to find him, he jumps a “night train” to that destination and his decent into hell has begun.
Wow…I don’t even know where to begin because I feel if you like film noir/neo-noir and experimental films, you will find Night Train to be highly interesting. First time director Les Bernstein rightly put his name above the film title as the insane concept he is given you is all his. Shot in B & W on old German film stock, Night Train throws everything and the kitchen sink at you. So many films try to do this type of film in a modern age but fail. Here, the old fashioned film effects and styles work. Be warned: if you are squeamish, you will not like some of the extremely graphic images with in the film. There is nothing conventional about Night Train, even the main character is against Noir type, he is oafish, crude and quite an idiot. Even though visually stunning, it is not a style over substance film, the story is solid. Low budget and taking years to complete, Les Bernstein shows if you have patience and determination, you can make a quality film.
Dark and brooding, it has moments of humor and even John Waters-like excesses. Night Train works and it’s another one of those films that will stick with me for a long time.
“I’m not sure exactly how I got here. Time and life got all mixed up into an amalgam of events that put me on this path. Sometimes I hate who I’m with, sometimes I don’t. I do get tired of running, though. Just when I think I can stop, I can’t…and I don’t care much for the options given to me by the guy who just slapped my face.
They think they’ve trapped me, but they haven’t. I’ve thought of a way out. I always do.
One thing I know for sure is that I prove fatal to anyone who tries to hold me for too long.
I am calling the shots now.
I am Kathie Moffat, and I will not be defined by anyone or anything from out of the past.”
That’s how I imagine the interior dialogue for one of my favorite femme fatales, Kathie Moffat (played by Jane Greer) from “Out of the Past.”
For me, the success or failure of a film noir flick depends on a great femme fatale character being the counterpoint to the anti-hero detective role. She is a powerful catalyst that sets the hero on his journey. She puts her foot on the gas pedal, propelling him into the brick wall of his future. No apologies. No hope.
Directed by Jacques Tourneur, “Out of the Past” tells the story of mysterious gas station owner, Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) who finds he can’t escape his own private detective past of corruption, double crosses, and one particularly dangerous dame, even though he’s trying to reinvent himself in a small town. While planning a quiet future with his current sweet and innocent girlfriend, he is summoned by shady businessman, Whit Sterling, (Kirk Douglas) for one last job to set things straight between the two of them. Jeff realizes he must tell his current trusting girlfriend, Ann Miller (Virginia Huston) of his former life, and do the job for Whit in an effort to put the past to rest so they can start their new lives together with a clean slate. However, things are not so easily dismissed and past and present collide when his former lover, femme fatale Kathie Moffat, (Jane Greer) turns up again.
Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer’s performances make this dark storyline extremely watchable. Mitchum’s face was designed for noir with uplit angles and skeptical looks. It’s a face that has been sculpted by cynicism, smoking, and the strange desire for redemption. This anti-hero with a talent for self preservation is mirrored in Greer’s femme fatale character. Her Kathie matches Mitchum’s level of “cool” with every calculating glance she gives. She’s a survivor who does what she needs to do, regardless of other’s well-being. Kathie can’t match Jeff’s brute force, but her strength is in her mind and the willingness to play against society’s morals.
When they first meet, they are attracted to one another’s physical presence, yet show a vulnerable side when they decide to buy into the illusion of love and run off together for a brief time. Events end up destroying that illusion, yet I couldn’t help but feel some sympathy for Kathie when she seems to want a little redemption of her own by returning to the place where she felt the illusion of happiness the strongest in the end. This vulnerability and predatory side to the character are what makes Kathie such a great femme fatale to me and ultimately, she’s the realist in the film when she reasons that she’s no good and Jeff isn’t either, and that’s why they deserve each other.
Kirk Douglas as Whit Sterling is foxlike and cunning in the role. Whit has a sense of humor on the surface that hides his darker self and knocks his opponents off balance so he can understand them better through their weaknesses.
And look out for Rhonda Fleming’s side role as Meta Carson. She’s a scene stealer as a player in the framing of Mitchum’s Jeff.
As in all great film noir, the main characters are headed for a collision. The audience just hopes that Jeff will walk away from it. After all, don’t we all have things in our past we’d like to change? If Jeff can redeem himself, then maybe there’s hope for all of us to escape from something from out of the past.
Rififi (1955) film thoughts… I had the opportunity to get this film on Criterion for a good price, so I didn’t hesitate to grab it as I heard this was one of the major films in international film noir. Tony is an older, weathered gent who has just returned from a 5 year prison sentence. It’s is noted that he took the fall for a younger guy who he was good friends with. As an ex-thief, he is broke and needs some kind of income. After declining a small robbery job, the younger guy tells him of a proposition that could be the biggest score of their lives but Tony has to take part, otherwise they don’t think it can be pulled off. So begins the planning of a jewel heist that is extremely detailed in nature. Will they pull it off? You will need to see Rififi to find out….
Seriously, if you haven’t seen Rififi and you like foreign films and noir, you need to find a way to see this immediately. The story, acting, cinematography…everything is tight. The centerpiece of the story, the robbery itself, is filmed in pin drop silence and is very suspenseful. The characters are extremely well defined. What I found most enjoyable is how they actually handle the extreme violence in the film. It’s all implied off screen, with the after effects shown minimally, like a hand hanging over something. That doesn’t lessen the impact, it’s intense.
I loved it. Like I said, I own the Criterion of this but do try to find a good print and add it to your collection soon.