Category Archives: film noir

Quicksand!

Quicksand ~ I bet you never knew Mickey Rooney made a film noir, did you? This lost flick from 1950 stars Rooney as a good old American kid, almost a grown up Andy Hardy without the smarts who wants to take a flashy girl, played by Jeanne Cagney (Jimmy’s sister), out and impress her. He sneaks twenty bucks from the register at work, fully intending to return it the next day, and chaos ensues. She’s not the innocent girl she seems, and is involved in shady dealings, including the creepy and fearsome Peter Lorre who runs the local arcade.

Though for the most part forgotten, this is a pure example of film noir, as our mostly innocent protagonist falls deeper and deeper into a criminal whirlpool of quicksand, thus the title. Taken from Cornell Woolrich story and deftly played by the cast, this film was also one of the first to feature product placement – keep an eye out for Pepsi and Bit-O-Honey.

Quicksand does have two failings, and they’re not all that bad, and of course I’m excluding the, er, intriguing fashion of the time. It suffers from the Woody Woodpecker syndrome of “None of this would have happened if only he’d gone to the police in the first place.” Also, it’s hard to ever forget that Mickey Rooney is anybody other than Mickey Rooney. Still, it’s an intriguing time capsule, and a great lost film noir.

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Gun Crazy

Gun Crazy ~ This 1949 film noir, also known as Deadly Is the Female, was adapted by Dalton Trumbo from the Saturday Evening Post article by novelist MacKinley Kantor. It’s often been compared by film historians as the precursor to Arthur Penn’s classic Bonnie and Clyde – and indeed, the protagonists here are loosely based on the real life Bonnie and Clyde.

The flick opens with a young Russ Tamblyn, listed as Rusty Tamblyn in the credits, as Bart Tare, a gun-obsessed youth. After a spell in reform school and the army, he returns home as played by John Dell – and still gun-obsessed. Once home he meets a stunt shooting gal, Laurie Starr, seductively played by Peggy Cummins, at a carnival and they run away together and get married.

All in all, Rusty Tamblyn was much more believable as a bad guy than the rather naïve and innocent-looking John Dell. But little Rusty was just too young to pull it off. Peggy Cummins on the other hand is excellent as the manipulative brains when the twosome engage in a daring spree of cross-country robberies. She comes off almost like a tough Sandy Dennis, and perfectly portrays the alternate title role.

Director Joseph H. Lewis, who surprisingly later went on to direct TV westerns, is a master here in the use of shadow, symbolism and expressionism. His take is actually evocative of Fritz Lang and Val Lewton in my opinion. This is great film noir juiciness, recommended.

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Silver Screen Monday

I went to Silver Screen Classics yesterday to catch a film that I have been told several times I need to see – Scarlet Street. Granted, I would have gotten around to getting the disc on my Netflix queue eventually, but trust me, it’s always better to see anything, especially a classic film, on the big screen. For those of you not in the know, every Monday at the Showcase at the Ritz in Voorhees NJ, film historian Lou DiCrescenzo presents a classic film from years gone by along with a short subject, all on the big screen.

Scarlet Street is a classic film noir from master director Fritz Lang, starring tough guy Edward G. Robinson playing completely against type. He’s a cashier and wannabe artist caught in a web of deceit with femme fatale Joan Bennett and her abusive con artist boyfriend Dan Duryea. Some of us might remember an older Joan Bennett as the matronly Elizabeth Stoddard on “Dark Shadows.” Her role here shows she was once very hot stuff. Moody atmospheric and what every film noir should be, I really enjoyed this, and probably more than I would have had I simply seen it on a television screen.

Before the feature, Mr. DiCrescenzo presented a two-reel Mack Sennett comedy starring W.C. Fields called The Barber Shop. Great gags, and he was notably upstaged by both a kid and a dog. Terrific stuff.

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The Maltese Falcon


NEAR PERFECT

A Video Review of The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker

The third screen version from 1941 of Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” is quite possibly the best film noir ever made. Not only is director John Huston’s screenplay nearly word for word identical to the novel the film has a nearly perfect ensemble cast.

The famous story involves private investigator Sam Spade on the track of both his partner’s killer and an elusive jeweled statuette called the Maltese Falcon. Where the 1941 version succeeds over its predecessors is in the casting. Hammett’s work is about off the wall, colorful characters that just weren’t properly brought to life previously.

Humphrey Bogart is Sam Spade. He plays it with a cynical disconnection almost giving the effect of not actually living his life but watching and enjoying the ride. The female lead is Mary Astor one of the few actresses to make the leap between silents and talkies successfully. Her Brigid O’Shaughnessy isn’t as tough as she should be but still exquisitely done.

The skill demonstrated here is immaculate. Gladys George as Spade’s partner’s sexy wife Iva, Barton MacLane as big time prick Dundy, Peter Lorre in one of his most famous roles as Joel Cairo – all wonderful and flawless in their parts. I didn’t care much for Lee Patrick as Effie but that’s just my personal preference. I found her foxy but unconvincing at times, not as charming as previous Effies.

The parade doesn’t stop there. Sydney Greenstreet is the sinister fat man Kaspar Gutman perhaps his most memorable role, Ward Bond famous for TV’s “Wagon Train” plays amiable cop Tom Polhaus and film noir veteran Elisha Cook Jr. known as Hollywood’s lightest heavy is the decidedly evil Wilmer Cook. Blink and you’ll miss the director’s dad Walter as Captain Jacoby. As I said this is a perfect ensemble cast.

It’s rare that such a combination of perfect script and cast happens but when they do it’s a joy. Add in the beautifully fitting score by legendary composer Adolph Deutsch and you’ve got possibly one of the best film noirs ever made and probably one of the best of that decade. 1941’s The Maltese Falcon is a masterpiece.