Fading Fast

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The Seventh Veil from 1945 with Ann Todd, James Mason and Herbert Lom

A bit slow in places, but overall an enjoyable if odd psychological melodrama (I guess that's a thing) that smartly uses Ann Todd to patch over any weaknesses. She plays the orphaned young teenage ward of an aloof non-blood uncle who recognizes and promotes her incipient talent as a pianist.

As her talent emerges - through her hard work and his smart and relentless coaching efforts - he emphasizes to her the value of her hands as the tools of her art, but this happens inside a prickly relationship where Todd all but begs for affection which Mason all but can't give. This working dysfunction is challenged when seventeen-year-old Todd falls in love with a popular local band leader (Lom), but Mason kiboshes that as he, her legal guardian until she is 21, won't consent to her marriage.

From there, their relationship, not surprisingly, becomes somewhat embittered, but her career takes off, somewhat papering over the tension. Years later, even after she is legally free, Todd stays with Mason as some odd bond holds these two together - love, hate, respect, habit - who knows, I guess that's why it's a "psychological melodrama."

Then enters another man; Todd falls in love again; Mason tries to thwart their plans, but fails this time. As the young couple escapes, they have a car accident resulting in Todd's all-important hands getting burned. Todd suffers some sort of mental breakdown even though the injury to her hands is minor and temporary. She tries to commit suicide and winds up under the care of a modern-thinking-for-1945 psychiatrist (Freud, dreams, repressed fears, etc.)

The movie actually opens here with most of the story told through flashbacks that Todd has while under hypnosis (it's 1945 and this is what smart psychiatrists did and, in movies, hypnosis works). From here, it's Todd struggling with her mind, Mason trying to dismiss the psychiatrist, the fiancee hanging around waiting for Todd to "come back to him" and a lot of Todd's angst and repressed feelings coming out.

Finally, we have the emotional breakthrough resulting in Todd able to play the piano again. Now, to complete her recovery, she must choose which of the men she truly loves: Mason, the fiancee or the old-flame bandleader (whom the psychiatrist finds to help Todd). And her choice is surprising. To wit, The Seventh Veil is rightly billed as a psychological melodrama as it has plenty of Freud and plenty of soap opera.

It's not bad - kinda a poor-man's Spellbound (also a psychological melodrama from the same year - movie themes do have a vogue). And The Seventh Veil gets over its slow part owing to Todd's arresting beauty and serious acting talent.

Considering that her beauty is a combination of blondness, chiseled features, haunting eyes, glowing skin and aloofness, one wonders why Hitchcock, a connoisseur of icy-cold blondes, only worked with Ann Todd one time, in The Paradine Case.

In fact, The Seventh Veil, a reasonably well-done psychological melodrama, could have used a little help from the master director to speed it along in spots and add some oomph in others. Ironically, he was tied up making its movie cognate Spellbound at the same time. That's The Seventh Veil's loss, but still, it's worth the watch for the story and for Todd.
 
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On The Waterfront from 1954 with Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Maulden, Lee J. Cobb and Rob Steiger

Despite having a bit too neatly and nicely tied-up ending, this one's a classic for a good reason: it tells a story of deep, ruthless and cynical union, mob and political corruption - payoffs, kickbacks, muscle, favoritism - crushing the union men and local businesses (via "protection" money) who provide the funds for it all.

While you get the big picture - the union bosses, literally, counting the ill-gotten money and paying it out to the favored (who enforce the entire racket) - the story is poignantly personalized by the plight of slow-but-not-stupid Terry Malloy (Brando) who was all but born into the corrupt system and only starts to see its evil when he unintentionally fingers his good friend to be rubbed out.

And even then, it takes his friend's seraphic sister - the insanely clean and blonde Eva Marie Saint, the only thing in the entire movie that doesn't look soiled by the waterfront (literally and figuratively) - furiously pushing Brando's conscience to help her find the killers, to help him see that he wants to find the killers, to help him see the rot of the system he's part of.

She does get some help from a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-throw-a-punch Catholic priest (Mauldin) learning the difference between preaching from the pulpit and getting out amongst his flock and doing what is, effectively, waterfront missionary work. It's a very pro-religion movie, but this is no from-a-distance spiritualistic religion. Maudlin stands with the men quoting the bible to criticize their passivity to corruption and he denounces the union bosses right to their faces with more bible quotes when they steal and bully. And, as noted, when necessary, priest Mauldin will land a right to someone's jaw - think Jesus turning over the money-changers' tables.

And it all comes down to this for every single man on the waterfront: play along with the corruption and get what you can from the system (work that day, a better or easier job, more pay, some skim of the take, a not smashed-in head, etc.) or fight it and risk your life and limb, literally.

Terry, whose brother (Steiger) is a bigwig in the union, plays along as that's what he knows until the afore-noted death of his friend and the ensuing badgering from Saint. We also learn that Terry was a boxer with a future until he was told to take a dive in his big match because the union bosses bet on his opponent (the source of the famous "I coulda been a contender" line). And this past grievance resurfaces in Terry's mind while he's digesting his part in his friend's death - all the while with angelic and persistent Saint nipping at his heals and libido - leading Terry to slowly, but with growing anger, see he's part of an evil system.

While Terry is a strong physical man - a former boxer and stevedore - he's really a gentle giant who, as a hobby, raises homing pigeons with care and compassion. As the union/mob sees Terry slipping way - and afraid he'll testify against them at upcoming hearings - they send him a message by killing all his pigeons, completing the symbolism of the average union worker being nothing more than a pigeon to the bosses.

From here, there's another breakpoint for Terry (too much of a spoiler to tell) until he goes full force against the union by testifying at the very 1950's-era televised trial of mob and union corruption. Then it's the climatic waterfront confrontation - Terry versus the big mob boss (Cobb) / good versus evil - and a pleasing and just-a-bit-too simplistic ending.

Two more pluses, the movie excels at connecting small dots - if Terry fingers the mob, his brother's life is at risk / if Saint pushes for an investigation, her aging father won't be chosen for work anymore. It's well done story telling that shows how it all works - the rubber hits the road in this one very clearly. And, lastly, the acting is insane - Brando, Saint, Cobb, Steiger, Maulden and others - all deliver intense and passionate performances as did the cinematographer whose work in black-and-white made the grime and depredation of the waterfront another character.

Yes, the wrap-up is too easy, but for a 1954 picture, you can't ask for much more reality than this. Director Elia Kazan more than deserved his Oscar as did the recipients of the seven other Oscars awarded to On The Waterfront.

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The Hatchet Man from 1932 with Edward G. Robinson and Loretta Young

White actors playing Chinese characters are not acceptable to modern audiences, but they were to 1930s' audiences (and to '40s' and '50s' and '60s' and '70s' audiences - it was in the '80s into the '90s that it was discover by the majority who decide these things that it was wrong).

I don't care what ethnicity plays what ethnicity as long as it is convincing and it's not convincing here, but as always, Robinson delivers such a strong, thoughtful and nuanced performance that his awful Chinese makeup and butchered attempt at English with a Chinese accent makes you forget all those flaws and just enjoy his effort.

And that goes for the rest of the movie, you either accept that there were prejudices and ways of looking at these things in the '30s that don't align to modern views or this is not the movie for you. To be sure, this is far from an all-insulting movie to Chinese Americans; in reality, at times, it's quite the opposite. Parts of Chinese culture and values are shown in a better light than - superior to - traditional America culture and values.

That and the, overall, strong story are what I enjoyed. The story is straightforward, Robinson plays a Tong "Hatchet Man," sort of a senior person in the Tong who has the responsibility and skill to carry out sanctioned-by-the-Tong murders of opponents. As the movie opens, we are told it is fifteen years earlier when San Francisco experienced Tong wars and Robinson is sent to kill his best friend.

We don't have all the background, but his best friend understands that Robinson has to do his duty and the friend leaves his property and the care of bringing up his young daughter to Robinson - that's some serious belief in the integrity of the Tong system. Then, we fast forward to present day San Francisco, 1932, when, in theory, Tong wars are over.

Robinson's best friend's daughter is now a young woman (Young) whom Robinson has raised with kindness and decency as he has become a successful businessman who now dresses, mostly, in Western business suits. With no pressure at all - almost scripted out of a 2020 college-dating handbook - Robinson asks her to marry him and she agrees seemingly happy to marry this generous and decent, if much older, man.

Then all hell breaks loose. A Tong war flares up, Robinson travels to an out-of-town "peace" conference where he learns it is a white businessman who is stirring up all the trouble (a whose-culture-is-superior challenge 1930s' style). Meanwhile, while Robinson is away, a young, handsome local Chinese drug dealer (yup, it's pre-code) moves in on Robinson's wife.

While Robinson solves the Tong war, he is disowned by the local Chinese community because he will not kill the man who dishonored him by stealing his wife. We'll give that round to Western values. As a result, Robinson loses his business and becomes a farm worker. Then, later, he learns that his wife is in terrible straights in China as her boyfriend has become a drug addict. Off to China Robinson goes to save his wife.

Mind you, this all happens in a seventy-four minute movie and Robinson still has to sort things out in China. They knew how to pack a lot of story into short movies back then. To avoid spoiler alerts, we'll leave the final China scene out, but it, like the rest of the movie, is basically a commentary of traditional Chinese values of honor and integrity held up favorably against both 1930s American values and the Chinese who game the honor system for selfish reasons.

By today's standards, much of what is shown here is unacceptable, but by 1930s' standards, this is pretty progressive stuff as the message - not even that subtle - is that traditional Chinese cultural values of honor and integrity are superior to America's individual-striver (and often corrupt) system. While I'd argue it's a phony dichotomy - individuals can compete aggressively while also treating each other with respect and integrity - as a message movie in the '30s, it's pretty darn complimentary to Chinese culture.
 

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Criss Cross from 1949 with Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo and Dan Duryea

Burt Lancaster might get top billing and the most screen time, but the heart and soul (or really, the heartlessness and soullessness) of this movie is femme fatal par excellence Yvonne De Carlo (the future Lillian Monster not Batgirl; Batgirl was Yvonne Craig - I always confuse those names).

Some femme fatals take pleasure in their evilness; some would almost choose being evil over getting whatever they want - money, power or some man - because their raison d’être is evil. But De Carlo is all business in this one; being evil is just a means to an end. She's indifferent to it, which is almost more frightening than the sociopath who enjoys being evil. With the sociopath, you know she's broken; with De Carlo, you almost think she's not.

We come into this story as De Carlo's former husband, Lancaster, returns from a few years of traveling the country hopping from job to job to, as we'll learn, get over his divorce from De Carlo (fat chance). Once back in town, he goes looking for her in their old haunt despite everyone in town sensing the pending doom of these two reuniting.

While Lancaster was away licking his wounds, De Carlo, clad in tight dresses, jangling jewelry and bad-girl sunglasses, moved on to local gangster Duryea, equally dressed for his part in gangster noir-cliched dark shirts and suits with light ties and suspenders. De Carlo, a bit bored (one senses she's always a bit bored), starts sniffing around Lancaster while Duryea immediately senses the threat from her ex-husband.

De Carlo, the lynchpin of it all, who clearly has a physical attraction to Lancaster, plays her boy toys against each other. But Lancaster is an honest guy with a regular job as an armored-car driver who can't give her the things a prosperous gangster can (gun-hung-wall).

So, after much angst, sex we know is happening but the movie code palliates and Lancaster and Duryea at each others' throats a few times, seemingly out of nowhere, Lancaster offers up the idea of leading an inside job to rob the armored-car company. This solves two problems for Lancaster as it would stop Duryea from killing him (Lancaster's the irreplaceable inside guy after all) and would produce the funds for him to run away with De Carlo afterwards (the plan those two have).

Okay, with that horrible plan in place, the rest of the movie is a pretty good heist story from planning to, as always, bungled execution and, then, the denouement. Leaving out the spoilers, the thing to look for is De Carlo, the catalyst for almost every single bad thing that has happened to everyone in this story, explaining her philosophy on life, which boils down to I want expensive things and an easy life and don't really care who provides that or how, but that's what I want.

Heck, had she met a rich, honest guy, she'd have probably led a rich, honest life. Her game isn't evil; her game is me-first with no rules - a frightening amorality scarier than most off-the-shelf femme fatales. She lifts Criss Cross several notches above your average-good film noir.


This is a femme fatale par excellence ⇩
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N.B. The location shots of late '40s Los Angeles are time-travel and noir perfect.
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Picture Snatcher from 1933 with James Cagney, Ralph Bellamy and Patricia Ellis
  • In the '30s, Warner Brothers knew how to bang out short (77 minute) movies with a lot of story, romance and action

  • Cagney is an ex-con trying to go straight as a newspaper photographer despite his old mob trying to pull him back and the other newspaper guys not taking him seriously

  • Throw into the mix that he's hired onto a rag - a National Enquirer of its day - by an old friend (Bellamy) who, later, owing to a misunderstanding, thinks Cagney's slept with his girl; meanwhile, Cagney really wants to be with a police captain's daughter (Ellis), but in order to get an important photograph, Cagney ends up getting the captain demoted

  • There's also a trip to a death-row electrocution (the pic Cagney pinched that cost the captain his stripes) and a lone-shooter that Cagney has to calm in order to get another picture - he gets the pic, but no calm as the police let rip with a torrent of bullets that would do Tarantino proud

  • Basically, a lot's going on and it's all propelled forward by Cagney on speed (wouldn't be shocked if true) - talking a mile a minute, laughing, fighting, drinking, feeling self pity and then bucking up and, of course, chasing the pretty girl - he's both a talented actor and a star (the camera loves him)

  • It's no classic, but a fun, quick diversion punching above its weight owing to Cagney


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All Through the Night from 1942 with Humphrey Bogart, Conrad Veidt, Frank McHugh, Peter Lorre and William Demarest
  • More propaganda than serious movie, it still works in a fun way on a very real subject

  • Mobsters and non-violent gambler Bogie ("non-violent" eh? - they needed Bogie to be both a gambler and a good guy in this one) uncover a Nazi spy ring in New York City and put their mob biz aside to help the good old USA

  • Bogie's so nice his day is constantly disrupted by his very typical mother, unaware of her son's real biz, asking for this or that small thing for which Bogie drops everything

  • Juxtaposed with that humor is the very deadly German spy ring (led by Veidt, aided by Lorre), spoiler alert, plotting to blow up a battleship in NY harbor

  • With that set up, it's a pretty good balance of humor (a mob underling, McHugh, can't "consummate" his marriage as Bogie keeps giving him things to do) and international intrigue (a large and well-organized underground network of Nazi spies is exposed)

  • It is a bit muddled in parts as Bogie and team run all over NYC chasing Nazis - 30 minutes could easily have been edited out - but it has strong actors, some fun moments and it is another neat example of war-time propaganda

  • And you don't want to miss a 26-year-old (but already fat) Jackie Gleason looking insanely young in one of his first roles (he's in Bogie's "mob").

In twenty-plus years, this guy will be coming to you "live from Miami Beach."
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eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
View attachment 44667
Picture Snatcher from 1933 with James Cagney, Ralph Bellamy and Patricia Ellis
  • In the '30s, Warner Brothers knew how to bang out short (77 minute) movies with a lot of story, romance and action

  • Cagney is an ex-con trying to go straight as a newspaper photographer despite his old mob trying to pull him back and the other newspaper guys not taking him seriously

  • Throw into the mix that he's hired onto a rag - a National Enquirer of its day - by an old friend (Bellamy) who, later, owing to a misunderstanding, thinks Cagney's slept with his girl; meanwhile, Cagney really wants to be with a police captain's daughter (Ellis), but in order to get an important photograph, Cagney ends up getting the captain demoted

  • There's also a trip to a death-row electrocution (the pic Cagney pinched that cost the captain his stripes) and a lone-shooter that Cagney has to calm in order to get another picture - he gets the pic, but no calm as the police let rip with a torrent of bullets that would do Tarantino proud

  • Basically, a lot's going on and it's all propelled forward by Cagney on speed (wouldn't be shocked if true) - talking a mile a minute, laughing, fighting, drinking, feeling self pity and then bucking up and, of course, chasing the pretty girl - he's both a talented actor and a star (the camera loves him)

  • It's no classic, but a fun, quick diversion punching above its weight owing to Cagney


View attachment 44668
All Through the Night from 1942 with Humphrey Bogart, Conrad Veidt, Frank McHugh, Peter Lorre and William Demarest
  • More propaganda than serious movie, it still works in a fun way on a very real subject

  • Mobsters and non-violent gambler Bogie ("non-violent" eh? - they needed Bogie to be both a gambler and a good guy in this one) uncover a Nazi spy ring in New York City and put their mob biz aside to help the good old USA

  • Bogie's so nice his day is constantly disrupted by his very typical mother, unaware of her son's real biz, asking for this or that small thing for which Bogie drops everything

  • Juxtaposed with that humor is the very deadly German spy ring (led by Veidt, aided by Lorre), spoiler alert, plotting to blow up a battleship in NY harbor

  • With that set up, it's a pretty good balance of humor (a mob underling, McHugh, can't "consummate" his marriage as Bogie keeps giving him things to do) and international intrigue (a large and well-organized underground network of Nazi spies is exposed)

  • It is a bit muddled in parts as Bogie and team run all over NYC chasing Nazis - 30 minutes could easily have been edited out - but it has strong actors, some fun moments and it is another neat example of war-time propaganda

  • And you don't want to miss a 26-year-old (but already fat) Jackie Gleason looking insanely young in one of his first roles (he's in Bogie's "mob").

In twenty-plus years, this guy will be coming to you "live from Miami Beach."
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A double feature and both good movies. That makes two more on my "TBW" list! ;)
 

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Some Kind of Wonderful from 1987

If John Hughes had something meaningful to say as a writer-director in the '80s, he said it in The Breakfast Club, as most of his other movies just, less effectively, replayed themes of high school angst / cliques / alienation / insecurity / etc.

Some Kind of Wonderful should be lumped right in with the rest of his by-the-numbers movies, but for some reason - despite having many (and I mean many) cringe worthy / cliched moments - writer Hughes and director Howard Deutch bring enough humanity to the three main characters to keep you engaged.

Keith (Eric Stoltz) is that high school kid who preternaturally sees the silliness and hypocrisy of everything around him, but still succumbs to the allure of the "unreachable" pretty girl. You get it; you know he gets it, but like many teenage boys, it doesn't matter as this smart, observant kid, still, just simply wants the pretty girl.

The pretty girl (Lea Thompson) has it all until we (and she) realize she doesn't have much of anything but a fragile existence supported by the need to keep up an image, which she slowly realizes she doesn't want anymore. Showing real growth, she comes to see that she, not only doesn't like her popular friends, doesn't like whom she's become.

Completing the movie's love triangle is Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson), the rebel, outcast girl (who's too pretty for the role, but heck, Hollywood does what Hollywood does) who doesn't become a cliche because she keeps her rebel anger in check while slowly rolling out a performance of unrequited love that hits you in the gut just as it hits her.

I almost hate that I like this movie as much of it is bad, formulaic and predictable, but just when I'm ready to give up, Hughes and Deutch produce a poignant moment of humanity and I'm back in.


N.B., The movie, in a very effective montage, uses an early Rolling Stone's song, "Amanda Jones," which is a nice change from the usual "big hit" Stones' songs that pop up in most mainstream movies. Since the Stones' song was written in the early '60s, I assume Hughes named his female lead after the song's titular character.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
View attachment 44737
Some Kind of Wonderful from 1987

If John Hughes had something meaningful to say as a writer-director in the '80s, he said it in The Breakfast Club, as most of his other movies just, less effectively, replayed themes of high school angst / cliques / alienation / insecurity / etc.

Some Kind of Wonderful should be lumped right in with the rest of his by-the-numbers movies, but for some reason - despite having many (and I mean many) cringe worthy / cliched moments - writer Hughes and director Howard Deutch bring enough humanity to the three main characters to keep you engaged.

Keith (Eric Stoltz) is that high school kid who preternaturally sees the silliness and hypocrisy of everything around him, but still succumbs to the allure of the "unreachable" pretty girl. You get it; you know he gets it, but like many teenage boys, it doesn't matter as this smart, observant kid, still, just simply wants the pretty girl.

The pretty girl (Lea Thompson) has it all until we (and she) realize she doesn't have much of anything but a fragile existence supported by the need to keep up an image, which she slowly realizes she doesn't want anymore. Showing real growth, she comes to see that she, not only doesn't like her popular friends, doesn't like whom she's become.

Completing the movie's love triangle is Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson), the rebel, outcast girl (who's too pretty for the role, but heck, Hollywood does what Hollywood does) who doesn't become a cliche because she keeps her rebel anger in check while slowly rolling out a performance of unrequited love that hits you in the gut just as it hits her.

I almost hate that I like this movie as much of it is bad, formulaic and predictable, but just when I'm ready to give up, Hughes and Deutch produce a poignant moment of humanity and I'm back in.


N.B., The movie, in a very effective montage, uses an early Rolling Stone's song, "Amanda Jones," which is a nice change from the usual "big hit" Stones' songs that pop up in most mainstream movies. Since the Stones' song was written in the early '60s, I assume Hughes named his female lead after the song's titular character.
Sounds like a movie well worth watching...it's on the list! ;)
 

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Sabotage from 1936

I like these early efforts from Hitchcock. Yes, they can be a bit clunky and the small budgets show, but you also get Hitchcock in quick, short, digestible bites. Unfortunately, this one needs restoration (at least the TCM copy, which, I assume, means there isn't a better copy out there) as the picture is dark and hazy.

Despite that, the story engages even though this is not, what would become, a typical Hitchcock movie. Here, the plot and the event at its center - an attempt to terrorize London by setting off a bomb in its underground - is not a macguffin, but something audiences, then and today, can understand and fear.

Also, this is not about an innocent person falsely accused; instead, this is more of a traditional spy drama where the foreign spy (terrorist from England's perspective) is on the police's watch list, but still might be able to carry out his plan. It sounds unpleasantly familiar to our post-9/11 world.

The spy/terrorist is a nondescript married man who, with his wife and her adolescent brother, run a movie theater that they live above. Watching them is an undercover inspector posing as a grocery clerk in the store adjacent to the theater. Centered between the inspector and spy is the spy's pretty young wife (unaware of her husband's activities), whom the inspector befriends to get closer to her husband.

From that set up, the movie plays out pretty much by the numbers: inspector gets closer, spy finalizes plans, innocent wife becomes suspicious of husband and young boy accidentally reveals details about his stepfather to the inspector. Then, the inspector is exposed, the plan advances to the execution stage, the wife becomes more suspicious, the young boy becomes an unwitting accomplice and the clock ticks down, excruciatingly, to the detonation hour.

The rest would give too much away, but, back in the '30s, it was probably dramatic and it is still quite impactful today. And while, as noted, it's more detective drama than usual Hitchcock film, several Hitchcock elements are here: pretty birds in a cage used to hide true intent, regular people (wife, young brother) put in an extraordinary situation and a plot ticking down to terror all while two innocents fall in love (the wife and the undercover inspector).

A fine movie on its own enhanced simply by being an early example of Hitchcock's work.
 

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Upperworld from 1934 with Warren William, Mary Astor and Ginger Rogers
  • Another short (73 minutes), fast Warner Brothers pre-code where William plays a decent-hearted tycoon whose wife (Astor) is too busy with her social-climbing efforts to spend time with him, so he stumbles into an affair (he didn't set out to have one) with body-tight chorus girl Ginger Rogers

  • As an aside, a Depression Era America seemed, surprisingly, quite concerned with uber-wealthy men whose wives ignore them owing to their social commitments as this theme came up before in A Successful Calamity and The Rich are Always with Us - no jobs, no food, but the real issue for the average American is, are millionaires being ignored by their wives!?

  • Back to our story, which is a basic rich-man-cheats-on-indifferent-to-him-wife tale until things take a really bad turn as Rogers' former kinda boyfriend wants to blackmail William (Rogers doesn't want to)

  • This leads to a hotel-room confrontation with bullets flying, two dead bodies and William realizing his entire life just got dynamited in under five minutes

  • After that, it's exposure by the press, an investigation, courtroom drama and resolution all in about 20 minutes and, if told, would all be spoilers

  • Tucked into the middle of this is a homily about treating everyone with respect as, in an out-of-character move early on, William belittles a traffic cop ticketing his driver / the revenge-driven cop later becomes the dogged investigator into William's hotel imbroglio - this would have been more effective as a message if William wasn't a really nice guy and the cop a jerk

  • Warners Brothers had a formula: bang out fast, short movies with lots of story, romance and action; this by-the-numbers version works okay owing to the talents of William and Rogers
 

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Cornered from 1945 with Dick Powell, Walter Slezak and Micheline Cheirel

There's a lot to like in this post-war noir, but the sum is less than its parts. Dick Powell plays a just-demobilized WWII Canadian airman single-mindedly on the hunt for the killer of his member-of-the-French-resistance wife. Okay, that's a fine plot that leads to a lot of neat stuff, but Powell's obtuse approach to his search fueled by his all-consuming anger comes off more as if he's dead inside than passionately revenge driven; maybe a reflection of reality, but it makes it hard to relate to him for almost two hours.

Powell's investigative techniques are all "bull in the china shop," all the time. After, effectively, sneaking into France (from England), he pushes around some officials until he finds the name of his wife's probable killer: a French collaborator. From there, it's off to Argentina as the few documents he found indicate his wife's killer fled with other escaping French collaborators and Nazis to South America.

Once there, a surface-friendly but shady "tour guide" (Slezak) meets Powell, as he's deplaning, with an offer to help. Slezak does an admirable job in the Sydney Greenstreet noir-template role of the fat, pleasant but dangerous foil to the hero as he brings more personality and life to the effort than does Powell.

The rest of the movie, like it's been so far, is Powell angrily blundering forward in a hunt for his wife's killer, but now in the locus of what's left of the true-believing Nazis and their French collaborators. So his search has him bouncing around from sinister parties, to police stations (maybe protecting the ex-pat Nazis - not clear), to women's bedrooms (it's noir), to bars (it's noir) and, finally, to a waterfront hideout (it's noir). And it's a final confrontation in that hideout where many loose ends come together in an almost comic series of "who has the gun," "who bonked whom over the head," "who's double dealing whom" turnarounds.

With a little brain power, you can untangle the convoluted plot, but you almost feel cheated as there was a lot of buildup to a pretty by-the-numbers conclusion. The big flaw, as noted, is Powell's one-note portrayal of a man on the hunt for his wife's killer. Right or wrong, we like our heroes to be relatable (and likable) even when their cause is just. So, despite a lot of good stuff - exotic settings, some interesting characters (hating Nazis is evergreen) and a noirishly twisting plot and atmosphere - you still come away a little disappointed owing to Powell's blunt approach to his character.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
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Too Late for Tears from 1949 with Lizabeth Scott, Arthur Kennedy, Dan Duryea and Dom DeFore

There are the great noirs - The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, Out of the Past and others - but there are also a lot of really good noirs like Too Late for Tears.

A middle-class couple, stopped for a moment on the side of a highway one night, have a bag full of money, literally, tossed into their open-topped car from a passing vehicle (it's rationally explained much later), setting off a series of, well, disasters.

The husband (Kennedy) is content with their life and wants to turn the money over to the police; the wife (Scott) is not content (at all) and wants to keep it. He sees their middle-class life as successful and fortunate; she - openly showing contempt for him - expresses disgust at their "meager" existence as she wants more - more money, things, status.

After contentiously agreeing to keep, but not touch, the money for a week, Kennedy trots off to work while Scott stays home losing her mind thinking about all that money. From here, the movie is about one thing: Scott's all-consuming passion to get the money (presently, in a train-station locker with the claim check in her husband's coat - she thinks) as one obstacle after another pops up between her and the bag 'o cash.

First up is Scott's sister-in-law who quickly sees that Scott is up to no good, but being a normal human being, she doesn't have the capacity to quickly jump to the conclusion that Scott would commit murder (more in a moment) for money. Instead, she shadows Scott, stumbles upon clues and makes Scott squirm. At one point, I thought Scott would shoot the sister-in-law just to shut her up, despite the sister-in-law not being close to figuring things out. Even though the sister-in-law was in the right, she was so annoying about it, I almost wanted Scott to shoot her too.

Next up, and much more effective in his pursuit of Scott, is Dan Duryea, the intended recipient of the tossed bag of money, which was the product of an insurance fraud Duryea stumbled upon and cut himself in on. He and Scott engage in a wonderful game of cat-and-mouse as they vie for the money and the upper hand against an ever shifting dynamic of "we need each other, but can't trust each other one bit" (think The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but in '49 LA). Even when they have sex - oh yeah, they flirt, they hate, they sleep together - you know each one is half plotting to kill the other. It's a good, healthy noir relationship.

(Minor spoiler alert as it comes along pretty early on) Scott and Duryea kill Scott's husband as the husband's moral stance - the money should go to the police - is untenable to Scott or Duryea. Scott's husband seemed like a good guy, but he did not understand, one bit, the woman he married.

Right after the murder, another obstacle comes along: a putative old war buddy (DeFore) of Scott's husband, apparently, just in town for a short visit. DeFore plays the innocent good guy only trying to help, but he is better than the sister-in-law at connecting dots and seeing Scott for who she is.

As if this wasn't enough, Scott has to report her murdered husband to the police as missing. The sister-in-law would have gotten even more suspicious if Scott just went about her day (hunting feverishly for the now missing claim-check ticket) without even showing a thought for her husband who, in theory, just disappeared.

So, for those keeping score, standing between Scott and the money are the missing claim-check ticket, the guy who originally stole the money (whom she's having hate-sex with), her murdered husband's sister-in-law, her murdered husband's supposed old war buddy and the police (oddly, the least of her worries). But a woman after money's gotta do what a woman after money's gotta do.

To avoid giving the rest away (you really want to see it), Scott tries to plow through one obstacle after another and does an admirable job even getting a brief moment in the sun to luxuriate with her ill-gotten dough. But this is noir and this is Hollywood under the code, so you know how it's going to end. And credit to the writers for tying a lot of loose ends together in the climactic scene.

The funny thing is that, while this is Scott's movie - she's an obsessed ball of 5'3" blonde greed - her acting is wooden in this one (she's better in some other movies). However, she's gorgeous in a cold, aloof, calculating way that works so well for the character that she carries the movie despite her stolid performance. And being short helps as, if she was a tall gorgeous blonde, you'd be like, "come on" she already has everything she needs. But, here, her shortness seems to fit her psychotic obsessing and pathetic social bounding.

It's not up there with the great noirs, but it's a fine workingman's noir with a lot of good stuff going on, especially Lizabeth Scott as the lost-her-mind-over-a-bag-of-money femme fatale who smashes up everybody in her orbit, including herself.


Ms. "I want the bag 'o money" femme fatale.
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Fading Fast

Connoisseur
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Lilies of the Field from 1963 with Sidney Poitier, Lila Skala and Stanley Adams

Two things make this gem of a movie work and work very well: subtle and charming interpersonal relationships and a honest, passionate, but not hellfire, belief in and advocacy of Christianity.

Sidney Poitier, a young black man driving cross country stops at a desert enclave of six poor East German escapee nuns (back when we were allowed to acknowledge that people risked their lives to get out of the hell of East Germany and the USSR) and, despite a language barrier owing to the head nun's (Skala) very broken English, he kinda agrees to do a days work in exchange for pay and food.

Right off, Poitier and the head nun, the "Mother," are movie-gold chemistry - they irritate each other over small things, in part, owing to the language barrier, but are also oddly intrigued by and, deep down, respectful of each other. Over time, the surface battles continue as the respect grows. Most cop-buddy movies work on the same concept, but the relationship dynamic here is one of the best ever.

Poitier's character's name is Homer Smith, but the Mother, being German, mangles it to Schmidtt and obdurately refuses to change despite Poitier's repeated efforts to correct her. The payoff comes when Poitier, exhausted from trying, in one case, refers to himself as Schmidtt just to move things along.

And while that's harmless fun, these two engage in some serious battles over his pay as she kinda cheats him - promised food yes, money no - in her effort to rope him into helping build a small chapel for the all but penniless nuns and the surrounding Catholoic community, which, currently, have to pray outside at a miles-away parking lot.

While they never really come to concrete terms, Poitier stays and works and even leaves once, in exasperation, only to come back later. Director Ralph Nelson clearly knows the magic in this tale isn't the plot, but the cross-culture interactions and the religious theme - tying in with the '60s social movement's idealized goals - of harmony and respect for all. It was a time when '60s idealism and Hollywood could still make room for - even embrace - Judeo-Christain values and beliefs.

Just seeing young, strong, black and handsome Poitier in wheat jeans and a wheat jean jacket drive six white nuns, clad head to toe in black, in his falling-apart Plymouth station wagon, to the prayer meeting's parking lot each Sunday is visual humor at its best. The poor locals - seemingly, mainly Mexicans - accept this disparate group with outward respect, but also with a few "what the heck is going on here" side-looks.

And beyond Poitier and the nuns, the movie is chocablock with awkwardly enjoyable relationships as, for example, Poitier pleasantly spars with the Mexican owner of the local cafe (Adams), while the nuns bump elbows with pretty much everyone they encounter, but no one seems to mind that much.

However, it's not all pleasant banter, as Poitier goes toe to toe with a racist (but sadly not out of line for the times) white construction company owner who believably changes a bit for the better after interacting with Poitier. While the movie would be a treat if all there was to it were these relationships, this message movie also shines as it proudly advocates for Christianty as a faith to bridge all these cultural gaps.

Stripped to its core, the story is one of East German Catholic nuns sorta hiring (really playing on his generous nature) a kind black Southern Baptist man to build a chapel for them, the local community of Mexican Catholics and, as the Mother says, for God.

And, yes, it is a belief in God, in Jesus and the unifying and uplifting passages in the Bible that hold the story and the chapel-building effort together. In one outstanding scene, Poitier and the Mother "discuss" the Bible with him desperately thumbing through his tiny pocket edition to find supporting passages for his views while she confidently locates and reads self-supporting selections from her big-as-a-Gutenberg Bible. It is pure movie joy. (See pic below.)

As the chapel takes shape, Poitier - despite his early resistance, now sees the effort as his personal project - initially rejects the help of the locals, but then embraces it. And in a 1963 version of "it takes a village," not only do the locals bring materials and their labor, but the racist construction company owner, eventually, donates materials (trying to pass off quality material as inferior, as he doesn't want to admit how generous he's being). Heck, even the proudly self-described non-believer cafe owner shows up to work and support the chapel building.

Sure, it's too easy, but '60s idealism was naively optimistic then, as, not having been tried, it didn't yet have the baggage of mixed results and failures that followed so many of the programs initiated by the end of the '60s. And it's a movie, so you either go with it or not. When Poitier is affixing the large cross on the roof of the chapel at the end of construction, whatever your beliefs, you, like this agnostic, will be moved by what the power of faith and effort of community can accomplish.

In many ways, this is a simple movie, shot in simple black and white, with a simple plot, small cast and minimal budget. But director Ralph Nelson knew he had two powerful tools to work with - relationships and faith - and, in Lilies of the Field, he uses both of them as effectively as any director has.

Finally, for what it's worth, there's this: I haven't enjoyed a movie more in years.

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eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
View attachment 45315
Lilies of the Field from 1963 with Sidney Poitier, Lila Skala and Stanley Adams

Two things make this gem of a movie work and work very well: subtle and charming interpersonal relationships and a honest, passionate, but not hellfire, belief in and advocacy of Christianity.

Sidney Poitier, a young black man driving cross country stops at a desert enclave of six poor East German escapee nuns (back when we were allowed to acknowledge that people risked their lives to get out of the hell of East Germany and the USSR) and, despite a language barrier owing to the head nun's (Skala) very broken English, he kinda agrees to do a days work in exchange for pay and food.

Right off, Poitier and the head nun, the "Mother," are movie-gold chemistry - they irritate each other over small things, in part, owing to the language barrier, but are also oddly intrigued by and, deep down, respectful of each other. Over time, the surface battles continue as the respect grows. Most cop-buddy movies work on the same concept, but the relationship dynamic here is one of the best ever.

Poitier's character's name is Homer Smith, but the Mother, being German, mangles it to Schmidtt and obdurately refuses to change despite Poitier's repeated efforts to correct her. The payoff comes when Poitier, exhausted from trying, in one case, refers to himself as Schmidtt just to move things along.

And while that's harmless fun, these two engage in some serious battles over his pay as she kinda cheats him - promised food yes, money no - in her effort to rope him into helping build a small chapel for the all but penniless nuns and the surrounding Catholoic community, which, currently, have to pray outside at a miles-away parking lot.

While they never really come to concrete terms, Poitier stays and works and even leaves once, in exasperation, only to come back later. Director Ralph Nelson clearly knows the magic in this tale isn't the plot, but the cross-culture interactions and the religious theme - tying in with the '60s social movement's idealized goals - of harmony and respect for all. It was a time when '60s idealism and Hollywood could still make room for - even embrace - Judeo-Christain values and beliefs.

Just seeing young, strong, black and handsome Poitier in wheat jeans and a wheat jean jacket drive six white nuns, clad head to toe in black, in his falling-apart Plymouth station wagon, to the prayer meeting's parking lot each Sunday is visual humor at its best. The poor locals - seemingly, mainly Mexicans - accept this disparate group with outward respect, but also with a few "what the heck is going on here" side-looks.

And beyond Poitier and the nuns, the movie is chocablock with awkwardly enjoyable relationships as, for example, Poitier pleasantly spars with the Mexican owner of the local cafe (Adams), while the nuns bump elbows with pretty much everyone they encounter, but no one seems to mind that much.

However, it's not all pleasant banter, as Poitier goes toe to toe with a racist (but sadly not out of line for the times) white construction company owner who believably changes a bit for the better after interacting with Poitier. While the movie would be a treat if all there was to it were these relationships, this message movie also shines as it proudly advocates for Christianty as a faith to bridge all these cultural gaps.

Stripped to its core, the story is one of East German Catholic nuns sorta hiring (really playing on his generous nature) a kind black Southern Baptist man to build a chapel for them, the local community of Mexican Catholics and, as the Mother says, for God.

And, yes, it is a belief in God, in Jesus and the unifying and uplifting passages in the Bible that hold the story and the chapel-building effort together. In one outstanding scene, Poitier and the Mother "discuss" the Bible with him desperately thumbing through his pocket edition to find supporting passages for his views while she confidently locates and reads self-supporting selections from her big-as-a-Gutenberg Bible. It is pure movie joy. (See pic below.)

As the chapel takes shape, Poitier - despite his early resistance, now sees the effort as his personal project - initially rejects the help of the locals, but then embraces it. And in a 1963 version of "it takes a village," not only do the locals bring materials and their labor, but the racist construction company owner, eventually, donates materials (trying to pass off quality material as inferior, as he doesn't want to admit how generous he's being). Heck, even the proudly self-described non-believer cafe owner shows up to work and support the chapel building.

Sure, it's too easy, but '60s idealism was naively optimistic then, as, not having been tried, it didn't yet have the baggage of mixed results and failures that followed so many of the programs initiated by the end of the '60s. And it's a movie, so you either go with it or not. When Poitier is affixing the large cross on the roof of the chapel at the end of construction, whatever your beliefs, you, like this agnostic, will be moved by what the power of faith and effort of community can accomplish.

In many ways, this is a simple movie, shot in simple black and white, with a simple plot, small cast and minimal budget. But director Ralph Nelson knew he had two powerful tools to work with - relationships and faith - and, in Lilies of the Field, he uses both of them as effectively as any director has.

Finally, for what it's worth, there's this: I haven't enjoyed a movie more in years.

View attachment 45316
Watching the movie many years ago was great, but reading your review was even better. Well done, Sir! ;)
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
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Dust Be My Destiny from 1939 with John Garfield, Priscilla Lane and Alan Hale

This is best understood to be Warner Brothers social commentary delivered as a movie. Garfield plays a young man riding the rails in the Great Depression who is falsely imprisoned, then falls in love with the work farm's overseer's daughter (Lane). But after seriously injuring the overseer in a fight, Garfield and Lane escape and go on the lam believing Garfield would never get a fair shake. From there, it's the hard life of being penniless and on the road, until a few breaks come their way, but eventual exposure results in arrest for Garfield and a trial that serves as the final editorial comment.

The message the movie screams out at you is that these young men, who many see as vagrants and petty criminals, are really decent people who, if given a chance, would work hard and live honest, upstanding lives. Hollywood has been telling this tale ever since, including right up to today (see the mercifully just-cancelled TV show God Friended Me as one of many examples).

It's an emotionally appealing message of kindness, redemption, charity, hope and justice - that's why it's told again and again. And it's true, just like its opposite is true. Yes, some people are poor and struggling (and even turn to crime) because they have suffered injustice, neglect and bad luck. But some people are crooks and cheats who have failed owing to their own actions. Hollywood occasionally tells the latter tale, but it saves its passion for the former.

If you like the happy tale, Dust Be My Destiny is a good version owing to Garfield's angry martyrdom and Lane's angelic offset.

N.B. Alan Hale pops up toward the end in one of his better roles as an editor who believes in Garfield.



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The Card from 1952 with Alec Guinness, Glynis Johns and Petula Clark

A quirky, fun British movie taking a lighthearted look at a young roguish working-class man (Guinness), in turn-of-the-century England, trying to rise up in the world as an entrepreneur/financier who goes from beaten-down clerk, to small-business owner, to, finally, successful owner of a substantial financing club for the working class.

Along the way, he meets equally roguish, but also, gold-digging, social-climbing and cute Glynis Johns who challenges nice and good Petula Clark for Guinness' affections. Throw in a few fun schemes, a countess who takes a liking to Guinness and an obdurate donkey and there are worse ways to spend eighty five minutes.

Plus this, along the way, Guinness comes up with the idea to turn a small seashore shipwreck (that had been left to rot) into a tourist attraction (after his capital improvements, he offers day trips with harrowing sea tales, etc.) that becomes very successful and employs several people. One day, he has this perfect exchange with a jealous employee bringing Guinness, sitting on the beach, the day's receipts:

Employee (standing over and sneering at Guinness reclining in a beach chair): "That seems a lot of money for doing nothing."​
Guinness (looking up smiling): "But I did do something: I thought of it."​

A lesson in business, entrepreneurism and capitalism that so many today still don't understand.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
View attachment 45436
Dust Be My Destiny from 1939 with John Garfield, Priscilla Lane and Alan Hale

This is best understood to be Warner Brothers social commentary delivered as a movie. Garfield plays a young man riding the rails in the Great Depression who is falsely imprisoned, then falls in love with the work farm's overseer's daughter (Lane). But after seriously injuring the overseer in a fight, Garfield and Lane escape and go on the lam believing Garfield would never get a fair shake. From there, it's the hard life of being penniless and on the road, until a few breaks come their way, but eventual exposure results in arrest for Garfield and a trial that serves as the final editorial comment.

The message the movie screams out at you is that these young men, who many see as vagrants and petty criminals, are really decent people who, if given a chance, would work hard and live honest, upstanding lives. Hollywood has been telling this tale ever since, including right up to today (see the mercifully just-cancelled TV show God Friended Me as one of many examples).

It's an emotionally appealing message of kindness, redemption, charity, hope and justice - that's why it's told again and again. And it's true, just like its opposite is true. Yes, some people are poor and struggling (and even turn to crime) because they have suffered injustice, neglect and bad luck. But some people are crooks and cheats who have failed owing to their own actions. Hollywood occasionally tells the latter tale, but it saves its passion for the former.

If you like the happy tale, Dust Be My Destiny is a good version owing to Garfield's angry martyrdom and Lane's angelic offset.

N.B. Alan Hale pops up toward the end in one of his better roles as an editor who believes in Garfield.
I can't believe Alan Hale was ever that thin! We're talking the Skipper of the SS Minnow on that infamous "three hour cruise?" :icon_scratch:
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
I can't believe Alan Hale was ever that thin! We're talking the Skipper of the SS Minnow on that infamous "three hour cruise?" :icon_scratch:
That my fault, as the way I wrote it, it appears to say that's Alan Hale in the pic, but it isn't - sorry.

You are spot on as here's how our never-small Mr. Hale looked in the movie (he's at the far right looking, as usual, bigger than everyone else):

original-film-title-dust-be-my-destiny-english-title-dust-be-my-destiny-film-director-lewis-se...jpg
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
⇧ One more Alan Hale fact.

He had a son who looked just like him. The skipper of the SS Minnow is actually Alan Hale Jr. Effectively, with the father and the son, Hollywood had about seventy years of the Hales to use in the same character actor roles.

Alan Hale Sr and Jr second.
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