Thursday, July 23, 2009

Reflections on Jane Fonda

Sunday, July 19, 2009

LA Confidential: Rollo Tomassi has checked out

Visually stunning thriller: great direction, production design, score, camera-work, and editing. Strong performances all-round. But it has no soul and lacks any semblance of a noir sensibility. Screenplay is hopelessly contrived, and the ending is not only pat but too cute by half. Mickey Spillane on steroids.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Movie Posters of the Day

Movie Notes #1

The Killer That Stalked New York (1950) is a b-noir from a director who made only three movies in the early 50s, Earl McEvoy. The movie was lensed by Joe Biroc and stars the under-rated Evelyn Keyes, who passed away last year, and appeared to advantage in Joseph Losey’s The Prowler (1951) and Robert Rossen’s Johnny O’Clock (1947). Keyes plays an accomplice to a hood, who after a job in Cuba, returns to NYC with smallpox, in a dramatisation of the New York smallpox scare of 1946. Keyes is brilliant as ‘the killer’ and dominates the film, which in the light of the current swine flu scare, is a well-crafted docu-drama which deftly weaves the drama of the woman’s noir story and how a city of over 8 million people has to mobilise to deal with such a threat, with vignettes on how the illness is transmitted, and a continuing story arc of the fate of the killer’s first ‘victim’, a young working-class girl.

An interesting segue is how these old Hollywood b-pictures weaved wonderful vignettes and comic moments into the story. Two such scenes stand out in this movie. A milkman is infected and there is a scene in the sick man’s bedroom when the inoculation team visits. The poor guy’s persona is eloquently evoked by his wife’s harping but deeply loving commentary on her husband – before she realises the gravity of his illness. The other scene cuts to a Brooklyn street with kids playing on the road in front of a bar. The kids scramble as a police car pulls up. They gather on the footpath to check it out. As a burly detective steps out of the car, one kid pipes up and asks for the low-down “Hey Bub…”. The cop replies “Beat it kid.” The bar is closed so the cops after getting the form from the kids, drive off, and the kids jump back on the road shooting air tommy guns after the car. They don’t make movies like that any more.

Otto Preminger's Laura (1944) is an elegant noir melodrama. Gene Tierney is an exquisite iridescent angel and Dana Andrews a stolid cop who nails the killer after falling for a dead dame. Clifton Webb as the homme-fatale is his annoying best.

The original The Taking of Pelham 123 (1974) is great entertainment, with a surreal mix of humor and violence, and a noirish denouement. Check out Walter Matthau’s loud check shirt and yellow tie.

Le quai des brumes (Port of Shadows – France 1938)

The fog of angst seeps from the faces of two doomed lovers in the dank gloom of Le Havre. Jean is on the run and Nelly is trapped in a psychic prison as real as the physical constraints on her existence. Happiness is something that may exist but neither knows it.

They meet by chance one night in a broken-down bar on the waterfront amongst the detritus of an ephemeral humanity. Panama’s is a haven for the down-and-out named for its publican’s hat, an old shaman with a rusted soul as deep as the canal he visited in his youth. Father confessor of a convent for lost souls. He keeps his counsel, ask no questions, and strums his guitar.

And everywhere the fog and the harbor with rusting hulks at anchor ever-waiting transport for deliverance. The two lovers stroll as tentative friends with a hope as forlorn as it is sublime, when a bright clarity intrudes, a hood with a malice as sharp as his clothes and his shave, and as evil as his cowardice.

A night of bliss follows. Jean and Nelly find love at a sea-side carnival and that elusive union we all seek - in a rented room. They keep missing pernicious Fate a drunken vagabond. The glory of a new dawn is soon shattered. They each leave alone. Fate occupies the sheets of last night’s passion, and they are lost.

“Kiss me. We don’t have much time.”