Criss Cross (1949)

Criss-Cross-poster

Something about Burt Lancaster’s eighth film is memorable in the way many films never were, and still aren’t.

It’s not that all the critics in the business call it a film noir. I’m agnostic on that. I think it might actually be in a class all of its own.

It’s not the nifty armoured car heist plot, with the old drunk master planner Finchley vetting every last detail for whiskey money.

It’s little things.

Like the explicit discussion of grocery prices among armoured car truck drivers. With one of them complaining about the extra cost of telephone shopping his wife does. Nineteen cents for a tin of tomato juice at the market. Forty-odd by phone for two.

Like the dance music played at the Round Up club where the heisters hang out.

Like the heist scene, shrouded in smoke, with gas-masked figures tyruggling in the gray limbo.

Like the perennially underrated Dan Duryea as the convincingly menacing gangster, Slim Dundee.

Like the double twist of betrayal and skuldggery.

I couldn’t ask for better matinée fodder.

Credits

Universal, black and white, 87 minutes.

 

Directed by Robert Siodmak. Produced by Michael Kraike. Written by Daniel Fuchs from the novel by Don Tracy.

 

With Burt Lancaster as Steve Thompson, Yvonne De Carlo as Anna, Dan Duryea as Slim Dundee, Stephen McNally as Det Lt Pete Ramirez, Esy Morales as Orchestra Leader, Tom Pedi as Vincent, Percy Helton as Frank, Alan Napier as Finchley.

Manpower (1941)

Manpower-poster

With Marlene Dietrich in the lead rôle (and it was she who carried the story), Walsh was trying to make a point about the raw deal women got by just about everyone in the Hollywood establishment. Relegated to the status of ‘Mouse’, or opportune studio whore, there was no respect or admiration for the toughness of American women who took care of their men and got none of the credit for leading America out of the Great Depression, or through the coming war.

Strange that this point had to be made with a ‘foreigner’, and one given a jailhouse history, as if excusing her independence and indifference to just who it is that’s using her. Resigned to the fact she will be used. It is a spit in the face for all religious and conservative theories about women of the times. It is a defiant call particularly appropriate to contemporary America, in which adolescent boys in men’s bodies once again try to reduce the status of women in America to that of domestic slaves or sex toys.

Unfortunately Walsh didn’t really know what to do with the film. There were some great shots of dams and power lines, but not enough of the intricacies of being a bride of convenience, or being taken advantage of by everyone – including the establishment (by metaphorical agency of the cops who arrest everyone in Quinn’s clip joint). I guess the fuckers who run Hollywood won out with some sanctimonious message that didn’t make them look as bad as they really were.

Continue reading “Manpower (1941)”

Chain Lightning (1950)

Chain Lightning poster 1

A somewhat corny look at early jet aircraft test jockeys, mentioning but not showing Chuck Jaeger, and focusing more on the balls of the test pilot – Bogart – than the technical problems of flying faster than sound and higher than unaided human beings can survive.

Continue reading “Chain Lightning (1950)”

The House on 92nd Street (1945)

War-time propaganda film adopting a semi-documentary style with 1940s-syle newsreel, stern voice-over but engagingly acted sequences to dramatise what we are told is a ‘true story’. Bill Dietrich becomes double agent for the FBI to expose Nazi spies in America. Real Boys’ Own stuff.

Love Signe Hasso as the Nazi spymaster! What a ‘dame’.

Great Sunday afternoon matinée fare.

Credits

20th Century Fox, 88 minutes, black and white.

Directed by Henry Hathaway. Written by Barre Lyndon, Jack Moffitt, John Monks from a story by Charles Booth. Cinematography by Norbert Brodine. Produced by Louis De Rochemont. Music by David Buttolph.

Featuring William Eythe as Bill Dietrich, Lloyd Nolan as Agent George Briggs, Signe Hasso as Elsa Gebhardt, Gene Lockhart as Charles Ogden Roper, Leo G Carroll as Col Hammersohn, Lydia St Clair as Johanna Schmidt, William Post as Walker, Harry Bellaver as Max Cobura, Bruno Wick as Adolf Lange, Harro Meller as Conrad Arnulf, Charles Wagenheim as Gustav Hausmann, Alfred Linder as Adolf Klein, Renee Carson as Luise Vadja.

We Were Strangers (1949)

John Garfield was an underutilized and unrealised actor who might just have taken all that socialist stuff far too seriously. He never named anyone, and he was pretty clean when it came to proving things, but HUAC crucified him anyway, and probably drove him to the heart attack that killed him in 1952.

All that said, his performance in this one was less than inspiring: the brooding ideologue, with no sense of humanity or drama. Pedro Armendáriz as the menacing secret police goon Armando Ariete definitely steals the show with his shadow-play at killing everyone and raping heroine China Valdés (Jennifer Jones), all without showing what dictatorships really do. Jones, unfortunately, is just a stereotype, screaming like a little girl and quivering unproductively rather than showing spine and determination.

The film just doesn’t come together and remains a lecturing stage production throughout, despite Huston’s presence. Or maybe because of it. A lot was at stake in 1949, after the Hollywood Ten, and this was one of the reasons the liberals didn’t win.

It could be this was partly homage to Hemingway’s obsession with Cuba, and to all the fast-talking socialist hustlers aiming to trade on their jargon-laden European credentials when socialism was just a fashionable pose. Billy Bragg sure had his model in Montilla, guitar always at the ready to sing ditties about counting the bodies without ever getting his hands dirty.

Exactly what this was supposed to say, at a time when Castro’s rebels were attacking the successful rebels of this film, is a little beyond me. Maybe at somefuture time I will see what was intended and seen all those years ago.

Credits

Columbia Pictures, 106 minutes, black and white.

Directed by John Huston. Written by John Huston, Peter Viertel, from a novel by Robert Sylvester. Cinematography by Russell Metty. Produced by Sam Spiegel. Music by George Antheill.

Featuring Jennifer Jones as China Valdés, John Garfield as John Fenner, Pedro Armendáriz as Armando Ariete, Gilbert Roland as Guillermo Montilla, Ramon Novarro as the Chief, Wally Cassell as Miguel, Tito Renaldo as Manolo Valdés, David Bond as Ramón Sánchez, José Pérez as Toto, Morris Ankrum as Mr Seymour.

Sahara (1943)

sahara-poster

Forgettable and low-budget war-time propaganda film. My pleasure only for Bogart as a tank commander who outsmarts the dastardly Germans in a battle of wits. An American Beau Geste of sorts at a time in which the American desert experience had been pretty disastrous.

The production featured a genuine M3 Lee battle tank, nicknamed Lulu Belle in the film. maybe some more modern film-makers stole that idea.

Dan Duryea is an added bonus. That tall, melancholy drink of water always infused the films he was in with a certain mood.

J Carrol Naish was apparently nominated for an academy award, as was Rudolph Maté for cinematography, and John Livadary for sound. I’m not sure the panel didn’t have sunglasses on to reach that conclusion.

Credits

Columbia, 97 minutes, black and white.

Directed by Zoltán Korda. Written by John Howard Lawson, James O’Hanlon from a story by Philip MacDonald. Cinematography by Rudolph Maté, Produced by Harry Joe Brown. Music by Miklós Rózsa.

Humphrey Bogart as Sergeant Joe Gunn, Dan Duryea as Jimmy Doyle, Bruce Bennett as ‘Waco’ Hoyt, Richard Nugent as Captain Jason Halliday, Lloyd Bridges as Fred Clarkson, Patrick O’Moore as Osmond ‘Ozzie’ Bates, Guy Kingsford as Peter Stegman, Carl Harbord as Marty Williams. Louis Mercier as Jean ‘Frenchie’ Leroux, Rex Ingram as Sergeant Major Tambul, J Carrol Naish as Giuseppe, Kurt Kreuger as Captain von Schletow, John Wengraf as Major von Falken.

The Winds of War (1983)

Although I heard about this TV series, I never saw it until I managed most of it as background noise. Just because Robert Mitchum – the last great survivor of the age noir – played a key part, and because The Caine Mutiny (with Bogart) was adapted from Herman Wouk’s first WWII novel.

It is intriguing to see how the doctrinaire attitude to Nazi Germany had changed, and even Hitler was to look like a savant rather than evil personified. I’m not sure that I concur, but I see that many others do.

I confess that the characters of Aaron and Natalie Jastrow, as well as Rhoda Henry, exasperated me with their obdurate stupidity, but I guess this was part of the 1960s-1970s exemption from reason for women and ethnic minorities. A special little jewel of politically correct cowardice and guilt.

I also wonder how Jan Michael Vincent could have been so wooden and impervious to the concept of acting in his 40s – after doing it for almost 20 years.

Nevertheless, despite the length and soap-opera diversions, I got my money’s worth to watch Mitchum say it the way it ought to have been said.

Credits

Paramount Television, 883 minutes, colour.

Directed by Dan Curtis. Written by Herman Wouk. Cinematography by Charles Correll and Stevan Lartner. Produced by Dan Curtis. Music by Bob Cobert.

Featuring Robert Mitchum as Victor ‘Pug’ Henry, Ali MacGraw as Natalie Jastrow, Jan-Michael Vincent as Byron Henry, John Houseman as Aaron Jastrow, Polly Bergen as Rhoda Henry. Lisa Eilbacher as Madeline Henry, David Dukes as Leslie Slote, Topol as Berel Jastrow, Ben Murphy as Warren Henry, Deborah Winters as Janice Lacouture Henry, Peter Graves as Palmer Kirby, Jeremy Kemp as Brigadier General Armin von Roon, Ralph Bellamy as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Victoria Tennant as Pamela Tudsbury, Günter Meisner as Adolf Hitler, Howard Lang as Winston Churchill, Michael Logan as Alistair Tudsbury, Barry Morse as Wolf Stoller.

Across the Pacific (1942)

Charming propaganda film that apparently foresaw Pearl Harbor, and changed the action to Panama after the real attack. If Americans knew the attack was coming at Pearl Harbor, is the rumour true that Roosevelt let it happen to force America into the war?

The old crew of Astor and Greenstreet from the Maltese Falcon reunited with Bogart a year on. Works well. The budding romance between Leland (Bogart) and Marlow (Astor) was well-scripted and decidedly mature compared to the usual mush.

Huston had to be replaced as director part-way through the production when he joined the Signal Corps at the outbreak of war.

I sometimes wonder how Adolph Deutsch didn’t change his name (‘Deutsch’ literally meaning ‘German’).

Credits

Warner Brothers, 97 minutes, black and white.

Directed by John Huston, Vincent Sherman. Written by Robert Garson, Richard Macaulay. Cinematography by Arthur Edeson. Produced by Jerry Wald, Jack Saper. Music by Adolph Deutsch.

Featuring Humphrey Bogart as Rick Leland, Mary Astor as Alberta Marlow, Sydney Greenstreet as Dr Lorenz, Kam Tong as T Oki, Charles Halton as AV Smith, Victor Sen Yung as Joe Totsuiko, Roland Got as Sugi, Lee Tung Foo as Sam Wing On, Frank Wilcox as Captain Morrison, Paul Stanton as Colonel Hart, Chester Gan as Captain Higoto, Richard Loo as First Officer Miyuma.

Action in the North Atlantic (1943)

Routine war-time propaganda film extolling the importance of merchant marine sailors dying to get supplies across the Atlantic, this time to Murmansk. Rare pro-Soviet film.

Pretty tedious except for Bogart and Massey in the lead roles.

Writer john Howard Lawson was one of the Hollywood Ten, and also a long-time head of the Hollywood branch of the Communist Party of America. Still, not much in the way of Soviet propaganda in this one, other than the patriotism of helping Soviet Russia defeat the Nazis.

A young Robert Mitchum gets a walk-on part in this one.

Credits

Warner Brothers, 126 minutes, black and white.

Directed by Lloyd Bacon, Byron Haskin, Raoul Walsh(!!!). Written by John Howard Lawson from a story by Guy Gilpatric. Cinematography by Ted D McCord. Produced by Jerry Wald. Music by Adolph Deutsch, George Lipschultz.

Featuring Humphrey Bogart as First Officer Joe Rossi, Raymond Massey as Captain Steve Jarvis, Alan Hale as Alfred ‘Boats’ O’Hara, Julie Bishop as Pearl O’Neill, Ruth Gordon as Sarah Jarvis. Sam Levene as ‘Chips’ Abrams, Dane Clark as Johnnie Pulaski, Peter Whitney as ‘Whitey’ Lara, Dick Hogan as Cadet Ezra Parker.

A Blueprint for Murder (1953)

Mentioned in several sources as a film noir, it is actually just a straight thriller, or murder mystery. There are no layered meanings, no sub-plots, and no complexities about the plot, which has the protagonist expose a female poisoner in a sub-Hitchcockesque game of cat and mouse.

There are undoubtedly moments of great tension, but it’s a flat entertainment, and even the ending becomes predictable when the film has nowhere else to go about half-way through.

Credits

20th Century Fox, 77 minutes, black and white.

Written and directed by Andrew L Stone. Cinematography by Leo Tover. Produced by Michael Abel. Music by Leigh Harline.

Featuring Joseph Cotten as Whitney Cameron, Jean Peters as Lynne Cameron, Gary Merrill as Fred Sargent, Catherine McLeod as Maggie Sargent, Jack Kruschen as Chief Hal Cole, Barney Phillips as Captain Pringle.