My Review of ‘Scandal Sheet’ (1952)

This is one of your lesser-known films noir, which I had the privilege of seeing on TCM’s Noir Alley with Eddie Muller. The subject is tabloid journalism—not a new one for film (witness Citizen Kane), but depicted here against the dark, lurid background of the New York City tenements.

Broderick Crawford plays editor Mark Chapman (kinda—it would spoil the movie for me to say more about that), a man trying to pump up the circulation of a failing New York City daily newspaper by splashing sensational stories with screaming headlines and graphic photos on the front page. This may be an old movie, but one is reminded of the current trend online toward click-bait headlines and eye grabbing images. Looks like what’s old is new again.

Our hero, Steve McCleary (played by John Derek) is a reporter brown-nosing his way to the top hungry to find the kind of stories that Chapman finds fit to print. Acting as perfect foil to the ambitious McCleary, Donna Reed puts in a great performance as feature writer Julie Allison. Allison does her job, but not without being slightly disgusted by it.

The real fun starts when Chapman accidentally kills someone who tries to blackmail him. Despite his attempts to make it look like suicide (a cause of death that the police, at first, buy), one thing after another comes to light. And as the evidence of murder is unearthed (since, like many noir heavies, Chapman fails to notify authorities and claim the victim’s death was accidental—always a bad decision), the story eventually hits the front page and McCleary is more determined than ever to find the truth and unmask the killer.

In sum, Derek and Reed make a great pair. Donna Reed is particularly wonderful as a working woman in a film noir who doesn’t play the part of femme fatale. She plays brilliantly against type, as a hard-nosed reporter who isn’t obnoxious about it—a thoroughly modern woman.

Henry O’Neill puts in a heartrending performance as the hopeful alcoholic writer Charlie Barnes, whose journalism days have been reduced to memories of his Pulitzer Prize win. Harry Morgan should be noted for the (darkly) comic relief he provides as McCleary’s photographer.

But Broderick Crawford almost steals the show, as the newsman who’ll do anything to save the paper and make it big in the process.

If you are a film noir aficionado, I highly recommend you see this one.

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Manos: The Hands of Fate – Part Two

Just when you thought it was safe to come back to this blog, It’s Saturday and time for another part of that … bizarre unique weird horrible fascinating unusual movie known as Manos: The Hands of Fate!

So, sit back and get ready to be bored out of your skull lulled to sleep amazed by what you see and hear!

It’s Part Two of Manos: The Hands of Fate!

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My Review of ‘Dunkirk’ (2017)

 

It’s taken a while for me to gather my thoughts about this movie. For one thing, I got to see the film in all its 70-mm glory at the AFI Silver Theatre. Talk about being totally immersed.

The film starts with soldiers quietly moving through an otherwise empty street in Dunkirk—only to have the silence interrupted by (very, very loud) gunfire. We follow several men as they run away, and while most of them get mowed down, one manages to survive. A British soldier, who goes to the beach where his compatriots are trying to evacuate. There he meets a Frenchman, burying someone in the sand. They end up forming an alliance a friendship.

The story is told from three perspectives: one from the ground (which is where we start); one from the sea (which starts with the small boats in Cardiff); and one from the air (from the point of view of a Spitfire pilot and two of his flying chums).

The shifting, non-sequential narrative is reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s other time-shifting film, Memento. The subject matter, of course, is very different.

If you don’t know the story of how Dunkirk was evacuated during World War II, you owe it to yourself to see this movie. It is an amazing film—spectacular, even—not only in the storytelling, but it’s virtuosity in the cinematography and sound. It left me feeling drained for many reasons.

For one thing, it puts you right into the thick of the action in much the way that a movie like Saving Private Ryan did. And without giving spoilers, I’ll only say that the film underscores not only the horror of war, but the bravery of what would seem the most unlikely of saviors.

If I were British, I’d be proud to see this film. However, as an American, I was not only horrified and profoundly moved/inspired, but must confess to feeling a vague, but undeniable, feeling shame. The Dunkirk evacuation occurred in 1940. The Pearl Harbor bombing in 1941. You can draw your own conclusions.

The movie ends with a partial account from a newspaper of this speech:

This excellent film gets my whole-hearted endorsement!

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Manos: The Hands of Fate — Part One

I’m sure you’re all baffled perturbed thrilled to see that the Saturday Matinee has made its amazing return. After taking last week off, it’s now back with a vengeance! And don’t take those words lightly! Wait’ll you see this baby! 🙂

In what truly must be the most boring bizarre tiresome curious beginning of any B-movie, I present to you now Part One of Manos: The Hands of Fate! Annotated by moi, of course! 🙂

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My Review of ‘I Confess’ (1953)

As you may know from reading this blog, I’m a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock. However (and as long as we’re on the subject of confessions), I confess that I started watching this movie expecting something a bit different.

Let me begin by setting the stage. The movie opens with numerous shots of Québec City in all its quasi-French grandeur, lending the setting a European feel. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that the shots are from various angles in the manner of a German expressionist film. Amidst the montage, one shot in particular stands out, because Hitchcock seems obsessed with it uses it over and over and over repeatedly to make a point (no pun intended). It’s a street sign that points (presumably) in the direction traffic should move—like a one-way sign, except this one simply says, “Direction”.

Now, not only do we get a quick glimpse of Hitch doing his cameo in the montage, but the street sign (which seems to grow bigger with each shot) points right to … you guessed it—the crime scene! We look through a window and see the body of a freshly-killed victim. Then we spy someone wearing a priest’s robe leave the building and hurry down the street. The man (because it is a man) ditches the robe and makes haste into a church.

The murderer kneels sweating in a pew, apparently praying or just freaking out. And to the great misfortune of Father Michael Logan (played by the magnificent Montgomery Clift), the man’s misery calls attention to itself. For the man is one Logan recognizes—Otto, a German immigrant caretaker for the church (who also moonlights, if that’s the right word, part-time as a gardener for the victim—a sleazy lawyer called Villette).

Naturally, Otto confesses his deed to Father Logan, not only because he’s disgustingly sweaty and desperate, but he’s sure that Logan will keep his secret, no matter what. Otto basically shares with his housekeeper wife, Alma, this confession and the thoroughly disgusting loathsome way he will keep it secret by using Logan.

Enter the police, as represented by the very cocksure Inspector Larrue (played smarmily by Karl Malden), who by a series of events that I won’t recount here becomes convinced that Father Logan committed the crime. The evidence is flimsy as hell circumstantial, based initially on witness identification (the least reliable form of evidence, which could easily be attacked based on difficulty seeing the man at night) by two girls who never even saw the man’s face. And, of course, small matters like forensic evidence don’t figure into this, because it’s 1953 and who cares about all that?

Add to that the fact that Villette the Dead Lawyer was the kind of guy who kept dirt on lots of people and you really have to wonder, “What the hell are the police thinking?”

Without going into spoilers, here’s the part that I really didn’t believe. Why on earth did Logan bend over backwards to find an alibi in someone who could get hurt, when he could simply tell police, “I was taking a someone’s confession and I’m bound by my profession to secrecy.”

This was what I thought the movie would be about—the conflict between a priest’s duty to a confessor and law enforcement’s duty to solve cases. And while I realize that saying one was taking a confession doesn’t necessarily provide an alibi (by dint of its very secrecy), it would go over a lot better than scrambling for an alibi that ends up screwed due to bad timing.

Finally, as a lawyer, I was simply appalled by a statement a judge makes after a trial. Again, I don’t want to reveal spoilers, but that judge made me want to vomit sick.

 

And, okay—I get the point about how accusation can translate into guilt in the minds of the populace, even when one is exonerated. It is at that point (and that one alone) that really saved this movie for me. We must be ever vigilant in remembering that (under the British common law system, at any rate) people are innocent until proven guilty, not the other way around.

Due to the stellar performances and despite the fact that this film made me want to spit nails kill Alfred all over again got under my skin, I’m willing to grant it a single thumbs up. Because, warts and all, it’s a worth a look!

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30-Day Movie Challenge: Day 06

Comedy and Film Noir? What a Combo! 🙂

B Noir Detour

Day 06: Your Favorite Comedy Movie

Here’s where this 30-day challenge gets tough for a noir blogger. If there is one thing noir isn’t, it’s comedy. There are a few satires, and bits of humor in some noir flicks, but noir and comedy are in many ways opposites. If we take black humor and combine it with noirish bleakness, however, we may wind up in the head of Terry Gilliam…

BRAZIL (1985)

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“Dystopia meets absurdism” might be the best description of Brazil, a bleak tale of a failed Everyman. The film ranges from tragedy to broad comedy, sometimes mid-scene. And it compares well to noir pictures such as Detour, where our protagonist declares, “That’s life. Whichever way you turn, Fate sticks out a foot to trip you.” There’s far more to say about Brazil, but I do love the absurd excesses of the film, from its take on…

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My Review of ‘Help!’ (1965)

In lieu of the Saturday Matinee, this review is being submitted as part of the “Movie Scientist Blogathon: The Good, the Mad, the Lonely”, hosted by Christina Wehner and Ruth of Silver Screenings. In the case of this film, it would be a mad scientist.

When I first saw this movie on TV, years and years and years and years ago, I was just a little kid. And I thought it was the funniest film ever.

Little did I realize that this film featured some of Britain’s top talent—apart from the Fab Four, that is.

For instance, the movie features an Eastern cult led by none other than Leo McKern. I came to know McKern through his work on The Prisoner and Rumpole of the Bailey.

But the focus of this post (per this blogathon) is on the mad scientist, Professor Foot (played by Victor Spinetti). Let me explain a bit about the plot and how Foot The Mad Scientist fits in it.

The Eastern cult headed by Rumpole Leo McKern as the great Swami Clang is on the verge of murdering sacrificing a fair maiden, painted red (per the cult rules), when it comes to light that she isn’t wearing the sacrificial ring (because red paint just isn’t enough). The ring was secretly sent to Ringo in a fan letter and, being named Ringo, he simply had to put it on.

The movie is essentially a feature-length set of absurdist sketches, loosely-strung together, in which Ringo become’s the cult’s target and the Beatles work together to get the ring off his finger.

They resort to consulting a jeweler, who fails, as John Lennon is quick to point out. It’s then that they approach Foot and his hapless assistant, Algernon.

After encountering the unbelievable resistance to being removed from Ringo’s digit, Foot speculates (between grumbling asides about the poor state of British technology and “the brain drain”) that, “With a ring like that I could dare I say it? Rule the world.”

And so Foot and Clang both go after the Fab Four, using various lame attempts to whack sacrifice Ringo or, at least, cut off his finger. The band seeks refuge all over from Scotland Yard to the Bahamas.

The Beatles claimed the film was inspired by the Marx Brothers classic comedy Duck Soup. It was also a satire of the James Bond franchise. The humour was also strongly influenced by The Goon Show, which is hardly surprising, since that show also paved the way for Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

It is an over-the-top bit of surreal and anarchic fun. And Foot gets some of the funniest lines (as do the Beatles, of course—not to be outdone, right?):

Professor Foot: MIT was after me, you know. Wanted me to rule the world for them.

Professor Foot: He’s an idiot. Degree in woodwork. I ask you!

Professor Foot: It’s the brain drain, his brain’s draining.

And it’s Foot who plants “the fiendish thingy” in the curling stone!

Hey, it’s a thingie! A fiendish thingie!

This film is a must-see. I’ll never be able to hear the words “White Cliffs of Dover” without thinking of it.

“White Cliffs of Dover?”

Highly recommended if you like Monty Python, the Marx Brothers, or other absurdist humorists.

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