YouTube Noir — Noirvember Day 23: The Brothers Rico (1957)

•November 23, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Like a handful of my other YouTube recommendations this month, I’d only seen today’s film once, years ago, before reviewing it again for today’s post. But once was enough.

I remember being pleasantly surprised when I discovered the movie – I didn’t know anything about it going in, except that it came at the end of the classic film noir cycle, and that its cast not only included one of my top contenders for all-time favorite noir actors, Richard Conte, but also an actor I had a bit of a crush on as a teen, James Darren. It was a good sign.

I had no idea how good it would be.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

The Brothers Rico.

Conte stars as Eddie Rico, an ex-accountant for the mob, who has left his past behind and is now squeaky clean, running a successful laundry business and planning to adopt a baby with his wife. But when Eddie learns that his two kid brothers have been involved in a mob hit, it’s just the beginning of a tangled web that only entraps him the more he tries to escape it.

WHAT ELSE?

The film was based on a story by Georges Simenon, a prolific Belgian writer whose works were adapted into nearly 200 movies or television shows.

Eddie’s mother is played by Argentina Brunetti, and his grandmother is played by Argentina’s real-life mother, Sicilian actress Mimi Aguglia. Brunetti made her big-screen debut as Mrs. Martini in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), and continued working into her 90s; one of her last roles was in an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. She died in 2005 at the age of 98.

Foster had a small but memorable role.

Conte’s wife was played by Dianne Foster, who also had a featured role in the 1954 noir, Drive a Crooked Road, starring Mickey Rooney. That same year, she missed out on yet another noir, Pushover, losing the starring part to Kim Novak.

TOMORROW . . .

Join me for my next YouTube recommendation on Day 24 of Noirvember!

YouTube Noir — Noirvember Day 22: The Great Flamarion (1945)

•November 22, 2020 • 2 Comments

I love, love, love today’s YouTube noir pick: The Great Flamarion (1945).

It’s another one of those films that, for decades, was completely off my noir radar. (Noir-dar?) Then, a few years ago, I was sent a copy of the movie by a fellow noir lover who I met through an Internet message board. And I STILL let several months go by before popping it into my DVD player. Once I did, I was kicking myself for letting so much time go by.

As I watched the opening credits roll, I saw that the movie starred Dan Duryea, who is one of my favorite noir perfomers; Erich von Stroheim, who played Max von Mayerling in Sunset Boulevard; and Mary Beth Hughes, who is in my very favorite episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, I Accuse My Parents (1944). Not only that, but it’s directed by Anthony Mann!! You know, the guy who gave us a slew first-rate noirs, including Desperate (1947), T-Men (1947), Raw Deal (1948), and Border Incident (1949). It was practically guaranteed to be a winner.

And I can tell you, I wasn’t disappointed.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Von Stroheim and Hughes.

Erich von Stroheim plays the title role, an expert sharpshooter who makes his living performing in an upscale vaudeville act. He’s aided by two assistants, the husband-and-wife team of Al and Connie Wallace (Hughes and Duryea). It turns out that Al is an alcoholic, and Connie’s sweet face is a perfect front for her mercenary, larcenous nature. It also turns out that, despite Flamarion’s steely persona, he’s no match for Connie once she turns on her considerable charms. And you can just imagine where that leaves Al.

WHAT ELSE?

Von Stroheim was multitalented; in addition to acting, he helmed such silent classics as Greed (1924) and The Merry Widow (1925), and authored screenplays as well as novels.

Vaudeville noir, courtesy of James Brown.

The cinematographer on the film was the incredibly prolific James Spencer Brown, Jr. He worked mostly with low-budget films, starting in the mid-1920s, for studios like Monogram and Republic. He died just four years after the release of The Great Flamarion, at the age of 57. 

Also in the cast is Esther Howard, who you’ll recognize from her appearance in numerous noirs, including Murder, My Sweet (1944), Detour (1945), and Born to Kill (1947)

TOMORROW . . .

Join me for my next YouTube recommendation on Day 23 of Noirvember!

YouTube Noir — Noirvember Day 21: 99 River Street (1953)

•November 21, 2020 • 6 Comments

For my money, John Payne is one of the most underrated stars of the film noir era.

Like his fellow noir vet Dick Powell, Payne’s earlier career consisted of a number of comedies and musicals – lightweight vehicles that seemed a perfect fit for his good looks and breezy air. But in the late 1940s, Payne stepped into the shadows, starring in a number of noir features that showed he was made for the darker side of the screen. Today’s recommendation, 99 River Street (1953), is one of his best.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Did I mention that Evelyn Keyes co-stars?

Payne stars as Ernie Driscoll, an ex-prizefighter-turned-cab driver, whose frustrated wife, Pauline (Peggie Castle), won’t let him forget about his failure in the ring. When Pauline winds up dead, with her body found in the back seat of Ernie’s cab, Ernie works against time to find the killer before the cops nab him for the crime.

WHAT ELSE?

Director Phil Karlson directed Payne in two other noirs, Kansas City Confidential (1952) and Hell’s Island (1955). He also helmed several other noirs, including Scandal Sheet (1952), one of my YouTube recommendations from earlier this month, and The Brothers Rico (1957), which may show up as one of my picks before Noirvember 2020 comes to an end.

I love this shot.

 The film did well at the box office, but it wasn’t appreciated by critics, including the New York Times reviewer, who dismissed it as “one of those tasteless melodramas people with unpleasant hoods, two-timing blondes, and lots of sequences of what purports to be everyday life in the underworld.” Sounds like a perfect noir to me.

TOMORROW . . .

Join me for my next YouTube recommendation on Day 22 of Noirvember!

YouTube Noir — Noirvember Day 20: Fourteen Hours (1951)

•November 20, 2020 • 6 Comments

Finding Fourteen Hours (1951) was a happy accident.

Before a couple of years ago, I’d never even heard of it before – despite the fact that the cast includes noir vets Richard Basehart, Paul Douglas, Agnes Moorehead, Jeff Corey, and Howard da Silva. I don’t even remember how I happened to stumble across it. But I sure am glad I did.

And until I re-watched this film to prepare for today’s post, I’d completely forgotten how much I loved it, how it grabs you from the first, quiet scene and never turns you loose. There’s so much to see, so much to hear, so much going on.

It’s really good, y’all.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Basehart spent around 500 hours on this ledge during filming.

In its simplest terms, the film is about a despondent man (Richard Basehart) who climbs onto the ledge of a high-rise hotel on St. Patrick’s Day in New York and threatens to jump. But while the young man languishes outside the building, a half-dozen stories, big and small, are taking place, from the group of cabbies who bet on the time the man will end his life, to a budding love affair between strangers who meet in the crowd outside the hotel.

WHAT ELSE?

The movie is reminiscent of Paramount’s Ace in the Hole, released that same year, another noir where a circus-like atmosphere arises from a life-or-death vigil. Like Ace in the Hole, Fourteen Hours was inspired by a real-life incident, in this case a 26-year-old who jumped to his death from the 17th floor of a New York hotel in 1938.

Debra Paget, Jeffrey Hunter, and Joyce Van Patten are among the many familiar performers.

The film is practically overflowing with familiar faces. Sandra Gould, the first Gladys Kravitz on Bewitched. The star of TV’s The Great Gildersleeve, Willard Waterman. Russell Hicks, who had a small but memorable part in The Little Foxes (1941) as the wealthy visitor from Chicago. Frank Faylen, Ernie the cab driver from It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Brad Dexter, from The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and The Magnificent Seven (1960). Martin Gabel, who I knew only from his appearances on What’s My Line, alongside his wife Arlene Frances. Ossie Davis and Harvey Lembeck as cab drivers. And, in their big screen debuts, Grace Kelly, Joyce Van Patten, and Jeffrey Hunter. (The IMDB also says that Brian Keith, John Cassavettes, Richard Beymer, and Leif Ericson are in the film as bit players or extras, but I haven’t been able to spot them. Maybe you can!)

Fourteen Hours was directed by Henry Hathaway, who helmed several noirs including Kiss of Death (1947), Call Northside 777 (1948), and Niagara (1953), and such popular westerns as The Sons of Katie Elder (1965) and True Grit (1969).

TOMORROW . . .

Join me for my next YouTube recommendation on Day 21 of Noirvember!

YouTube Noir — Noirvember Day 19: Pitfall (1948)

•November 19, 2020 • 2 Comments

Today’s pick is my third Lizabeth Scott starrer of the month: Pitfall (1948). Do I need to even bother saying that it’s a favorite?

The film boasts a stellar cast that, in addition to Scott, includes Dick Powell, Jane Wyatt, and Raymond Burr; brisk direction by Andre De Toth; and an engaging story that’s just complex enough to keep you on your toes, but not so involved that you don’t know what’s going on.

It’s the kind of noir that sneaks up on you – there’s very little in the first 20 minutes or so that hints at the darkness to come. But once it turns, boy, does it turn.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

This shot wasn’t in the movie, but I love it. (Don’t you?)

Powell is insurance adjuster John Forbes, whose boredom with his humdrum life makes him a prime candidate for a little afternoon delight when he encounters model Mona Stevens (Scott). Unfortunately, Forbes is a very married man and Mona not only has a jealous boyfriend temporarily cooling his heels in jail, but she’s also being stalked by an uber-creepy private dick who won’t take no for an answer. From anybody.  

WHAT ELSE?

Director De Toth was Veronica Lake’s second husband; the two were married for eight years and had two children.

Mona’s jailbird boyfriend was played by Byron Barr. You might remember him for his best-known role, Nino Zachetti in Double Indemnity (1944).

Powell getting the jump on Byron Barr.

Featuring an adulterer who isn’t sufficiently punished for this misdeed, the film’s script was in violation of the Hays Code. Reportedly, De Toth knew that two members of the Hays Office were engaged in extramarital affairs of their own. After meeting with the men, the script was allowed to remain intact.

TOMORROW . . .

Join me for my next YouTube recommendation on Day 20 of Noirvember!

YouTube Noir — Noirvember Day 18: Raw Deal (1948)

•November 18, 2020 • 2 Comments

I never consider Raw Deal (1948) when thinking about my favorite noirs. And yet, every time I see it, I’m reminded of how good it is.

Maybe the reason that Raw Deal doesn’t make it onto any of my Top 10 lists is because, to me, its parts are greater than the whole. Not that it’s not a first-rate movie, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that there are so many individual things about it that make it memorable. There’s the superb cinematography by the great John Alton that’s practically its own character. And scary Raymond Burr, a refined gangster who, in one scene, tosses a flaming bucket of cognac in a woman’s face. The triangle between Dennis O’Keefe, the woman who loves him, and the woman he loves. The distaff voiceover narration that ties the scenes together.

The film’s appeal is sometimes hard to pin down, but whatever it’s got, I like it. I think you will, too.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

These three.

O’Keefe stars as Joe Sullivan, a convict who’s doing time for a crime committed by his boss, Rick Coyle (Burr). When Coyle helps Joe escape, with plans for making sure he doesn’t make a clean getaway, it sets up a four-state dragnet – with the both the cops and Coyle’s henchman chasing after Joe, his devoted girlfriend (Claire Trevor), and the social worker (Marsha Hunt) he met in prison.

WHAT ELSE?

The film was directed by Anthony Mann, who helmed a number of memorable noirs – including Desperate (1947), T-Men (1947), and Border Incident (1949) – before turning his talents to the western genre.

One of the many (many) memorable scenes courtesy of John Alton.

In 1949, John Alton wrote Painting with Light, a kind of “how-to” guide to lighting a film. The talented Hungarian-born cameraman, who also gave us the looks found in more than 10 noirs, won an Oscar for his work on An American in Paris (1951).

Marsha Hunt is still with us – she turned 103 on October 17th.

TOMORROW . . .

Join me for my next YouTube recommendation on Day 19 of Noirvember!

YouTube Noir — Noirvember Day 17: Brute Force (1947)

•November 17, 2020 • 4 Comments

Brute Force (1947) is not your typical film noir.

Almost entirely set inside the confines of a maximum security prison, there’re no rainswept city streets, no anti-hero detectives, and the two femmes fatales are on screen a total of about three minutes.

But you’ll be hard-pressed to find a darker film.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

The film centers on a quintet of prison cellmates who are languishing in prison under the sadistic supervision of one Capt. Munsey (Hume Cronyn). They include Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster), who spearheads an intricately planned prison break, motivated by Munsey’s dehumanizing treatment, and his desire to reunite with his wheelchair-bound girlfriend.

The cellmates.

WHAT ELSE?

The movie was inspired by the 1946 Battle of Alcatraz, a two-day riot that resulted from an unsuccessful escape by armed convicts at the famed San Francisco prison.

The film’s score was composed by Miklos Rozsa. Listen closely to the music in Brute Force right after the credits – it’ll remind you of the Double Indemnity score, which was also composed by Rozsa.

Brute Force was directed by Jules Dassin, who also helmed such top-notch noirs as The Naked City (1948), Thieves’ Highway (1949), Night and the City (1950), and Rififi (1955).

John Decker’s “Calendar Girl.”

The cell occupied by Joe and his fellow inmates features a calendar pin-up girl who causes each of the men to reminisce about the girl they left behind. The girl was painted by John Decker, who also did the paintings used in yesterday’s YouTube noir pick, Scarlet Street (1945).

TOMORROW . . .

Join me for my next YouTube recommendation on Day 18 of Noirvember!

YouTube Noir: Noirvember Day 16: Scarlet Street (1945)

•November 16, 2020 • 2 Comments

Dan Duryea. Joan Bennett. Edward G. Robinson. Fritz Lang.

Talk about a winning combination.

They’re the principals who brought to life yet another one of my favorite noirs, Scarlet Street (1945). It’s been in the public domain for so long that I’ll be surprised if anyone’s left who hasn’t seen it – but if you’re out there, I envy you the experience of your first-time viewing of this superb feature.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Not exactly Antony and Cleopatra.

Robinson stars as Christopher Cross, a middle-aged, unhappily married cashier and painting hobbyist who gets more than he bargained for when he gallantly rescues a young woman, Kitty March (Bennett), from an attacker in the street. Chris is soon head over heels for Kitty, who he believes is an actress (and who, in turn, is convinced that Chris is a famous artist). Forming the third part of this criminally dysfunctional triangle is Kitty’s con-man boyfriend, Johnny (Duryea).

WHAT ELSE?

Scarlet Street was the remake of the 1931 Jean Renoir film, La Chienne, which means “the bitch” in French. If you haven’t seen this film, it’s totally worth tracking down.

“I want to paint your picture, Kitty.”

Duryea, Robinson, and Bennett appeared the previous year in the Fritz Lang-directed Woman in the Window. Of the two, Scarlet Street is by far my favorite (primarily because of the way Woman in the Window ends), but they’re both first-rate.

After the success of Woman in the Window, Bennett, Lang, and producer (and Bennett’s then-husband) Walter Wanger formed an independent film company, Diana Productions, named after Bennett’s oldest daughter. Scarlet Street was the first feature under the Diana Productions banner.

TOMORROW . . .

Join me for my next YouTube recommendation on Day 17 of Noirvember!

YouTube Noir: Noirvember Day 15: Murder By Contract (1958)

•November 15, 2020 • 4 Comments

Until recently, Vince Edwards was on my radar for only two reasons: he played Dr. Ben Casey on TV, and he co-starred in one of my favorite noirs, The Killing (1956), which I recommended for YouTube viewing earlier this month.

And then I saw Murder By Contract (1958).

There’s so much to say about this film, I scarcely know where to begin. There’s simple but engrossing plot. The all-guitar score, reminiscent of the zither playing in The Third Man (1949). The depiction of violence that shows you nothing, yet causes you to see everything.  The slow-paced yet wholly effective direction. And, of course, Edwards’s memorable performance of a man you wouldn’t want to meet in broad daylight, let alone in a dark alley. (Or in a drainage pipe, as the case may be.)

I cannot stress this enough. Watch this film.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Claude is one scary dude.

Edwards plays a killer-for-hire named Claude, a determined sort who’s saving his earnings to buy a house, and whose unique talents allow him to rapidly rise in the echelons of the organized crime outfit he works for. After a series of successful murders, he’s given a contract to kill a witness before she can testify in a high-profile trial in Los Angeles that starts in two weeks. The bulk of the movie focuses on that two-week countdown.

WHAT ELSE?

Well worth mentioning are the characters in L.A. who serve as the liaison between Claude and the crime organization. They’re superbly played by Phillip Pine and Herschel Bernardi. Pine had small parts in several noirs (The Set-Up, Red Light, and D.O.A.), but had a more successful career on the small screen, playing in numerous TV series from the early 1950s through the mid-1980s. I was much more familiar with Bernardi, who also enjoyed a successful television career, including the role of Lt. Jacoby on Peter Gunn, and the title role in Arnie, which aired in the early 1970s.

Pine and Bernardi are outstanding.

Director Irving Lerner also directed Vince Edwards in the 1959 feature City of Fear and in several episodes of Ben Casey.

The composer of the film’s unique score was Perry Botkin, Sr., who also composed the music for TV’s The Beverly Hillbillies. If you’re a Hillbillies aficionado, you might recognize the music heard in Murder By Contract around the 13-minute mark. It was used in the TV show as well.

TOMORROW . . .

Join me for my next YouTube recommendation on Day 16 of Noirvember! (I can’t believe the month is half over!)

YouTube Noir — Noirvember Day 14: The Enforcer (1951)

•November 14, 2020 • 4 Comments

I never hear people talk about The Enforcer (1951). I’m going to remedy that today.

First off, let’s talk about the film’s cast. It stars Humphrey Bogart, which is a premium selling point all by itself. But it also boasts a boatload of other veterans from the noir era: Ted de Corsia, Everett Sloane, Roy Roberts, Don Beddoe, Tito Vuolo, John Kellogg, King Donovan, and Jack Lambert. You may not recognize some of these names, but I guarantee you’ll know them when you see them. Oh, I forgot to mention that Zero Mostel has a featured role. (And believe me, y’all – this ain’t no Fiddler on the Roof.)

By the way, for you film lovers who look for femme fatales in your noirs, I regret to inform you that there’s nary a fatal femme in this feature. (In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many females at all.) But if you like flashbacks, The Enforcer has ‘em in spades. Flashbacks within flashbacks. Within flashbacks.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Rico is a big scaredy-cat. With good reason.

The film opens with a heavily guarded prisoner – Joseph Rico (Ted de Corsia) – being escorted to the office of the district attorney, where he’s to remain until the following morning, when he’ll testify in a trial against an organized crime boss named Mendoza. And Mendoza must be a real beaut, because despite the precautions, Rico is terrified that he won’t last through the night, convinced that Mendoza’s men will get to him before he gets a chance to reach the stand.

As it turns out, Rico is correct in suspecting that he won’t live through the night. Having lost his sole witness, the district attorney spends the remainder of the night reviewing the case against the crime boss in an effort to find some sort of overlooked evidence that will put Mendoza away for good.

WHAT ELSE?

One of the film’s few femmes.

The film was directed by Paris-born Bretaigne Windust, who started his career as an actor. In 1928, he co-founded the University Players in Falmouth, Massachusetts; the company included such future stars as Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan, Mildred Natwick and Barbara O’Neil. He went on to direct such Broadway productions as Life With Father, Arsenic and Old Lace, and State of the Union, but he only helmed a few feature films and TV series before his untimely death at the age of 54.

The Enforcer was inspired by the real-life murder-for-profit underworld organization known in the press as Murder, Inc., and Rico’s demise at the film’s start is akin to the 1941 death of Abraham “Kid Twist” Reles. Like Rico, Reles was slated to testify against the Murder, Inc., organization, but he died the day before he was to appear.

TOMORROW . . .

Join me for my next YouTube recommendation on Day 15 of Noirvember!