YouTube Noir — Noirvember Day 27: Kiss of Death (1947)

•November 27, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Kiss of Death (1947) is one of those noirs that I knew about before I saw it. This is the one where Richard Widmark tosses a wheelchair-bound old lady down a flight of stairs.

How could you not want to check out a movie with a scene like that?

But there’s more to this film than Widmark’s psychopathic character (and his maniacal laugh), including a cast featuring Victor Mature, Coleen Gray, and Karl Malden; direction by Henry Hathaway; and a screenplay by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer. (More about them below.) It’s a must see!

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Mature stars as Nick Bianco, a career criminal who’s nabbed by the police during a bungled robbery attempt. After first declining the D.A.’s offer of leniency if he’ll squeal on his pals, Bianco later decides to cooperate, spurred by his responsibility for his two young daughters.

WHAT ELSE?

This film marked Richard Widmark’s debut. From his first scene, you could see that he was something special.

Director Henry Hathaway helmed one of my YouTube recommendations for earlier this month, Fourteen Hours (1951). His non-noir pedigree included Peter Ibbetson (1935); The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935), and three segments from How the West Was Won (1962).

What a debut!

Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer were an acclaimed screenwriting team, responsible for the 1947 noir Ride the Pink Horse and Monkey Business, the 1952 Cary Grant comedy. (Incidentally, Lederer was raised by his aunt, actress Marion Davies.)

TOMORROW . . .

Join me for my next YouTube recommendation on Day 28 of Noirvember!

YouTube Noir — Noirvember Day 26: Quicksand (1950)

•November 26, 2020 • 10 Comments

Mickey Rooney? In film noir?

You bet your babes in arms.

Today’s YouTube pick is Quicksand (1950), a noir that will have you practically on the edge of your seat. It’s so chock full of noir, it’ll have you shouting at your TV: “No! Don’t do it!”

Until almost the end, that is – when this otherwise practically perfect feature takes a goofy turn that almost derails the whole works. But not quite. It still serves up more than an hour of everything you want in a noir. Check it out and see what I mean. You won’t be sorry. Just hang on to your chair.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Rooney stars as Dan, an auto mechanic who meets a dreamy dish at a local diner, and lifts twenty bucks from the cash register at his job so he can show her a good time. After that, things are downhill all the way.

Jeanne Cagney, whispering noirish nothings.

WHAT ELSE?

The dreamy diner dish is played by Jeanne Cagney, James Cagney’s younger sister. She can be seen in her brother’s Oscar-winning film, Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), as well as three other Cagney feature, including Man of a Thousand Faces (1957). She’s also in the Marilyn Monroe noir Don’t Bother to Knock (1952).

A small role is played by Jimmie Dodd, best known as the master of ceremonies in the Mickey Mouse Club. Dodd made a brief appearance in a YouTube noir pick from earlier this month, Too Late for Tears.

Peter Lorre? Yes, please!

Barbara Bates – who you may remember from All About Eve (1950) – has a featured part, as Dan’s wanna-be girlfriend. In All About Eve, Bates was the aspiring actress seen at the film’s end, fantasizing about taking Eve’s place. Sadly, Bates committed suicide at the age of 43.

Did I mention that Peter Lorre is in the film? What more do you need?

TOMORROW . . .

Join me for my next YouTube recommendation on Day 27 of Noirvember!

YouTube Noir — Noirvember Day 25: Odd Man Out (1947)

•November 25, 2020 • 8 Comments

I’d heard about today’s YouTube pick for years, but I never had any real interest in seeing it.

Once I finally decided to check it out, I was blown away.

Odd Man Out (1947) stars James Mason, but he may be the only performer in the film that you’ve ever heard of. But, believe me, it won’t matter one bit. This is one cracking good movie, and you simply must do yourself a favor and see it.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Mason stars as Johnny McQueen, the leader of an underground organization in Ireland. When Johnny is wounded during the commission of a robbery designed to secure funds for the group, he finds himself the subject of a citywide manhunt. (This has got to be the most boring synopsis I’ve ever written. Trust me – the movie is so much better than I’ve made it sound here.)

WHAT ELSE?

This British noir was directed by Carol Reed, who also helmed The Third Man (1949), starring Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles.

The film was the first British movie to with the BAFTA award for Best British Film.

Mason called this the best performance of his career.

James Mason called his performance in Odd Man Out the best of his career. (I agree.)

Actor Stewart Granger was reportedly offered the role played by Mason, but turned it down because of the dearth of dialogue. He later regretted his decision, particularly when he saw the positive impact the film had on Mason’s career.

TOMORROW . . .

Join me for my next YouTube recommendation on Day 26 of Noirvember!

YouTube Noir — Noirvember Day 24: D.O.A. (1949)

•November 24, 2020 • 6 Comments

Today’s YouTube pick is one of noir’s best-known offerings: D.O.A. (1949).

It’s got a perfect noir premise, a perfect noir opening, a perfect noir end, and in between, a characteristically labryrinthine noir plot. D.O.A. also serves up a great cast that includes Edmond O’Brien, Luther Adler and, playing a sadistically psychopathic hood, Neville Brand.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

It’s a very simple story: a man learns that he’s inadvertently ingested a fatal dose of poison, and spends what’s left of his life tracking down the people responsible for his impending death.

WHAT ELSE?

The director of the film was Rudolph Mate, whose other noirs included The Dark Past (1948) and Union Station (1950). He also helmed a first-rate western, The Violent Men (1955), which stars noir vets Glenn Ford, Edward G. Robinson, and Barbara Stanwyck.

Neville Brand played psychos like no other.

A featured role was played in the film by Lynne Baggett, who had a real-life story that would rival any noir. Read more about her rise and fall here.

The screenplay was written by Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene, the writing team that was also responsible for one of my favorite low-budget noirs, Wicked Woman (1953).

TOMORROW . . .

Join me for my next YouTube recommendation on Day 25 of Noirvember!

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

•November 23, 2020 • 2 Comments

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!