99 River Street (1953) Essential Phil Karlson b. Pulp poetry from DP Franz Planer. Matches the best of Anthony Mann and Sam Fuller. Evelyn Keys is hot! A cab-driver fights a murder wrap after his cheating wife leaves him for a ruthless hood. Keys steals this picture as a budding actress who helps the cab-driver in a night of noir entrapment. Her ‘seduction’ scene with the hood is the stuff of dreams – leaving Ella Raines in her jazz scene in Phantom Lady (1944) in the mud. Chiaroscuro lensing of Franz Planer is a revelation.
Brighton Rock (1947 UK) Greatest British noir is dark and chilling. A cinematic tour-de-force: from the direction and cinematography to top cast and editing. As brutal as any noir any time any country. A cheap young psychopath playing the hoodlum boss leaves a bloody trail as he tries to cover up his murder of a ‘rat’. Adapted by Grahame Greene from his pre-WW2 novel and brought to the screen by the talented Boulting brothers, the story has a venomous counter-point involving a gullible young waitress who ‘knows too much’. The picture has to contain one of the most chilling lines in all of noir when a nun speaks of “the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God”.
Drunken Angel (aka Yoidore tenshi) (1948 Japan) “Too many useless sacrifices” A great Kurosawa noir. A loser doctor with soul takes on the fetid moral swamp of Yakuza degradation. The Japanese master in one of his early films has created a classic noir. He fully comprehends the meaning of noir: from his story and a total control of his mis-en-scene he fashions a tragedy from the back alleys and stinking open sewers of urban degradation. An alcoholic slum doctor tries desperately and in all the wrong ways to cure a young consumptive Yakuza hood. Kurosawa makes bravura use of ambient music to juxtapose and telegraph the meaning of the drama as it unfolds: from a jazz band playing St. James Infirmary Blues, to a loudspeaker atop the “Happy” Supermarket blaring the Cuckoo Waltz in an endless loop…
Of Missing Persons (aka Section des disparus)(1956 Argentina) Lurid adaptation of 1950 pulp novel by David Goodis. Appalling yet mesmerizingly torrid latin melodrama. Playboy husband opportunistically fakes his death to flee the clutches of his neurotic wife and fall into the ample bosom of his dancer girlfriend.
The Phenix City Story (1955) Expose confidential based on true story. Unrelenting and chilling portrayal of decent people fighting crime. One of the better 50s ‘confidentials’ based on fact. A good b-cast exudes realism in on-the-streets confrontations filmed as newsreels. The killing of a black child is particularly brutal, and a sympathetic portrayal of blacks is noteworthy.
Scandal Sheet (1952) Lacklustre realisation of Sam Fuller’s expose novel on yellow journalism. Broderick Crawford is strong as the bad guy, but the rest of the cast is adequate 0nly. No tension or surprises from by-the-numbers direction.
The Second Woman (1950) From producer Harry M. Popkin (DOA and Impact) A neat b-noir lensed by Hal Mohr has you guessing with a nice twist. Interesting psycho-drama starring Robert Young as a disturbed architect (or is he?) with a love angle, but the pace is a little slow and the drama labored.
The Sleeping City (1950) Sleep inducer about drug racket in NY hospital. Could have been interesting if made by talented film-makers. NY cop goes undercover as an intern in a large city hospital to investigate a murder. Richard Conte’s mind is elsewhere…
The Sound of Fury (1950) Great noir from Cy Endfield outdoes Lang’s Fury and brilliantly prefigures Wilder’s Ace in the Hole. Climactic mob scenes mesmerise. Frank Lovejoy plays himself – an everyman down on his luck who takes to crime after hooking up with homme-fatale Lloyd Bridges, who then frames him for murder. Crazy scene of a lynch mob trying to storm a jail full of rioting in-mates is a must-see tour-de-force.
They Drive by Night (1938 UK) On-the-run ex-con tries to beat a murder rap on dark London streets and long-haul lorries. Abrupt ending though. Quaint English who-dun-it with noir atmospherics and a loopy camp villain. Not to be confused with the US-made Bogart vehicle.
The Unsuspected (1947) Camp noir! Curtiz directs, Woody Bredell lenses, Waxman scores, Claude Rains over-acts, and Audrey Totter is a hoot! Radio-host of a radio true murders program investigate his own crime! Predictable but fun. Checkout the vinyl…
Voici le temps des assassin (1956 France) A young twisted femme-fatale and her off-the-wall mere try to destroy aged Paris restaurateur. Climax a bitch. Jean Gabin is a master-chef and and all-round good guy, seduced by the daughter of his ex-wife. This dame is a text-book psychopath. Lies and more lies and layer upon layer of cruel manipulation. A dark hysteria pervades and look out for the young woman whipped by the dominatrix mother-in-law swathed in mourning!
The Web (1947) Entertaining thriller with dumb lawyer framed for murder. Snappy patter from solid leads, but about as noir as an albino cat. Hapless lawyer moonlights as bodyguard for a corporate type, and gets into trouble. An ensemble cast serve up a fizzy martini: Ella Raines, Edmond O’Brien, William Bendix, and Vincent Price. Guess who plays who!
Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) Preminger’s elegant direction and La Shelles’ crisp noir lensing are aloof. Dan Andrews in the lead is wooden. Andrews is a cop on a short fuse, who accidentally kills a suspect, and covers it up, then falls for the daughter of the cab-drover charged with the killing. Over-rated and it has all been said before. Gene Tierney as always is engaging as the love interest.
The Woman On the Beach (1947) Intriguing cerebral noir melodrama from Jean Renoir… what’s left of it after hacking by RKO suits. A moody ‘art-house’ noir where a love triangle suffused with suppressed rage, anger, and eroticism is played out in an isolated beach-side setting. Top cast make it interesting: Joan Bennett, Robert Ryan, and Charles Bickford.
World For Ransom (1954) Dan Duryea a good guy! Robert Aldrich takes a boys own script and fashions a noir take on love, loyalty and illusion. Set in Singapore with a shootout finale in the jungles of Malaya. Story while solid does not support the heavy psychological sub-text.