The first filmed version of ‘grandmother of noir’ Elisabeth Sanxay Holding’s The Blank Wall. More recently there’s The Deep End. Both interesting in what they use and what they leave out. The novel is terrific. Teaching it again in the spring.
This taut little thriller starts off going pell-mell and never really stops. The script by Jack Whittingham hasn’t got an ounce of fat and barely slows enough to breathe. Of course you expect Dirk Bogarde to turn in a compelling performance, but the real surprise for most folks is child star (later historian of art at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford) Jon Whiteley. It’s he who kicks things off, tearing through the streets and nearly getting run over by a Watney’s Red Barrel wagon, all the while trailing his teddy bear.
When little Robbie runs into Bogarde’s Chris Lloyd in an abandoned warehouse near the river with a dead body, it easy to assume the worst will happen. Like many films of its time, the rubble from the war gives the cityscape a suitably noir seediness as they both seek to elude the authorities and unravel the events that made them run.
We’re so accustomed to Spielberg’s cloying sentimentality: it’s so refreshing to see a child actor who’s not the least bit self-conscious and to enjoy a story that is touching without ever giving in to sentiment. The harsh journey north from London all the way to Scotland bonds them together in rough and unexpected ways.
Classic director Charles Crichton (if you don’t know him, remedy that at once) makes the most of the spare dialogue and his actors’ faces. The folk song and fairy tale scene alone would be enough to feel proud of for a whole career.
Check out all the overlooked gems at Todd’s blog.
BUILD MY GALLOWS HIGH
Geoffrey Homes (1946)
Probably best known as the text for Out of the Past, the classic noir film with Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas (and how much better a title is the book than that?), this novel written under a pseudonym by screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring, who also worked on the script for Invasion of the Body Snatchers and dozens of others, has much less cultural currency than the film it led to (I’d forgotten Against All Odds was a remake: I just cringe automatically on hearing in my head the Phil Collins theme song).
It’s a tight little book that feels very much like an adapted screenplay. There’s no wasted words in this slim volume though it fleshes out the backstory of the novel quite a bit more. The action pretty much hurls through the events non-stop. Nonetheless Homes/Mainwaring offers some moments worth lingering over, throwing in scraps of poetry (‘When I am dead and over me bright April shakes down her rain-drenched hair’) and some description that offers a bit of poetry of its own:
Lloyd Eels was a tall man who hadn’t come off the assembly line.Somebody had found some spare parts lying around and had put them together carelessly, not bothering to get the bolts tight so that they seemed almost ready to come apart. He had black, sad eyes and a black mustache like an untrimmed hedge. No amount of combing would help his shock of hair.
‘You’re getting fat,’ Red said. ‘It doesn’t become you.’
‘You come up here to tell me that?’
‘No, I hate to see a man let himself go. They’ll get you back in shape in Alcatraz.’
‘Always the jester,’ Whit said acidly.
‘But the cap is getting pretty shabby and the bells lose their merry tinkle.’
Jim Caldwell’s eyes saw nothing in the drab domestic scene to wonder at, nothing to make him consider even momentarily the thought that people got old and people took each other for granted and presently there was no magic in the world. Jesus, she was beautiful standing under the hard, white light, her head tilted a little, her cheeks flushed, her dark eyes full of stars.
See all the overlooked books over at Patti’s blog.
Via the Internet Archive: 61 minutes, starring Faye Emerson, Julie Bishop, Frank Wilcox, and Roland Drew.
And the ‘pedia says:
Lady Gangster is a 1942 Warner Bros. B picture film noir directed by Robert Florey, credited as “Florian Roberts”. It is based on the play Gangstress, or Women in Prison by Dorothy Mackaye, who had spent ten months of a one-to-three-years sentence in San Quentin State Prison. Lady Gangster is a remake of the pre-Code film, Ladies They Talk About (1933). Jackie Gleason plays a supporting role.
Thanks to Renato Bratkovič while attending Alibi-Fest.com I got to see writer Zoran Benčič and producer Tomi Matič present their new crime film, Psi Brezčasja / Case:Osterberg on Saturday night at Kino Slovenska Bistrica. Although my Slovenian is practically non-existent and there were no subtitles, I had no trouble following the story because the visual storytelling was so good. It’s the directorial debut for Matej Nahtigal, who teamed up with Benčič, the frontman of the seminal Slovenian rock’n’roll band Res Nullius, to adapt his 2012 novel with the same name. Nahtigal did so much with what was a ‘no budget’ film (many big name actors worked for nothing): the neo-noir style was spot on and it looked far more assured than you’d expect from a debut.
Vrhovec brings a dogged determination to Rok Osterberg as he stumbles down the dark alleys and grimy streets of the city. He can’t really trust anyone, of course — this is noir! — and violence breaks out at the drop of a hat, portrayed in all its wincing painfulness. There’s a switch of perspective about 2/3 of the way in: a tough thing to pull off and yet it’s done effortlessly. Fans of noir will not be disappointed. Indie filmmakers will be impressed: it raises the bar. If you can catch it on the circuit, do.
Synopsis: This is the story of Rok Osterberg (PRIMOŽ VRHOVEC), who returns to his hometown after years of living abroad to find out who had killed his brother and why. Rok’s personal investigation into his brother’s murder leads him through the underbelly of the city, where he has to face friends and enemies, old and new. He finds that Katarina (BREŽE), his ex girlfriend, is now the wife of the leading candidate for the town’s new major. The murder of Maks Osterberg is mystery to everyone, especially to the police and Rok realizes that the way to solving it stretches out of the dimly lit streets of the underworld up to the highest echelons of society.
Po knjižni predlogi/ inspired by novel: Zoran Benčič, Psi Brezčasja
Režija/director MATEJ NAHTIGAL
Zgodba /Story ZORAN BENČIČ
Izvršni producent/executive producer TOMI MATIČ
Rok Osterberg PRIMOŽ VRHOVEC
Katarina VIDA BREŽE
Inšpektor Kramer/inspector Kramer IVO GORŠIČ
Spaski IVO BARIŠIČ
Đango PREDRAG PEĐA MITROVIĆ
Inšpektor Polak/inspector Polak BLAŽ SETNIKAR
Kovač starejši/ Kovač senior RADKO POLIČ RAC
Aldo AKIRA HASEGAWA
Pavel BORUT VESELKO
Roksana VALENTINA PLASKAN
Lili ANDRIJANA BOŠKOŠKA BATIČ
Odvetnik Bernard Lam/lawyer Bernard Lam PRIMOŽ PIRNAT
Inšpektor Štajner/inspector Štajner MARKO UJC
Inšpektor Holz/inspector Holz EMIL CERAR
Marcel Bach VLADO G. REPNIK
Ivan DEJAN HERMANN
Polakova spremljevalka/Polak’s companion on bal: MARINA GREGOREC
Obritoglavec 1/skinhead 1 TOMI MATIČ
Obritoglavec 2/skinhead 2 LJUBISAV LJUBO ŠTICA
Taksist 1/ taxi driver 1 GORAN PETRAŠEVIČ
Scenarij/ screenwriter’s: ZORAN BENČIČ & MATEJ NAHTIGAL
Supervizor montaže/supervisor editor: ANDRIJA ZAFRANOVIĆ
Asistetnt supervizije montaže/assistant editing supervisor : PETER BAN
Montaža/ editors: MATEJ NAHTIGAL & ZORAN BENČIČ
Direktor fotografije /director of photography: VLADAN JANKOVIĆ
Producentka/producer: ŽIVA ČONKAŠ
Asistentka režije/assistant director: NINA TRATNIK
Tajnik režije/director secretary: ŽAK DAKOTA LEKŠE
Mojster luči/gaffer: DRAGO JARIČ
Asistent osvetljave/best boy: JURIJ VIŽINTIN
Scenografija/production designer: URŠKA MAZEJ
Kostumografija/ costume designer: SANJA GRCIĆ
Vodja scene/ grip: IVO PETRETIČ
Filmska tehnika/film equipment: FS VIBA FILM, ARRI ALEXA XT
Tonska tehnika/sound equipment: FS VIBA FILM
Czech refugee Clementi Sabourin (George Sanders), heartbroken and betrayed by his lover and his brother, sails to New York City, intent on changing his luck. Sabourin does manage to become wealthy and successful, but he does it by robbing, lying and cheating everyone he meets. Therefore, it’s no big surprise when Sabourin turns up murdered. But, since nearly everyone in his life wanted him dead, it’s going to be that much that trickier to find the real killer. 
Written and directed by Charles Martin, this film is a bit clunky and at times given to melodrama, but there’s a lot to fascinate, too. Foremost of course is the cast which not only features the ever-delightful George Sanders for whom cads were a stock in trade, but also a galaxy of great women who really make the film memorable. Yvonne de Carlo is terrific as the petty thief who becomes his right hand; Zsa Zsa Gabor plays her usual rich doll but with a fresh snarkiness that gives much more than the script suggests.
Nancy Gates has a great turn as Stephanie North, the secretary who wants to be an actor who catches Sabourin’s eye. Though he’s romancing three or four women at the time to advance various schemes (in the photo giving Colleen Gray’s soon-to-be-divorced magnate’s wife handcuff bracelets), he genuinely falls for her and when Gabor’s socialite fires her in a fit of jealousy, he funds her Broadway debut. He’s so captivated by her that he doesn’t catch on that the scene she’s playing on stage is just like the seduction scene he has planned for her later, which amuses de Carlo’s Bridget Kelley to no end. He goes through with the attempted seduction anyway and is stunned when the rising star laughs at the strange duplication.
Not really a lost classic by any means, but much interesting here and more than a little hint of noir. Check out the round-up of neglected A/V over at Todd’s blog.
A Woman’s Secret
Dir. Nicholas Ray
Script: Herman J. Mankiewicz
Gloria Grahame, Maureen O’Hara, Melvin Douglas
Of course I wanted to see this for glorious Gloria. The make-up! As the star Estrellita, they try to make her look more ‘exotic’ I guess and they do the extra lip thing: you know creating a fuller top lip which looks so wrong, though they did that to a lot of actresses at the time.
The film starts off with the star flouncing into her apartment and telling off O’Hara, saying she’s had enough of her Svengali act and is quitting. The two argue and behind a closed door, a gun goes off. The rest of the film is flashbacks to see how we got there and what really happened.
O’Hara is a peach but she can’t hold a candle to Grahame, who’s not on screen nearly enough but is magic whenever she is. The rough protégé tries O’Hara’s patience, but also becomes her vicarious double, robbed of stardom herself after a tragic illness. I want to read the novel Mortgage on Life by Vicki Baum because I suspect there’s a lot more intrigue than ended up on screen.
So much skirting the censors: Douglas and O’Hara make great beards for each other. There’s even a ‘phew, since we’re not interested in each other, let’s hang out instead’ scene and O’Hara is so obsessed with Grahame she looks like a cat ready to pounce. Meanwhile the singer-in-training is as likely to follow a man to Algiers on a whim as show up for her star debut.
See all the gems at Todd’s blog.