Posts Tagged ‘noir’

Too Late for Tears (1949)

Byron Haskin | Cast: Lisabeth Scott, Don DeFore, Dan Duryea, Arthur Kennedy | US Noir 99’

Don’t expect the tear-jerker the title might lead you to anticipate. To paraphrase Godard, all you need for a film noir is Lizabeth Scott with a gun in her handbag, and that’s what you get here.

Visually the film isn’t actually terribly noirish, since much of the action takes place in the modest but well-lit little apartment occupied by honest working stiff Arthur Kennedy and his wannabe Queen Bee wife Lizabeth Scott. However, since Ms. Scott’s extraordinary face framed by a sleek blonde bob is a prominent visual motif throughout the film, there are enough images of her framed by cameraman William Mellor in a succession of chic high-collared suits to inspire plenty of paintings by Richard Hamilton.

In a narrative that anticipates Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan, Kennedy and Scott have predictably differing ideas about what to do with a suitcase containing $60,000 in untraceable notes that unexpectedly lands on their car seat. Not long afterwards Dan Duryea at his scariest wearing an obnoxious little bow-tie comes calling wanting his money back, before learning too late – like Tony Perkins in ‘Pretty Poison’ – that he’s in way out of his depth with a true criminal sociopath like Ms. Scott.

There’s a lot of talk; but as scripted by Roy Huggins (who later created ‘The Fugitive’ and ‘The Rockford Files’) it’s good talk, and the interaction and development of the characters builds to a most satisfyingly conclusion to which little clues have been discreetly sown along the way. The characters of the man introducing himself as Kennedy’s former war buddy, and Kennedy’s sister herself who lives across the landing – played by Don Defore and Kristine Miller – don’t at first seem terribly interesting but grow to confound expectations.

All the acting is good, with the possible exception of Ms. Scott herself, who’s a bit one-note, but isn’t really required to do much except look like Lizabeth Scott, which she does to perfection. Aged only 26, she already looks as if she’s had her face lifted about half a dozen times; but on her it looks good @RichardChatten

NOW ON BFI PLAYER

Inferno (1953) Bluray

Dir: Roy Ward Baker | Cast: Rhonda Fleming, Robert Ryan | US Western 73′

Although largely forgotten today, this ‘desert noir’ probably marked the early fifties apex both of the 3D film and the sojourn in Hollywood of director Roy Baker, who glowingly recalled it as “a very good story indeed”.

Robert Ryan, however, plainly had this movie in mind when he lamented that Cary Grant got the glamorous parts while he had to make do with “deserts with a dirty shirt and two day growth of beard” (although he forgot to mention also having a broken leg). Rhonda Fleming as his faithless wife, on the other hand, is dressed to kill in expensive finery throughout.

Shot in gleaming Technicolor by ace cameraman Lucien Ballard in Apple Valley on the edge of the Mojave desert, Baker said the idea appealed to him of making an interior film without dialogue. There’s actually a lot of talk in the finished film (including about what a jerk Ryan’s character was prior to the film opening not really bourne out by Ryan’s engaging performance; although those inclined to get sentimental about cuddly wildlife like rabbits and deer are likely to take umbrage at the way Ryan looks upon them purely as food), and in context such comments as “That’s my Rabbit!” and “Want a ride?” really hit the spot. Ditto the closing line. @Richard Chatten

NOW ON BLURAY

The Strange Woman (1946) Prime Video

Dir: Edgar G Ulmer | Herb Meadow | Cast: Hedy Lamarr, George Sanders, Louis Hayward, Gene Lockhart, Hillary Brooke | US Noir, 90′

Based on a 1941 novel by Ben Ames Williams, whose Leave Her to Heaven had just provided the 40’s Hollywood melodrama with one of its most memorably manipulative female psychos in the form of Gene Tierney as Ellen Berent. Hedy Lamarr chose this as her first independent production and cannily selected Edgar Ulmer to direct, who makes the most of the opportunities provided by unaccustomedly decent production values and a solid supporting cast, while giving Ms Lamarr her head to create a memorable femme fatale.

In early 19th Century Maine, Hedy learns as a child how to manipulate boys for her own spiteful ends. So far, so promising – particularly as portrayed as a worldly, spiteful little vixen by Jo Ann Marlowe – but one apprehensively suspects she will inevitably prove less enjoyably sociopathic when she grows up to be Hedy Lamarr.

Hedy herself as a young woman initially shows promise, wearing lots of lipstick and making eloquent use of her eyes while otherwise cultivating an intriguing stillness as she twists men round her little finger and declares “I don’t want the youngest. I want the richest!”. Learning to cultivate her feminine wiles in the face of brutal patriarchy in the person of her drunken and violent father (played by Inspector Lestrade, Denis Hoey), she promises to become a more alluringly damaged adult than she ultimately proves to be. SPOILER COMING: Ms Lamarr – whose accent increasingly slips as the film approaches its conclusion – loses her nerve towards the end of the film, when she falls victim to true love and dies misguided rather than Bad.

The title is taken from Proverbs 5:3 and doesn’t really fit Ms Lamarr; but The Wicked Lady was already taken, although she doesn’t prove that wicked either. @Richard Chatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

Blast of Silence (1961) DVD

Dir: Allen Baron | Cast: Allen Baron, Molly McCarthy, Larry Tucker, Peter Clune | US Noir Thriller 77′

The most valuable asset to an ambitious young filmmaker of the 21st Century would probably be a time machine capable of returning you to the year 1960. Clocking in at just 77 minutes but seeming much longer, Blast of Silence is further evidence that in those days it would have taken genius for an independent filmmaker NOT to create a classic city ‘noir’. Just make sure there’s film in your camera and take your pick from all the breathtaking compositions – complete with vintage cars and sharply dressed passers-by – constantly forming around you; even Michael Winner couldn’t fail to turn in a black & white urban gem three years later with West 11 (1963).

It certainly anticipates Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai (1967) – but then so do Kubrick’s Killer’s Kiss (1955) and Robert Wise’s Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) – and plenty have been seduced by Blast of Silence’s aura of monochrome period cool into extravagantly overpraising it. Allen Baron’s inexpressive performance as hit-man Frankie Bono (he resembles a young George C. Scott) certainly provides a perfect blank slate on which to inscribe any profundities or angst that grab you. In his capacity as writer-director Baron at some point late in production evidently felt the need to do just that, calling upon two eminent blacklistees whose services at the time would have been available at an affordable price.

The insistent narration reminiscent of Mark Hellinger’s in The Naked City was written under the pseudonym Mel Davenport by Waldo Salt (who later won Academy Awards for Midnight Cowboy and Coming Home), while the rasping voice of Lionel Stander is uncredited but unmistakable on the soundtrack, providing the glue which with Merrill Brody’s photography holds the film together. Unfortunately much of what Stander keeps telling us on the soundtrack doesn’t really need to be spelled out so relentlessly; while Meyer Kupferman’s jazz score is extremely effective in moderation, but gets very noisy in places.

Despite supposedly being such a pro, Frankie Bono’s murder of Big Ralph (played by Larry Tucker, who I recognised from Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor) is remarkably amateurishly executed, his long-anticipated hit of Troiano no big deal, and he proves remarkably easy to ambush at the film’s conclusion. Richard Chatten

NOW ON AMAZON

Jungle Street (1960) Talking Pictures

Dir: Charles Saunders | Wri: Alexander Dore | Cast: Jill Ireland, David McCallum, Kenneth Cope, Brian Weske, Vanda Hudson, Edna Dore | UK Thriller 89′

A short-haired Jill Ireland already caught the eye as a dancer in ‘Powell & Pressburger’s Oh…Rosalinda!! in 1955. A few years later we discover her as a glacial hussy flaunting herself in tights in a strip club called the Adam & Eve (along with several other girls, one of them Black) in this vividly sleazy record of a Britain sixty years ago between the end of the Chatterley ban and The Beatles’ first L.P.

Her leading men were later TV stars David McCallum (then looking very lean ‘n hungry and married to Ireland, who later dumped him for Charles Bronson), and Kenneth Cope, introduced in what was then the traditional manner of leaving Wormwood Scrubs.

Noirishly photographed by Walter J. Harvey from a story by exploitation producer Guido Coen, and with an appropriately trashy jazz score by someone called Harold Geller, it vividly evokes a world sixty years ago when £50 was worth committing robbery with violence for, despite it then being a hanging offence. Richard Chatten.

(P.S. Ignore the date given by the IMDb, according to Gifford’s ‘British Film Catalogue’ it was released in October 1961, and 1961 is the date in the credits.)

DOING THE ROUNDS ON TALKING PICTURES TV

 

The Glass Cage (1964) ***

Dir: Antonio Santean | Wri: John Hoyt | Cast: Arlene Martel, John Hoyt, Elisha Cook Jr, Bob Kelljan, King Moody | Henry Darrow | US Thriller

Off-beat to put it mildly, this location-shot murder mystery and psycho-drama was co-written and co-produced by veteran actor John Hoyt, who saw to it that the tiny budget was well employed while enjoying himself as a seasoned cop working the mean streets of early Sixties L.A. It sees two detectives investigating the murder of a local businessman by a mysterious woman.

If you were working on a budget as low as this bizarre cross of William Castle and early Kubrick you could probably do pretty much what you wanted as long as you didn’t go over schedule, made sure there was film in the camera and didn’t upset the censor. Although not exactly good it’s certainly strange enough to linger in the memory and gives a juicy role to TV actress Arlene Martel (billed as ‘Arlene Sax’), best remembered for the very different role of Spock’s Vulcan bride T’Pring in the classic Star Trek episode ‘Amok Time’. The film’s biggest liability is actually a noisy music score.

Slight spoil alert: It also has the bonus of Elisha Cook as the heroine’s father; although despite being billed fourth he appears so fleetingly it feels as it he was just visiting the set while they were filming and offered a walk on (or – since he walks with a stick – a hobble on). We’re told he’s an evangelist but sadly don’t see him in the pulpit. Richard Chatten.

 

 

 

The Steel Trap (1952) ****

Dir: Andrew L Stone | Cast: Joseph Cotton, Teresa Wright | US Film Noir, 82′

The thrillers of Andrew L. Stone have still yet to receive their due; those who have seen them are rightly crazy about them, but they remain stubbornly little known to the general public, and very little – although invariably positive – is ever written about them.

The Steel Trap is one of his best; Planes, Trains and Automobiles played straight, with characters you care about and well acted down to the bit players, moments of dry black humour that can make you laugh out loud at the tensest moments, terrific location photography by Ernest Laszlo (this picture really cries out for Blu-ray), and a noisy Dimitri Tiomkin score that adds to the fun (I particularly liked the Brazilian lilt he adopted every time Cotton’s destination in Rio was mentioned).

Partly filmed in New Orleans, Louisiana, it centres on Cotton’s long term Los Angeles banker who can’t resist robbing his own employer and absconding to Brazil with the cash when he discovers there’s no extradition with the US. He clears it all with his wife Laurie (Teresa Wright) and they hatch a plan, leaving his daughter with the mother in law. But it’s not all plain sailing, far from it. A nail-biting ride that sees Cotten and Wright reunited after Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. Richard Chatten .

 

I Walk Alone (1947) *** Talking Pictures

Prod: Hal Wallis. Dir: Byron Haskin. Scr: Charles Schnee. Cast: Burt Lancaster, Lizabeth Scott, Kirk Douglas, Wendell Corey, Kristine Miller. Crime Melodrama. 98 mins.

Yet another choice rarity unearthed by Talking Pictures. Burt and Kirk’s first movie together belongs to the very brief period when Lancaster (who is for once permitted to tower over Douglas) played bullet-headed, blue-chinned tough guys (here carrying a huge chip on his shoulder having finally emerged from fourteen years in the slammer), and Douglas slick but shifty desk villains.

I Walk Alone is also historically significant as Byron Haskin’s return to the director’s chair after twenty years as a cameraman and special effects photographer at Warner Brothers; but being a Paramount production Edith Head was on hand to slinkily attire Lizabeth Scott. Richard Chatten.

On Talking Pictures at 10.05 p.m. on Wednesday 3 June.

Crime Wave (1953) ****

Dir: Andre de Toth | Writer: Crane Wilbur | Cast: Gene Nelson, Sterling Hayden, Phyllis Kirk, Ted de Corsia, Charles Bronson, Niedrick Young, James Bell | US Noir Thriller 73′

The Cinema Museum’s Kennington Noir thread hits the new year running with this bleak crime drama shot on location in the streets and police stations of L.A. in just 13 days by veteran Hollywood cameraman Bert Glennon.

Crime Wave probably influenced the young Stanley Kubrick, with three of the film’s cast going on to feature a couple of years later in his classic heist thriller The Killing (which is the next film in the season on 19 February; director Andre de Toth’s only other noir – Ramrod – will be shown on 15 April).

But there was a dark side to the story in real life as well as in the film noir itself: both writer Bernard Gordon and Nedrick Young (who plays the ill-fated Gat Morgan) were later blacklisted. But Young would be back – he is credited with co-writing the screenplay for Jailhouse Rock in 1957, which starred Elvis Presley, and went on to win the Oscar for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay for The Defiant Ones (1958). R Chatten.

KENNINGTON NOIR SEASON | THE CINEMA MUSEUM | LONDON SE11

 

Notorious (1946) ***** Restoration

Dir.: Alfred Hitchcock; Cast: Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, Claude Rains, Leopoldine Constantin; USA 1946, 142 min. 

International espionage, romance and intrigue coalesce to make Notorious one of Hitchcock’s most unsettling thrillers. Cary Grant plays a perverse American agent who pushes the daughter of a tragic German spy into the bed of a Nazi ring leader. She goes along with the plan because she is in love with him. And he doubts her love because she goes along with his dreadful plan.

Devlin (Grant) is a debonair agent working for the US-government in post war 1946. The Nazis are still lurking in the toxic undergrowth and Devlin is instructing Bergman’s beautiful but emotionally broken Alicia Huberman how to  infiltrate their midst. Devlin falls for her, but their ‘honeymoon’ in Rio comes to an abrupt end when Nazi ring leader Alexander Sebastian (Rains) turns out be a willing victim of a honey trap. Sebastian is an old friend of Alicia’s father, who committed suicide after being convicted of espionage. Despite their great age difference – the foolish old man has already been rejected by Alicia during the war – he makes another bid for her affections and she acquiesces disillusioned by a string of love with dashing but unsuitable men (just like Eva-Maria Saint in North by Northwest). Devlin and Sebastian are lost souls – emotionally immature, they obey their super-egos: and Devlin is in awe of his older superiors, all father figures; whereas Sebastian is under the cosh of his dominating mother (Constantin), who is jealous of all the women he meets. Devlin and Sebastian are equally jealous of each other, and it nearly ruins Devlin’s plan. But after he finds out that the Nazis are amassing uranium, used for developing the atom bomb – Sebastian and his cruel mother become aware of Alicia’s double play. Fully aware that her son would fall victim to his fellow conspirators, if they found out about Alicia, Mrs. Sebastian schemes to kill Alicia slowly with cyanide – a plan that holds weight, Devlin believing – in his blinkered egotism, that Alicia is back on the bottle.

Although Hitchcock directed North by North West as a comedy: Gary Grant’s Thornhill is much more victim than perpetrator, and James Mason is a much cooler antagonist; Claude Rains is just caught in a double-bind between Alicia and his mother. While Eva-Maria Saint is blonde (and therefore much more dangerous), Bergman’s brunette garners more sympathy, Ted Tetzlaff camera caresses her, but shows Devlin as a cold and unkind boss. Notorious is about a perverted ménage-à-trois, North by North West is more a comedy-thriller with a happy-ending. But there is a wide gulf between Grant’s emotionally buttoned up Devlin and playboy Roger Thornhill, who enjoys the dangerous ride – up to a point.  But the Mac Guffins and enemy characters are exchangeable as always. The proof is in the (German) pudding: The American distributors did not want the German audiences to be reminded of their recent past (bad for business), and changed the Nazis into drug lords.

Amusingly, Hitchcock and his screenwriter Ben Hecht were investigated for years by the FBI simply because they did not believe that the duo actually made up the uranium story: Notorious was shot before Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In real life, the original producer David O. Selznick dumped the whole project for a mere 800 000 Dollar on RKO – who made a handsome profit with box-office receipts well over eight million; a profit of 237 Million $ in today’s money.

NOTORIOUS IS BACK ON 9 AUGUST 2019 AT BFI SOUTHBANK, WATERSHED BRISTOL, BELMONT ABERDEEN and cinemas nationwide. 

  

    

                   

Human Desire (1954) **** Dual Format release

Dir: Fritz Lang | Noir Thriller | US, 1954, 90′

Fritz Lang brings a seething expressionism to this steely hard-boiled Noir. And although Jean Renoir’s 1938 version is better known, Lang’s American remake re-works themes of fear, jealousy and hatred into an equally provocative and suspenseful thriller that translocates the action to a working class New Jersey railroad setting. Loosely based on Emile Zola’s La Bête Humaine, Alfred Hayes script pictures Glenn Ford’s tortured train engineer cum Korean War veteran (Warren) fall for Gloria Grahame’s married femme fatale (Vicki Buckley). Set amidst the bleak monochrome marshalling yards, their doomed love affair is the only spark. Vicki’s abusive alcoholic husband Carl (Broderick Crawford) is fired from his job and blackmails her to stay with him using as his weapon a letter that links her to a jealousy-fuelled murder he committed on a train. He begs Vicki (Gloria Grahame) to speak to John Owens (Grandon Rhodes), an influential businessman. But when her love affair is revealed, it all ends in tears. Oscar-winning cinematographer Burnett Guffey creates a remarkable opening sequence where a train hurtles through the urban landscape. Set to Daniele Amfitheatrof’s rousing score, which primps the highs and lows of the narrative, this is one of the highlights of the mean and moody affair. Meanwhile costumier Jean Louis works his mastery on some seriously well-tailored rigouts. MT

NOW OUT ON DUAL FORMAT RELEASE COURTESY OF EUREKA

 

 

 

My Name is Julia Ross (1945) ****

Dir: Joseph H. Lewis; Wri: Muriel Roy Bolton, Music Mischa Bakaleinikoff, Art Director Jerome Pycha Jr | Cast: Nina Foch May Whitty George Macready Roland Varno Anita Bolster Doris Lloyd | Noir thriller US, 64’

Joseph H Lewis’ tautly tense psychological melodrama runs for just over an hour, yet every minute is packed with seconds with Muriel Roy Bolton’s clever script adapted from Anthony Gilbert’s novel The Woman in Red about a decent girl down on her luck who falls into the clutches of a Machiavellian mother and her disturbed son. 

My Name Is Julia Ross immediately secured Joseph Lewis a place in the noir firmament, and was soon to be followed by A Lady Without Passport and Gun Crazy in 1950; Cry of the Hunted (1953); and The Big Combo in 1955.

The premise is slightly outlandish, but suspend your disbelief and you’ll enjoy this Noirish thriller with its eclectic international cast. Dutch actor Nina Foch plays a secretary who secures a live-in position working for a wealthy English dowager (Dame May Whitty) with a dark secret. It soon transpires that Julia (Foch) has been employed under false pretences, as a shoe-in for the dowager’s dead daughter-in-law. She then wakes the following morning to discover she has been heavily drugged and transported to a Cornish seaside mansion where she is now Mrs Marion Hughes, and married to the dowager’s son Ralph. But that’s not the end of a waking nightmare that sees her trapped by circumstances beyond her control. 

Foch makes for a vulnerable yet stylishly foxy heroine decked out in Jean Louis’s elegant designs. Meanwhile, Burnett Guffey’s subtle lighting and chiaroscuro shadow-play spices up the sinister nature of this sinuous English-set psychodrama. Whitty gives a chillingly commanding turn as the mother, and Macready is suitably convincing as her abusive son. In this first class B movie, Joseph H. Lewis shows that great results can be achieved with a modest budget. MT 

OUT ON Bluray 18 FEBRUARY COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS 

3 Films in praise of Julien Duvivier

Julien Duvivier (1896-1967) was a prominent French film director largely active between 1930-1960 and best known for his early silent films and thrillers such as Pépé Le MokoLa Bandera, Life dances on, and Marianne de ma Jeunesse. He began life as an actor but after a disaster on stage, he moved on to write and direct, later relating the incident in his 1939 film La fin du Jour, with Michel Simon playing his character.

After working for Andre Antoine at Gaumont, Duvivier directed his first film in 1919. His early work was often religious in nature: La Tragédie de Lourdes, and La Vie Miraculeuse de Thérèse Martin which explored the Carmelite saint Thérèse de Liseux. Gaining experience with seminal French directors Marcel l’Herbier and Louis Feuillade, his first successful drama David Golder (1931) was a rags to riches story of an ambitious Polish Jew who falls foul of his wife. In 1934 Duvivier began a collaboration with Jean Gabin that would see them working together in The Imposter (1944), Pépé Le Moko, and La Belle Equipe (They Were Five). Like his countryman Jacques Tourneur, Duvivier moved to Hollywood and enjoyed the experience working with Charles Boyer, Edward G Robinson, Henry Fonda and Tyrone Power. But like Tourneur he eventually went back to France where he often cast Fernandel, Alain Delon, George Sanders and Michel Simon in his dramas.

Revered by legends such as Ingmar Bergman and Jean Renoir, Duvivier is still one of the greatest figures in the history of French cinema and possibly the most neglected, due to the uneven yet thematically varied nature of his work. Critic Michael Atkinson sees the poetic realist pioneer as “a victim of auteurism, ignored for generations by critics who saw…his output as the work of an able journeyman without signature or invention,” Duvivier, Atkinson argues compellingly, “rarely let a dull or unevocative shot pass through his camera,” and his films “fairly leap and swoon with visual cogency, surprising compositional drama, and a quintessentially French embrace of narrative life, equal parts funeral and fete.” Despite all this, his best films are stellar and treasured by cinefiles all over the world. He died in a car crash in 1967.

Julien Duvivier taps into post-war France’s paranoia in PANIQUE (1944), a long unavailable thriller, adapted from a Georges Simenon novel. Proud, eccentric and anti-social, Monsieur Hire (Michel Simon) has always kept to himself. But after the body of a woman turns up in the Paris suburb where he lives, he feels drawn to a pretty young newcomer to town (Viviane Romance), discovers his neighbours are only too ready to be suspicious of him, and is framed for the murder. Duvivier’s first outing after his return to France from Hollywood, sees the acclaimed poetic realist applying his consummate craft to darker, moodier ends. Led by two deeply nuanced performances, the tensely noirish Panique exposes the dangers of the knives-out mob mentality, delivering a pointed allegory of the behaviour of Duvivier’s countrymen during the war.

ON BLURAY AT AMAZON

But Julien Duvivier’s 1956 thriller DEADLIER THAN THE MALE  (Voici les temps des Assassins) somehow manages to outdo them all when it comes to violent women in film Noir: Catherine (Delorme) is the daughter of the drug depending Gabrielle (Bogaert), and tries to escape from the milieu by marrying the restaurant owner Andre Chatelin (Gabin), who has divorced her mother. Telling him that Gabrielle is dead, the scheming Catherine succeeds in marrying the much older man, who soon learns that his wife is lying about her mother. He more or less imprisons her with her mother Antoinette (Bert), also a restaurant owner, who kills her chicken with a whip – which she also uses on Catherine. The frightened woman asks Andre’s friend, the student Gerard (Blain), to kill her husband, but when he refuses, she kills him. Her end – by the fangs of a particular vicious animal – is particularly gruesome. Again, the images of Armand Thirad are undeserving of this blatant ideology.

ON BLURAY AT AMAZON 

The notorious Pépé LE MOKO (Jean Gabin, in a truly iconic performance) plunges into the gangster underworld as a wanted man: women long for him, rivals hope to destroy him, and the law is breathing down his neck at every turn. On the lam in the labyrinthine Casbah of Algiers, Pépé is safe from the clutches of the police–until a Parisian playgirl compels him to risk his life and leave its confines once and for all. One of the most influential films of the 20th century and a landmark of French poetic realism, Julien Duvivier’s Pépé le moko is presented here in its full-length version. AVAILABLE FROM CRITERION COLLECTION | Amazon Prime

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018) ***

Writer/Dir: Drew Goddard | Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jeff Bridges, Lewis Pullman | Jan Hamm, Cynthia Erivo, Chris Hemsworth | US Drama | 141′

Drew Goddard moves from a Cabin in the Woods to a hotel straddling Nevada and California in his over-stuffed Neo-noir saved by a dynamite cast. Set in Lake Tahoe hotel during the Nixon era, a bold attempt to tribute Tarantino is laudable but over-ambitious, and although El Royale juggles a fistful of plots in its fractured narrative the result is unwieldy and far too long. The central figure is Jeff Bridges’ Reverend Flynn, a gangster posing as a man of the cloth who has returned to El Royale for his ill-gotten gains, in the shape of a briefcase of dollars, years later. His fellow guests at this jaded establishment with two-way mirrors include an ebullient salesman (Jon Hamm); a mysterious gun-toting femme fatale (Dakota Johnson) and Cynthia Erivo’s brilliant lounge singer who keeps giving forth with those strong-voiced solos which will soon come in handy, plotwise. There’s a seething paranoia abroad reflecting the febrile political era and each character seems locked in their own private hell, not least the timid bell boy (Lewis Pullman’s Miles Miller) as who is the real dark horse of the El Royale. And when the story’s almost done, along comes a cocky Chris Hemsworth channelling Charles Manson in an ill-advised final chunk to the proceedings – he’s determined to get his hands on the loot. It all looks stylish and slick and the acting is superb, yet for all this mystery and money (clearly the budget was huge) there’s no satisfaction to be had in the protracted ending. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 12 October 2018 NATIONWIDE

Vertigo (1957) Remastered *****

Dir.: Alfred Hitchcock; Cast: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara del Geddes, Tom Helmore; USA 1957, 128 min.

VERTIGO is based on The Living and the Dead by the French duo Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac set in France in the 1940s. Henry-Georges Clouzot had adapted their previous novel for Les Diaboliques, but Hitchcock was unhappy with Alec Coppel’s original script and asked the San Francisco based Samuel Taylor for a re-write.

Filming took place between September and Christmas 1957, the 1958 summer release of Vertigo was either a critical or box-office success – and Francois Truffaut gave it just six pages (out of 300) in his ‘Definitive Study’ Of Hitchcock.

James Stewart plays police officer John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson who is plagued by agoraphobia after an accident that kills a fellow officer. Even his artist girlfriend Midge Wood (del Geddes), cannot seem to get through to him after the tragedy, then an old school, ship owner Gavin Elster (Helmore) asks him to keep an eye on his wife Madeleine (Novak), who is suicidal, and believes she is a re-incarnation of Charlotta Valdes, who committed suicide in 1857 aged 26. Elster reveals to Scottie that, unbeknown to his wife, Madeleine is Charlotta’s great-grand daughter. Scottie starts following Madeleine, and saves her from drowning near the Golden Gate Bridge. The two fall in love, and afterwards drive together to Muir Woods, Cypresse Point and finally the missionary of San Juan Bautista, where Madeleine confesses  love for Scottie, before climbing the steeple whence she falls to her death, Scottie unable to save her due to his phobia. 

Scottie becomes clinically depressed and Midge visits him during his confinement but spoils everything painting a garish portrait of herself as Charlotta Valdes; the real painting hanging in the Legion of Honour Museum, which Scottie visits regularly. Despairing, he meets the shop assistant Judy Barton from Salina, Kansas, who is a brunette, but resembles Madeleine, who was a blonde, eerily. Scottie is trying to remake Judy into Madeleine, but stumbles on a deadly secret: Elster has used him, and it was the real Madeleine Elster, who got killed at the missionary. Scottie drags Judy to San Juan Bautista to make her confess, but ends up losing her a second time.

Hitchcock regulars DoP Robert Burks, editor George Tomasini and particularly composer Bernhard Herrmann make Vertigo a standout success and his most mature masterpiece. The director had cast Vera Miles in the leading role, but to his annoyance, she got pregnant. Whilst Kim Novak brilliantly fills her shoes, Hitchcock told her on the first day of shooting that he would not tolerate her “pre-conceived ideas”. 

San Francisco provides an eerie backcloth to this alienating drama, deeply Anti-Proustian in its conception, maintaining that memory is free and floods back in every detail. Here Hitchcock sees memory as just a distortion: however hard Scottie tries to re-invent Madeleine, she remains Judy under the glaring green light of an advertising sign. Vertigo is a double murder, both crimes committed by the most tragic of Hitchcock’s heroes. AS

Park Circus is delighted to announce the Presenting Alfred Hitchcock season with an opportunity to explore Alfred Hitchcock’s signature style in the year that Vertigo celebrates its 60th anniversary. 

Vertigo will screen in a new 4K restoration at the BFI, Southbank and at cinemas across the UK from 13 July. The film will also be released in international territories.

The Killing (1956) | blu-ray release | Kubrick’s early classics

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Cast: Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Jay C Flippen, Marie Windsor,

85min   Thriller  US

Kubrick had started his career in the late 1940s as a magazine photographer honing his framing expertise and camera techniques. At 27, THE KILLING was his third feature and another chance to demonstrate his photgraphic skills for this exacting genre. He based his fractured narrative on Lionel White’s book ‘Clean Break’ and called on paperback pro Jim Thompson (The Killer Inside Me) to help him co-write the script with a documentary style employing a voiceover narration (from veteran commentator, Art Gilmore) to create distance. During the robbery sequence, the action shifts back and forth showing the event from the different perspectives of the perpetrators.

Following on from Killer’s Kiss it was technically his first full feature-length film; the former running for just over a an hour and opens on the New York’s Bays Meadows racetrack as a group of hardened criminals prepare to stage a horserace heist. Sterling Hayden leads as the ringleader Johnny Clay, a glibly handsome and fast-talking pugnacious crook, fresh out of jail.  Elisha Cook Jr’s shifty racetrack bookmaker plays his sidekick George Peatty who’s slightly back-footed by his wife Sherry’s ongoing infidelity. Using his forthcoming windfall as a bribe to win back her affections, he divulges too much about the robbery and Sherry tells her lover who tries to grab a share of the action.

The tone is dark and menacing and pacing echoes that of Wilder’s Double Indemnity ten years previouslycommunicating the urgency, greed and depravity of all concerned and reflecting the country’s nascent economic doom. This richly textured noir thriller contains a scene in local chess lounge (Kubrick loved the game) where Johnny meets the Russian wrestler Maurice Oboukhoff (Kola Kwariani) who is instrumental in the heist and there is a clever turn from cult actor Timothy Carey as the “paraplegic” man who fires the shot on the racecourse. The clown-like robbers’ masks will appear again later in Clockwork Orange adding a note of cognitive dissonance to the thriller tropes. Kubrick has planned the action in his mind and gradually gives the clues away while the tension tightens until the nail-biting airport climax, which every traveller can appreciate. MT

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