Film Noir

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Sweet Smell of Success

Sunday, July 31st, 2016

Sweet Smell of Success

Tagline – This is the story of J.J. – But not the way he wants it told!

Starring – Burt Lancaster (J.J. Hunsecker), Tony Curtis (Sidney Falco), Susan Harrison (Susan Hunsecker), Martin Milner (Steve Dallas).

Released – June, 1957

Directed By – Alexander Mackendrick

Produced By – Norma Productions, Curtleigh Productions, Hill-Hecht-Lancaster Productions

Distributed By – United Artists

Description – J.J. Hunsecker is Broadway’s most powerful columnist. How powerful? Sixty-million readers powerful. He can make or break you with just a paragraph or two.

However, J.J. does have a problem. His younger sister Susan is seeing up-and-coming jazz musician Steve Dallas and J.J. doesn’t like it. Unable to talk Susan out of this relationship, J.J. now seeks to destroy Dallas personally and professionally.

Press agent Sidney Falco has been trying, without any luck, to brake up the romance on J.J.’s orders. His failures have caused J.J. to hold back on any positive publicity in his column for Sidney’s clients. As a result, Sidney has been losing both money and clients.

Falco is given one last chance by Hunsecker and is ordered to plant a false rumor that Dallas is a drug user and a member of the Communist Party. The pressure caused by this plan causes Susan to break up her relationship with Dallas so that he can continue to pursue his career without her brothers sabotage.

A confrontation ensues between Hunsecker and Dallas after the breakup and even though Susan and Dallas are no longer a couple, J.J. still decides to destroy the young musician’s career. Why? Because he can.

The effects of J.J.’s cruel retribution against Dallas cause Susan to attempt suicide in her apartment. She is stopped by the arrival of Falco shortly before J.J. also arrives believing the two in a totally different scenario.

NOTABLE: Robert Vaughn was originally cast to play the part of Steve Dallas, but was drafted into the Army before any footage could be filmed.

The narcotics detective in Sweet Smell of Success, Lt Harry Kello, is based on NYPD detective Eddie Egan, immortalized by Gene Hackman as ‘Popeye’ Doyle in the 1971 film The French Connection.

Famed New York columist Walter Winchell was the model for the character J.J. Hunsecker.

Originally intended to be produced with a modest budget of $600,000 the films costs skyrocketed to $2,600,000.

Sweet Smell of Success is listed on Entertainment Weekly’s 100 Greatest Movies of All Time, and included among Steven Schneider’s “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.”

The Killing

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

The Killing (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

Tagline – These 5 Men Had A $2,000,000 Secret Until One Of Them Told His Woman!

Starring – Sterling Hayden (Johnny Clay), Coleen Gray (Fay), Vince Edwards (Val Cannon), Jay C. Flippen (Marvin Unger), Marie Windsor (Sherry Peatty), Elisha Cook, Jr. (George Peatty), Ted de Corsia (Policeman Randy Kennan).

Released – June, 1956

Directed By – Stanley Kubrick

Produced By – Harris-Kubrick Productions

Distributed By – United Artists

Description – Johnny Clay, fresh out of prison, wants to marry Fay and go straight. But, in order to make this dream come true he needs cash. And getting enough cash will mean just one more job, the biggest of his career.

It’s Johnny’s plan to steal $2 million dollars from the cash counting room of a local racetrack during the running of the featured race. It is a sophisticated and detailed job that will require a trusted crew.

Johnny carefully puts together all the necessary pieces… a betting window teller who will provide access to the cash counting room, a corrupt cop, a wrestler to provide a distraction by starting a fight, a track bartender, and a sharpshooter who will shoot the favored horse during the featured race to distract the crowd.

The plan seems flawless, but we all know the saying about “the best laid plans…”

There’s always a weakness, and in this case it’s betting window teller George Peatty. George is a weak man married to a woman out of his class who only married him for the riches he promised her.

George tells his wife Sherry about the robbery hoping to impress her and calm her bitterness toward him. At first, Sherry doesn’t believe the story, but eventually George persuades her the plan is real and the rewards will be great.

Telling Sherry of the plan proves to be a big mistake as she and her lover Val conspire to steal the proceeds of the robbery from the gang for themselves.

The theft goes as planned although the sharpshooter is himself shot and killed by the police. The remaining gang members meet as agreed and wait for Johnny to arrive so they can split up the money. However, Val arrives first and a shootout ensues leaving only one wounded survivor, George.

Realizing that Sherry has betrayed him, George returns to their apartment and kills her before dying himself. Johnny arrives, takes the money, and he and Fay head for the airport. So close, but still so far from freedom.

NOTABLE: The Killing is one of director Stanley Kubrick’s first major films that would lead to him being requested to direct for Marlon Brando and Kirk Douglas.

The Killing took only 24 days to shoot.

Actor’s Jack Palance and Victor Mature were both considered for the role of Johnny Clay before it was given to Sterling Hayden.

United Artists originally released the film as the second half of a double feature. The Killing would go on to become a film noir classic.

Marie Windsor was cast for the role of Sherry Peatty after director Kubrick saw her performance in another celebrated film noir titled The Narrow Margin.

Frank Sinatra had expressed interest in the project, but when he hesitated the film rights went to Kubrick and James Harris.

Director Kubrick and producer James Harris had intended to shoot the film around the New York area. However, they could not find a racetrack that would allow the filming of a robbery to take place at their track. The production was moved outside of San Francisco and filmed at the Bay Meadows racetrack.

Personal Note: Easily one of the top film’s noir and on my list of personal favorites. Eddie Muller, the Czar of Noir, has rated The Killing #15 on his list of the top 25 film’s noir. The film is also included on critic Roger Ebert’s list of “Great Movies.”

Excellent performances all around.


The Harder They Fall

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

The Harder They Fall

Tagline – No Punches Pulled! If you thought “On The Waterfront” hit hard… wait till you see this one!

Starring – Humphrey Bogart (Eddie Willis), Rod Steiger (Nick Benko), Jan Sterling (Beth Willis), Mike Lane (Toro Moreno), Max Baer (Buddy Brannen).

Released – May, 1956

Directed By – Mark Robson

Produced By –  Columbia Pictures Corporation

Distributed By –  Columbia Pictures Corporation

Description – Eddie Willis has been a respected New York City sportswriter for 17 years… until now. The paper Eddie worked for has gone under leaving him in a tough situation.

In need of a paycheck, Eddie accepts an offer made by crooked boxing promoter Nick Benko to promote his new heavyweight fighter Toro Moreno. After watching Toro in the ring, Eddie quickly realizes that the big Argentinian fighter is no good.

Unknown to Toro and his manager is the fact that the fighter’s bouts have all been fixed in an effort to work his way up to a big payday for Nick. It’s an old game, where a scheming promoter builds up the reputation of a weak fighter in order to get a title shot against champ Buddy Brannen and a big and profitable gate.

Along the way, something happens that Eddie would have never thought possible. He begins to take a liking to Toro and sympathizes with his dislike for what he is doing and his desire to return home to Argentina.

Monetary need overcomes conscious and Eddie talks Toro out of leaving the fight game. Toro continues to climb the ranks of the heavyweight division and gets a title fight with Brannen. Benko knows his fighter has no chance of beating the champ and places large bets against Toro intending to clean up.

The fight takes place and Toro takes a vicious beating at the hands of Brannen. After the fight, Eddie finds out that Benko has also rigged the bookkeeping and plans on paying Toro a very small amount.

Now, conscious takes over and Eddie has to do something.

NOTABLE: The Harder They Fall received an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White.

The story is considered to be based on the boxing scandal involving Primo Carnera who would unsuccessfully sue the film’s makers claiming that the film damaged his reputation.

Humphrey Bogart’s character is based on the life of boxing writer and promoter Harold Conrad.

Already ill, with what was later be diagnosed as esophageal cancer, The Harder They Fall would be the last film for screen legend Humphrey Bogart who would die in 1957.


The Desperate Hours

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Desperate Hours, The

Tagline – A reign of violence sweeps the screen!

Starring – Humphrey Bogart (Glenn Griffin), Frederic March (Dan. C. Hilliard), Arthur Kennedy (Deputy Sheriff Jesse Bard), Martha Scott (Eleanor ‘Ellie’ Hilliard).

Released – October, 1955

Directed By – William Wyler

Produced By – Paramount Pictures

Distributed By – Paramount Pictures

Description – Fear is coming to the quiet suburbs of Indianapolis in the form of three dangerous escaped convicts. Glenn Griffin, his brother Hal, and Sam Kobish have randomly selected a house owned by the Hilliard family as a place to hide out while waiting for Glenn’s girlfriend Helen Miller to bring them money later that evening to aid their escape.

What started out as a typical day for Dan and Eleanor Hilliard and their two children, 19-year old Cindy and young son Ralphie, will turn into a nightmare lasting several days. Although Glenn Griffin has promised the family that no one will be hurt, and when the money arrives the convicts will leave, something has gone wrong.

Helen never shows with the money and Glenn becomes increasingly disturbed by his desire to settle an old score with town Deputy Sheriff Jesse Bard.

The torment for the Hilliard family goes on for days and the gang become more edgy as the reality of Helen’s not coming settles in. Dan Hilliard realizes that his family must do whatever the gang asks hoping to not make matters worse for his family.

When Glenn finally hears from Helen, and learns that she is delayed, an alternate plan is made. Helen is to send the money, by special delivery, to the office of Dan Hilliard who, while his family is being held hostage, will bring the money home.

Just when it looks like the nightmare may be coming to an end the family’s garbage collector shows up for his regular pickup. He notices the hidden vehicle used by the convicts and when trying to leave the property has his truck and himself hijacked by Sam Kobish on Glenn’s orders.

Kobish forces the garbage collector to drive to a remote area just outside of town. Fearing for his life, the garbage collector tries to escape and is killed.

Meanwhile, the police have organized a statewide manhunt for the convicts and trace them to the Hilliard home where a deadly final conflict will unfold.

NOTABLE: The Desperate Hours was the first black-and-white film shot in Paramount’s new wide-screen process VistaVision.

The exterior shots of the Hilliard family home are the same house used for the final few seasons of the Leave It To Beaver television show.

The role of Glenn Griffin was Humphrey Bogart’s last as a villain.

The role of Dan Hilliard, played by Frederic March, was originally to go to Bogart’s friend Spencer Tracy. However, neither Bogart, or Tracy were willing to let the other have top billing. As a result, Tracy dropped out.

The Desperate Hours was originally a Broadway play which opened in February of 1955 and won the Tony Award for best play.

Personal Note: A very well-acted film noir. Paul Newman played the part of Glenn Griffin on Broadway, requiring the role to be slightly re-written for Humphrey Bogart.

After viewing the preview, Bogart stated to director William Wyler, “I think I’m too old to play gangsters.” He never did again.

Both the movie and the play on which it was based, are loosely based on the experience of the Hill family, of Whitemarsh, PA, in 1952. An article published by Life magazine about the play is the subject of the Supreme Court case Time Inc. v. Hill, in which the family sued the magazine for stating that the play depicted what actually had happened.

The Night of the Hunter

Monday, August 8th, 2011

The Night of the Hunter [Blu-ray]

Tagline – The Hands Of ROBERT MITCHUM in “The Night of the Hunter”

Starring – Robert Mitchum (Harry Powell), Shelley Winters (Willa Harper), Lillian Gish (Rachel Cooper), James Gleason (Birdie Steptoe).

Released – September, 1955

Directed By – Charles Laughton

Produced By – Paul Gregory Productions

Distributed By – United Artists

Description – Harry Powell has a unique way of serving God. He believes that those women who arouse carnal instincts in men should be done away with. Especially, if they have money.

Having been arrested for auto theft, Harry is now sharing a cell with convicted robber Ben Harper. Harper is scheduled to hang for his part in the crime and Harry has been trying in vain to get Harper to reveal where he hid the stolen money.

Harper has given the location of the money only to his young son John. John does not share the secret with anyone including his mother and younger sister Pearl. The only clue Powell can come up with is a Bible phrase that Harper mumbles while sleeping: “And a little child shall lead them.”

Believing that Powell’s children know the location of the money, upon his release, Harper travels to Cresap’s Landing, West Virginia as the Reverend Harry Powell with a plan to court and wed Powell’s widow Willa.

Overwhelming her with his charm, Scripture quoting, hymns, and sermons, Willa agrees to marry Harry as a means to her own salvation. Harry’s self-defined religious beliefs toward carnal relations soon become evident to Willa as Harry informs her that they, although married, will never have sexual relations because he believes that would be sinful.

Willa, now confused and depressed, overhears Harry questioning the children about money and begins to realize the threat of the families situation. Growing impatient, and wanting Willa out of the way leaving him with the children, Harry murders Willa and throws her body into the river.

By now, John has told his sister Pearl about the money and, by threatening John, Pearl has told Harry. With their mother now dead, John and Pearl manage to get to the money first and attempt to escape downriver.

However, the Reverend is not far behind.

NOTABLE: In 1992, The Night of the Hunter was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

The motion picture is based on the 1953 novel by the same name. Both draw on the true story of Harry Powers, who was hanged in 1932 after having murdered two widows and three children in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

The Night of the Hunter was the only film directed by Charles Laughton and, although not an immediate success, has grown in stature, primarily due to Robert Mitchum’s performance, and is considered a Film Noir classic.

Empire Magazine has ranked this film #71 on its 500 Greatest Films List.

Charles Laughton originally offered the role of Harry Powell to actor Gary Cooper, who turned the offer down feeling that the role would prove detrimental to his career.

Personal Note: I like this film primarily due to the performance of Robert Mitchum. Anyone with the word Love tattooed on one hand and Hate on the other makes a menacing villain.

Mitchum does a great job as a smooth-talking, evil, psychotic religious fanatic. An eerie film. While not a critical, or commercial success, The Night of the Hunter has developed a cult following and is a favorite among film noir fans.