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During the 1940's director Robert Siodmak had a string of hits with his dark moody Film Noirs. The Killers was the high point of his oeuvre. Based on a short story by Ernest Hemingway The Killers begins with two tough looking heavies entering a diner in Brentwood, New Jersey. Intimidating the staff they declare they are to kill a man called the Swede and are waiting for his arrival. Learning from the owner that the Swede will probably not enter the diner that night the heavies decide to find his apartment instead. A friendly customer sets off to tip the Swede before the hitmen arrive. On hearing the news the Swede reacts by just lying on his bed not bothering to arm himself or flee. Waiting for his nemisis to arrive, in his dark room he listens to their footsteps as they walk up the stairs. Holding his breath, with his eyes focused on the closed door, then suddenly the door swings open and the sound of rapid gun fire spits out. BANG! BANG! BANG!
This wonderfully controlled sequence sets up the events to follow as insurance investigator Riordan looks into the incident. This is the main part of the film. To tell the story and fate of the Swede, Siodamak uses flashbacks of the past with each character telling their different stories to help paint a picture of the Swede in a similar way used in Citizan Kane. The timeline constantly switches from past events to the present pushing the fascinating narrative along.
The flashbacks reveal a character that is most associated with Film Noir, that is the femme fatale. The entrance of the femme fatale in Film Noir is often memorable and here we have the beautiful actress Ava Gardner vamping it up in a little black dress and beguiling all and sundrie. The Killers in fact has many if not all the traits of a classic Film Noir - the patsy, the femme fatale, the investigative hero, failed boxers, heists, double crosses, flashbacks and high contrast lighting. All the ingredients are used wisely. It epitomises all the great attributes of the genre/style. The archetypal Film Noir.
Music also plays an important part with Miklos Rozsa composing a dramatic score elevating the film to striking highs. Villainous characters are given their own theme tunes whenever they enter a scene creating a sense of danger and terror. There are many memorable sequences and a strong cast of characters including Edmond O'Brian, Sam Levine, Albert Dekker and Burt Lancaster making is screen debut as the Swede. All the other supprting actors play their parts well.
Overall an excellent entry into the wonderful world of Film Noir.
AKA The Long Arm. A slice of mid 1950's British life from Ealing Studios. Jack Hawkins in a typical role plays Supt. Halliday as he leads an investigation into a series of buglaries in London. The Long Arm focuses on the police procedural of the Scotland Yard detecives as they attempt to figure out the puzzle of the crimes using logic and step by step police work. The plot is the most distinctive element as there are many twists and turns in the investigation to keep the story interesting, however the film never really gets out of second gear. The straight forward A - B manner of the directing and the lack of any memorable scenes makes the feature instantly forgettable as there is an over-familiarity about the whole enterprise. The cinematography is flat and without any visual eye candy. Hawkins as with the rest of the cast all put in a fine performance.
Just like real life coppers The Long Arm is solid, dependable but without much flair. Perfect for a wet afternoon's viewing.
Made in 1945 this take on Public Enemy #1 John Dillinger is a hard hitting, tough gangster flick. During the Second World War there was an unwritten rule amongst the Hollywood hierachy about not producing gangster films so as not to show America to the rest of the world in a bad light. So it was left to the small production studio Monogram to deliver this version of the infamous crook, near the end of the war. The Gangster film was back with avengence.
Dillinger shows the familiar story of the gangster biopic, as he starts off as a small fry - sticking up a store for a few bucks and quickly getting caught red handed. In prison he joins a hard bitten gang of experienced robbers and his own rise in rank and staus to public enemy #1, as he and the gang rob banks around the country.
Real life bad boy Lawrence Tierney (best known for his role as Joe the boss in Reservoir Dogs) plays the lead with a ruthlessness and tough guy exterior. A charmer with the ladies but a brute when it comes to buisness he is perfectly cast. Unlike other versions of John Dillinger this film portays him very much as a boo-hiss villain which suits the film but was unlike the real life 'Robin Hood' like bank robber who the public admired. Here crossing him in any way is a mistake as he holds on to a grudge like The Statue Of Liberty holds on to her torch.
The rest of the gang is a collection of ugly mugs and rogues who pepper many noirs/gangster flicks including Marc Lawrence, Eduardo Cianelli and Elisha Cook jnr (that's him in my avatar). All give able support.
A violent film that still has cause to shock an audience. This is probably the least factual portrayal of Dillinger but as an entertaining B-movie with noir visuals and a brisk running time it works well.
With the arrival of sound A Cottage On Dartmoor was amongst the last hurrahs of British silent cinema. Anthony Asquith (son of a prime minister) directs this moody melodrama. A tale of love, jealousy and violence. A love triangle set in a hairdressers with two men after the pretty manicurist.
Much indebted to the European style of films of the era, Asquith uses the techniques of German Expressionism to show the shadowy scenes set on the moors. Also the Soviet style of montage and editing is used effectively throughout the film especially during a visit to the cinema by the main protagonists. Ironically the film shown is a 'Talkie' which would of course supersede the silent films. The audience is shown enjoying the latest Harold Lloyd flick (which is shown before the main picture). We only get to see their faces as well as the live musicians, playing along with their instruments and adding to the cresendo of pulsating beats along with the breakneck speed of editing. It's wonderful kinetic scene. If you thought the MTV generation invented epileptic editing prepared to be amazed. The meat and potato of the film is told in an inventive flashback structure.
The film enters into darker territory but my main concern is with the unoriginal story of two men, one a young working class barber, the other an older middle class land owner, who both chase after the young woman. However the visual extravagance and box of directoral tricks used by Asquith more than make up for the weak story. Fans of silent cinema will lap it up.
The acting of the main players is subtle and keeps to the general mood of the drama - No hysterical OTT acting to be found here which can occaisionally marr silent films. Special mention to Norah Baring, Uno Henning and Hans Albert von Schlett. As their Germanic names suggest many European stars of their day featured in British silent films without the worry of their strong accents inhibiting their performances. This would change in the new sound era.
At RKO studios producer Val Lewton was behind a series of chillers and horrors that redefined the genre during the 1940's. With the use of dark shadows and the power of suggestion there was a sense of not showing explicitly on screen all the action and leaving the viewer to use one's own imagination. The first was Cat People (1942) probably the best known and a good example of the style. The Seventh Victim was 4th film of 9 and an excellent entry it is...
Mary (Kim Hunter) is at a Catholic school when she finds out her older sister Jacqueline has disappeared and has stopped paying for her school fees for a few months. Concerned, Mary travels to New York to find her. There she meets an assortment of Jacqueline's ex-work colleagues, friends and aquaintances but not all are to be trusted. Teaming up with a private detective she discovers that Jacqueline is a member of a group of devil worshippers who are angry at her for giving out secrets about their cult. Mentally unstable, the cult encourage Jacqueline to commit suicide. Can Mary rescue her or will she become the seventh victim?
The unease and tension throughout the film is upheld as this atmospheric drama successfully supplies the thrills and chills at the right moments. Celebrated cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca helps add to the depressing story by painting with light and shadows that contrast with each other. If ever a film could be described as 'dark' then The Seventh Victim is surely it. Satanists, mental cruelty, suicides and murder all add up to a depressingly bleak film but one which conversely, is thoroughly entertaining. One moment that stands out is the shower scene that would have influenced Hitchcock and Psycho.
Not all the motives of certain characters and plotlines always make sense. This is due in part because The Seventh Victim was demoted to a B- film after a disagreement between Val Lewton and studio execs. This meant certain scenes were cut, making the film just 71 minutes. However, the way the film is directed (Mark Robson) still makes it highly watchable.
Kim Hunter does well as the young innocent in a big city but it is Tom Conway as Jacqueline's smarmy psyciatrist who steals the acting honours. Conway was George Sanders brother and they both have similar mannerisms. Also, Jean Brooks as the paranoid Jacqueline is an iconic figure along the lines of the Bride of Frankenstein. With her black bob of a hair-do set agaist her milk white skin and clothed in a big, dark fur coat she's a memorable figure.
Best watched late at night, this morbidly moody mystery is a treat for those who enjoy psycholgical thrillers. A classic.