Movies Noir Reviews

Twin Peaks Day! Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) Review.

Sheryl Lee stars as Laura Palmer in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

Happy Twin Peaks Day! Today we are looking at the 1992 film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Released after the cancellation of the show, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me tells the tragedy of Laura Palmer, leading up to her murder and right before she is found wrapped in plastic by Pete Martell, played in the series by Jack Nance. While the film is primarily a prequel, there are a few moments that make it a sequel to the series, but that wouldn’t be explored fully until Twin Peaks: The Return in 2017. It has long been known that upon initial release Fire Walk With Me was met with mixed reviews; I’m glad it has been reappraised after its release and given the acclaim, it deserves, because in my personal opinion this is one of David Lynch’s best works. It is a dark and tragic tale that explores the horrors and psychological trauma of sexual abuse and Sheryl Lee gives an amazing lead performance that should have been talked about more when it was first released. By the way, there will be some spoilers in this review not only from the movie but from the TV series that preceded it, so proceed with caution.

The movie starts with the investigation of Teresa Banks, a girl who was murdered similarly to Laura Palmer and was mentioned in the TV series. FBI Chief Gordon Cole (David Lynch) sends Special Agent Chester Desmond (Chris Issak) and Special Agent Sam Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland) to investigate. They go to the town of Deer Meadow, Washington which seems to serve as a dark contrast to the homely and Americana Twin Peaks. The police station is full of belligerent and rude cops and the diner the two agents visit is a dark counterpoint to the RR Diner, run by Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton). This segment of the movie acts as a prologue to the main story which follows Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) as she discovers the secret of who BOB is only days before her death. There are also some brief moments with Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), and a former missing Special Agent Phillip Jeffries (David Bowie) which is incredibly strange and brief and raises more questions that wouldn’t be fully explored until Twin Peaks: The Return.

The performances from Sheryl Lee and Ray Wise are amazing in this film. Sheryl Lee plays the broken and tragic Laura Palmer which such intensity, anguish, and horror that she will nearly bring tears to your eyes. Her father, and eventual murderer, Leeland Palmer, also the mysterious BOB, does an excellent job playing what is essentially two roles. There is a moment after a tense confrontation between him, Laura, and Laura’s mother Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) where he switches from being BOB back to Leeland Ray Wise plays that transition so perfectly. You can see his personality changing while the camera holds on his face. David Lynch also does a great job directing, creating a horrifically noirish atmosphere that feels like you’ve been pulled directly into a nightmare. I wouldn’t hesitate to call this movie a horror film, some moments will make you want to cover your eyes or scream.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is an incredible follow-up and prequel to what was already an outstanding series. Featuring an iconic performance from Sheryl Lee, a transformative performance from Ray Wise and immaculate direction from the masterful David Lynch, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is a movie that will stay with you forever. Make sure to check out the first two seasons of the series and Twin Peaks: The Return, although if you’ve made it this far in my review, I hope you had watched the series before.

Rating 5/5

Movies Noir

Noirvember Review: Brick 2005

Brick. Released in 2005. Directed by Rian Johnson. Starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, Nora Zehetner, and Lukas Haas

Brick is a hard-boiled neo-noir set in John Hughes’s favorite setting, an American high school. Joseph Gordon Levitt plays Brendan, a high schooler who is investigating the disappearance and later murder of ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin). The dialogue is straight out of a Bogart movie, but Rian Johnson somehow makes it work without it coming across comical or ironic; instead, it is a sincere recreation of a classic genre that holds up very well.

Brendan, like most hard-boiled PI’s, is a cynic and a loner. He doesn’t have friends but, instead, associates who help him or he forces to help him. He is willing to get violent when necessary, beating the information he needs out of low-life Dode (Noah Segan), a stoner and Em’s friend. The setting of the movie sets it apart from other film noirs and makes the audience examine characters in a different light. I find this particularly apparent in Brendan, Dode, Emily, and the Pin (Lukas Haas). Brendan’s willingness to get violent, as well as manipulate others to further his agenda, shrouds his supposed heroism in shadow. His violence towards women is noticeable and seems to be an extension of classic film noir tropes. I see Dode in a different light; although he is a low-life stoner, he has sympathy for Emily, and unlike Brendan, seems to legitimately care about her. Brendan wants to have her and control her; we see and hear that in flashbacks and voice-overs after he turned over another student to prove his love for Emily.

The movie does feature a typical femme fatale in the form of Laura (Nora Zehetner), but with Emily, all we see is a tragedy. We see at the beginning of the film her fate is sealed in death. Everyone is out to use or control Emily. When we see her talking to Brendan, we can tell that she is just a lost person who needs help, but everyone is using her to meet their own goals. Brendan claims he cares about her but, his care for her is driven by his desire and ego. He is not trying to do what is right for her but rather what is desirable for himself.

The Pin is also an interesting character; he is a nerdy, goth, Tolkien-nerd exploiting the drug dependency of the high school youth. He is not a muscle that comes in the form of his sidekick/henchman Tugger, played by Noah Fleiss, who does an excellent job playing an unhinged guy driven by anger and testosterone. The Pin is a small, intelligent, and crippled man who uses his smarts to control and manipulate people. There is a moment between him and Brendan that stands out to me. They are walking down the beach talking about business, and they stop to sit down. The Pin randomly asks if Brendan likes J.R.R. Tolkien, Brendan is confused by the question. It is a rare moment where the dialogue and style seem to break from the tropes that Rian Johnson is playing with, and it makes The Pin a more human and relatable character who seems to want a real friend.

Brick is an excellent high school neo-noir. Johnson likes subverting and playing with the audience’s idea of genre and style, but this movie is never corny and the setting contrasted with the style makes the movie almost surreal.

Rating 4.5/5

Movies Noir

Noirvember Review: The Number 23 (2007)

The Number 23. Released in 2007. Directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Jim Carrey and Virginia Madsen.

The Number 23, released in 2007 and directed by Joel Schumacher, is a confusing and strange movie. I remember watching it for the first time not long after it came out on DVD. I was, and still am, a big fan of Jim Carrey; he has played some iconic comedic roles and is a great dramatic actor given the right material. I rented this from Movie Gallery when that was still a thing, and I watched it twice before I had to return it. I don’t know why I was compelled to watch it multiple times because it is not a very good movie, but there is something about the neo-noir style and early 2000s rock music video vibe that draws my attention and glues me to the screen.

Walter Sparrow is an animal control worker. Through a series of convoluted events involving a jilted woman, a birthday, and a dog, Walter gets his hands on a book titled The Number 23. The book is eerily similar to Walter’s own life, and he begins to go crazy as he notices the bizarre similarities to his past and present life. His wife, Agatha, played by Virginia Madsen, initially ignores his obsession but begins to get worried as he loses sleep and becomes obsessed with the number.

The performances here are strange; Jim Carrey seems confused with what kind of role he is playing. There are moments when he does a decent job portraying the obsessive Walter, and there are other moments where he is almost laughably bad. I will slightly commend him for his dual role performance. The movie also has fictional segments from the book portrayed by the actors in the reality of the film. The two primary characters in the book world are the laughably named Fingerling and Fabrizia. When these segments aren’t filmed like an alt-rock music video from 2002 they are visually interesting. I may be in the minority, but I like the heavenly lit white room where Fingerling talks to the Suicide Blonde, played by Lynn Collins. I like the over the top hard-boiled nature of this story, and there is a surreal tone that the movie sometimes has that I wished and I wished it went further. Elements of the film reminded me of the much more competent Lost Highway, directed by David Lynch. They both deal with the murder of someone close to the protagonist, and mistaken or lost identity plays a huge role. I feel like The Number 23 wants to be both a surreal, almost metafictional, neo-noir and a blockbuster thriller, and it is unfortunate that it can’t nail either tone correctly. I do believe that Joel Schumacher is a talented filmmaker, and the actors that are in the movie are typically really good in other films in which they appear. 

One scene that I found enjoyable was when Walter goes to visit Agatha’s friend Issac French, a local professor played by Danny Huston. They have a conversation about the number 23 and how it can be applied to multiple conspiracy theories, and how meaning is found when there is no scientific evidence to back it up. I feel like that is where the movie messes up; a neo-noir movie about conspiracies and how they can drive you mad is an interesting idea, but the script for this movie is far too convoluted and confusing for it to work.

Unfortunately, this is not a very good movie, but I will say that it is memorable. Joel Schumacher is a stylish director, and he proved with films like The Lost Boys and even Batman Forever that he is skilled behind the camera. This conspiracy neo-noir has some interesting ideas, and the book within the movie is a cool idea, but the screenplay is far too messy, and it completed crumbles in the third act during the twist. Weirdly enough, even though I don’t think this is a good film I will probably revisit it in the future. Maybe it is secret brilliant, drawing you into the convoluted nature of the movie in the same way Walter is drawn into the number 23 conspiracy.

Rating 2/5

Movies Noir

Noirvember Review: Detour 1945)

Detour. Released in 1945. Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer and Starring Tom Neal and Ann Savage.

Greed. Corruption. Mistaken identity. A conniving femme fatale. Detour, released in 1945, and directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, fits all of the tropes that someone thinks of when you say film noir, but the movie takes these tropes and spins a much more cynical, dark, and brutal tale than audiences are familiar with. Film noirs are usually dark; shadows and morally gray characters populate the movie, making them feel like depictions of the dark side of humanity. Detour excels with its protagonist and narrator spinning a tale of death and malice, and tries to convince the audience of his innocence, and perhaps trying to convince himself.

A man, Al Roberts (Tom Neal), is picked up by a man named Charles Haskell (Edmund MacDonald), as he hitchhikes from New York to L.A. to visit his girlfriend, Sue Harvey (Claudia Drake). The movie is mostly told in flashbacks as Al Roberts goes on his hellish trip, each moment descending more into despair and hopelessness. Robert’s journey begins its downward spiral after the death of Haskell, who dies by accident, but Roberts knows no one will believe him and hides his body off the side of the road. Roberts assumes the identity of Haskell taking his cash and his car, planning on ditching it after he arrives in L.A. He picks up a woman named Vera (Ann Savage), and it turns out that she has been picked up by Haskell before, leaving scars on his hand as he dumped her on the side of the road. Vera is a malicious woman; she believes that Roberts murdered Haskell for his money and tries to scheme with Roberts to swindle more money out of people. Their story is destined for tragedy.

Tom Neal and Ann Savage are both tremendous in their roles and help elevate the movie past its low-budget. Neal plays the hopeless and destitute Al Roberts with sympathy. Savage-whose name fits the role she is playing–is equal great playing the dark and malicious femme fatale Vera. Director Edgar G. Ulmer is equally as great behind the camera. He takes this short b-grade movie and places it on a pedestal next to other film noir classics.

If you are looking for a dark, pulpy film noir with great characters and a well-told story, this one is for you. This movie is uniquely dark for its time, with a dark and hopeless ending that will stick with you for a while. The cast and the crew help bring this b movie to another level of greatness and helped make a landmark cult film that has influenced directors even to this day.

Rating 4/5

Movies Noir

Noirvember Review: The Night of the Hunter (1955)

The Night of the Hunter. Released in 1955. Directed by Charles Laughton and starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, Billy Chapin, and Sally Jane Bruce

The Night of the Hunter is a dark, southern gothic, noirish biblical fable; like a fairy tale, it explores the nature of good and evil. Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) is at the center of this tale; he is a dark and ominous man. He is a Revered and uses his religion to control, manipulate, and ultimately destroy lives. Christianity plays a unique role in the film; it shows how it is used not only for redemption but for destruction and death. Harry Powell uses his dark and alluring charm to draw people in so he can exploit and eventually betray and murder them. In the beginning, Harry talks to God, revealing he has killed anywhere from 6 to 12 people. Harry brings the wrath of God with him everywhere he goes. Harry acts as an Old Testament God, full of malice and destruction, and also assumes the role of an Anti-Christ figure, using religion to manipulate. He is a false prophet, using malevolence that is present in the Old Testament rather than the benevolence present in the New Testament. He has love and hate tattooed across both of his hands and tells people the story of good and evil by gripping his hands together and showing the battle between good and evil.

Harry eventually makes his way to the home of Willa Harper (Shelly Winters), whose husband has recently been hung for the murder of two people after he killed them during a robbery. Harry was an inmate alongside Willa’s husband Ben (Peter Graves), and he wants to get his hands on the $10,000 that Ben stole. Ben hid the money by giving it to his children, John (Billy Chapin) and Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce), and they swore never to reveal where it is hidden. He manipulates the town folk, including Willa’s boss Mrs. Spoon (Evelyn Varden), who is immediately swayed by Harry because of his connection to God. Mrs. Spoon convinces Willa to take Harry on as a husband, and she does. Harry terrorizes both Willa and the children using his religion to guilt them and betray them.

After Harry and Willa get married, Harry condemns Willa for her sexual desires. He links a woman’s sex to birth, denying that she needs it for pleasure. Sexual females are usually at the heart of film noirs, acting as Femme Fatales; their sexuality is linked to darkness, manipulation, and evil. Harry connects Willa’s lustful desire to Eve in the Garden of Eden. Femme Fatales often fill this role as the temptatious one who brings about destruction and sin but The Night of the Hunter subverts this by having Harry’s condemnation being manipulative and his control of her sexuality as his way of gaining power. Harry eventually murders Willa after she overhears him manipulating and abusing her children so he can locate the missing money. The shot of her floating in the water is horrific, nightmarish, and also beautiful because of the wonderfully shot composition and cinematography.

Charles Laughton and his cinematographer Stanley Cortez evoke old German Expressionist films. Their use of light and shadows create a gothic atmosphere; we also see this in the production design of the film. There are sharp angles that make the world, the houses, and the landscape seem dangerous and haunted by evil. The movie classifies as a film noir, but it also is reminiscent of horror movies, specifically Universal Monster movies. There is a shot of Harry chasing the children up the basement stairs, his arms reaching out for them. He looks like a monster, hunting his prey. The scene gives off a vampiric vibe, much like the famous shot of Nosferatu’s shadow as he ascends the stairs.

Also, I must mention Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish); like Harry Powell, is a religious person; however, unlike him, she uses her knowledge for love and kindness rather than death and destruction. Harry seeks to destroy the children for lying to him, while Rachel protects them with affection and gentleness. There is a paradox in Christianity between God’s wrath and Christ’s kindness. Harry and Rachel replicate this paradox. Religion, specifically Christianity, is not all good or bad. People can use it to exploit, gain power, manipulate, and harm; or, they can use it to display kindness, love, and affection. We see the dangers of the former in characters such as Mrs. Spoon, who falls for everything that Harry lies about hook, line, and sinker. But, we also see in Rachel Cooper how she lets religion guide her to be a kind and moral person, not seeking to turn away people for their vices, but instead help them understand their place in the world. 

The Night of the Hunter was the only feature film that Charles Laughton made. It is a shame that he didn’t make more because this is one of the greatest movies of the 1950’s inspiring everyone from Martin Scorsese to Guillermo Del Toro. Shockingly it was also not well received on initial release but is now regarded as a masterpiece. It is a dark tale but one filled with hope. Everyone should watch this movie; it is an excellent and well-crafted masterpiece that shows the power of cinema.

Rating 5/5

Movies Noir

Noirvember Review: Variety (1983)

Variety. Released in 1983. Directed by Bette Gordon and starring Sandy McLeod, Will Patton, Richard M. Davidson, and Luis Guzman.

Variety, released in 1983, focuses on Catherine (Sandy McLeod), a young, attractive woman struggling to make ends meet in New York City. Her friend, hesitantly, helps her retain a job at an adult movie theater named Variety. She works there as a ticket taker. The only other employee we see there is Jose (Luis Guzman), who promotes and manages the place. Men come in and out of the theater, but one man named Louie (Richard M. Davidson) takes a liking to Catherine and buys her a Coke one day while she is on break. This mysterious man has an ominous air about him, inspiring the audience to mistrust and be wary of him. When he hands her the coke, my first thought was she shouldn’t accept it because she didn’t watch him make it.

The men in the film are uncomfortable with female sexuality. We see men consuming porn and desiring women, but the moment a woman shows initiative, they are hesitant and scared. This audience sees this personified in Mark (Will Patton), Catherine’s boyfriend, who is uncomfortable with her embracing her sexuality and being around sexual material by working at a porno theater. There are multiple standout scenes where Catherine is describing her work to her boyfriend. She describes in graphic detail sexual and profane materials. Every time she describes these things, Mark gets visibly uncomfortable, usually leaving the room or asking her to stop. This character represents the theme of the movie and how men get uncomfortable with women expressing their sexualities and desires. When he discovers that she works in a porno theater, he looks revolted and leaves her at the diner where they are eating. Mark spends most of his time talking about his work. Mark is an investigative reporter. He seems to be investigating organized crime in unions. Mark consistently talks about this with Catherine, but anytime she begins talking about her day, he gets visibly disgusted and uncomfortable. The audience can tell he does not approve of the sexual nature of her job or the effect it is having on their relationship.

Mark and Catherine sit in a diner eating. We can see from his face he is uncomfortable.

The rest of the men in Catherine’s life are not much better. Jose, who seems to be a nice guy looking out for her, comes onto her near the end of the movie, propositioning her to have sex with him. The men in the film all seem to want to fulfill their desires but have no interest in what Catherine desires or wants. The other man, Louie, seems to be connected to what Mark is investigating. He participates in shady deals in back alleys and appears to work for a union doing obvious criminal things, but the movie is not interested in this aspect of the character; instead, we see Catherine following him living out a voyeuristic desire. The film doesn’t focus on his criminal activity; that employed as a device for the noirish genre elements. Louie likes to leave vulgar messages on Catherine’s answering machine and eventually takes her out to a baseball game, intending to have sex with her. Louie is called away due to business leaving Catherine at the game alone, seemingly with no intention of ever calling her back. He ignores her advances, only worried about his desires and sexual gain; this is what leads Catherine to follow and stalk him around the city. Rather than getting exposition of Louie’s criminal activity, we instead see the inner desires of Catherine who gets a thrill and pleasure out of stalking Louie. 

Variety is a great feminist neo-noir. Its exploration of female sexuality using a primarily dominant male-centric genre is an interesting subversion from the norm. Director Bette Gordon and screenwriter Kathy Acker create an interesting character study that explores female sexuality and desire without using exploitative or misogynistic plot devices. This unique movie is great to watch for Noirvember and offers the audience a unique perspective on a familiar genre.

Rating 3.5/5

Movies Noir

Noirvember Review: Blue Velvet

Blue Velvet. Released in 1986. Directed by David Lynch. Starring Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan, Dennis Hopper, and Laura Dern

Towards the beginning of Blue Velvet, the camera zooms in on a severed ear that protagonist Jeffery Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) found while walking near his house. With this shot, we enter a dark, subconscious world, a world that lives beneath the surface of the suburban white picket fence houses that line the streets of Lumberton. We also see this idea of darkness lurking beneath during the opening of the movie. After Jeffery’s father collapses in his yard, we see insects crawling beneath the beautifully cultivated yard where he is working. David Lynch is not only telling us that there is darkness living on the other side of town, but that there is also darkness in our subconscious.

Analyzing and reviewing Blue Velvet is difficult; the plot is easy to discern, but there are layers of subtext that live within the movie. Blue Velvet, like other David Lynch projects, explores dark, subconscious desires and fears. Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) is a manifestation of this darkness. Frank Booth acts as an interesting foil to Jeffery Beaumont because he represents Jeffery’s dark desires. Frank even says to Jeffery, “You are me.” This dark revelation shakes Jeffery, causing him to weep in his room, lamenting the darkness that he has witnessed in himself.

Sandy Williams (Laura Dern) and Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) contrast each other. Sandy is pure and young; she is untainted by the world, protected from the darkness by her suburban home and detective father. Dorothy Vallens is a tragic figure, and unlike Sandy she is alone forced to face the darkness of the world and her darkness alone. Frank’s dark and violent desires have created a world of darkness for her. She is a victim of sexual violence and Frank’s depravity. When Jeffery enters her world, Dorothy has been broken by Frank. He has kidnapped her husband and son, cutting off her husband’s ear with scissors and regularly torturing her with his insanity and sexual violence. Dorothy, along with Frank, awakens something dark within Jeffrey. She engages him and inspires him to act on his dark impulses, something which haunts him later. On the surface, Jeffery looks innocent, but Dorothy shows him he isn’t truly innocent.

It is interesting how David Lynch blends multiple genres, creating a film that is equal parts horror, noir, and psychological thriller. Angelo Badalamenti’s score even calls back to classic film noir scores. He does this with his imagery too; the opening of the film shows an Americana landscape before he descends deeper into the world, showing urban decay and immorality. Lynch’s work consistently evokes the idea of the industrial and urban world encroaching on the idyllic lifestyle of suburban America. There is also a voyeuristic approach to his filmmaking, and that features heavily in this movie. People witness and recognize ever-growing darkness but turn a blind eye or succumb.

Dream-like and nightmarish David Lynch uses Blue Velvet to examine the dark recess of our subconscious. It is interesting to watch alongside his oeuvre because you can watch how his ideas evolve and adapt over time. Blue Velvet is an excellent and challenging neo-noir that I highly recommend everyone watching.

Rating 5/5

Movies Noir

Noirvember Review: Sunset Boulevard

Sunset Boulevard. Released in 1950, Directed by Billy Wilder and starring William Holden, Gloria Swanson, and Eric von Stroheim

Sunset Boulevard is a tragedy. It is the story of forgotten Star Norma Desmond, a once-great silent movie star who has faded from the mind of the public. Norma is a delusional, prideful woman. She lives entirely in the past; in her mind, she is still that famous star. These delusions are not helped by her butler Max, who was also the director who discovered her. He feeds her madness by writing her fan mail, creating a reality in which she is still an important star. We know how the movie will end, a dead man floating in a pool, it is one of the first things we see; what we do not know is what happened and why.

William Holden stars as Joe Gillis; just like Norma Desmond, he has reached his expiration date in Hollywood. He is a lot younger than Norma, but he has not written a hit in years. Gillis is broke, unable to pay for his car or the rent to his apartment. After being chased by repo men and his car getting a flat, he makes his way into a “grim, sunset castle,” as Gillis refers to it later in the movie. It does not appear that anyone lives in this dilapidated mansion until he hears someone calling for him. It is a woman, Norma Desmond, calling to him from a window. The movie enters into a surreal, dreamlike (or maybe nightmarish) realm. Gillis is mistaken for an undertaker that is supposed to arrive and help bury Norma’s dead chimpanzee. While there, he accepts a job by helping Norma rewrite her comeback, or as she refers to it her “return,” but he knows full well that her story will not sell. He takes advantage of her wealth and her admiration for him.

This quasi-surrealist atmosphere adds to the noirish aspects of the film. Director Billy Wilder aptly captures the tragedy of the movie. There are no heroes or villains. Norma is crazy and delusional, but the audience feels sympathy for her. A famous line from the film comes from Norma when she says, “I am big! It was the picture that got small.”

Norma lives in a fairy tale, unable to distinguish reality from fantasy. She wants to recreate the life she once had. She is manically depressed and lonely, and she finds in Gillis companionship and pride. Gillis lectures Max on feeding into Norma’s delusions, but he is just as responsible. He never loves Norma the same way she loves him, but he feigns love to her indulging her and protecting her from reality. The audience can understand and sympathize with Gillis as well. Joe is exploiting Norma, but he does this to try and save his career. He ends up becoming a victim of his exploitation by becoming a prisoner to Norma, both physically and mentally.

Sunset Boulevard is an excellent film noir. Released the same year as previously reviewed In a Lonely Place, I find it interesting that both films deal with similar themes of creativity and loneliness. Like In a Lonely Place, Sunset Boulevard is an essential film noir, and just all-around a fantastic movie that you should not miss.

Rating 5/5

Movies Noir

Noirvember Review: In a Lonely Place

In a Lonely Place. Released in 1950. Directed by Nicholas Ray and starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame.

Humphrey Bogart gives, in my opinion, the best performance of his career in Nicholas Ray’s excellent film noir In a Lonely Place. Bogart plays Dixon Steele, a tough and alcoholic screenwriter who was hired to write a screenplay based on a pulp novel. Steele is under suspicion for the murder of a young girl, Mildred Atkinson, who adores the book that he is adapting. She comes to his apartment to describe the plot for him. He takes her up on this offer because he is less than enthusiastic about reading the book himself. Steele is a lonely man with a dark personality; he is inherently violent, fighting people who insult him or make him feel small. The murder of the young Mildred is the central plot of the movie which Nicholas Ray mainly uses to explore the dark complexities of Bogart’s Dixon Steele.

Gloria Grahame plays Laurel Gray, Dixon’s love interest and alibi, who saw Mildred leave his apartment that night. Laurel is Steele’s neighbor; they quickly develop a love for each other that is plagued by her mistrust of him and his violent tendencies. Their love starts well; she inspires him to give up drinking and continue his writing, but there is always that shadow of a doubt hanging over their love, and that shadow is the unsolved death of Mildred Atkinson. The audience is put in the same situation as Laurel, questioning whether or not Steele committed the murder. The audience, along with Laurel, saw Mildred leaving his apartment, but as an audience cannot be entirely positive that nothing happened after she left. When Dixon learns of Mildred’s death, he is cold and uncaring; he hides any sympathy behind a cold veneer of dark humor and icy charm. We do see him purchase flowers for the dead Atkinson showing a more sympathetic side to the character, but the audience is still unsure if his motive is sympathy or guilt.

Bogart gives a wonderful performance, which not only deconstructs the tough guy characters he has played in the past but also deconstructs his public image, which was construed by his multiple love affairs and a mystique that helped solidify his image in these film noirs. You gain sympathy as he goes to court Laurel, he is nervous and shy, his loneliness fully on display; however, he also terrifies you and makes you question him in scenes like the one where he recreates a dramatic movie-like scene of Mildred’s murder. The lighting across his face in this scene is dark and shadowed; there is a cruel smile on his face as he talks about what possibly happened to Mildred and makes the audience wonder even more if he committed the dark act. There is a rage in Dixon Steele that manifest due to his anxiety and insecurities. He assaults his agent when he fears that his screenplay isn’t good enough and drives erratically, and attacks another motorist after he is insulted. Dixon Steele is a veteran of World War 2, and that is what possibly changed him just like the films were changed by the war, coming out darker and more cynical.

In a Lonely Place is an excellent 1950s film noir, or rather it is a love story masquerading as a film noir. In a Lonely Place remains one of my favorite Bogart movies and one of my favorite film noirs and makes for perfect viewing during Noirvember.

Rating 5/5

Movies Noir

Noirvember Review: The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys, released in 2016 and directed by Shane Black, is a vibrant, psychedelic, and hilariously dark buddy cop neo-noir. It stars Ryan Gosling and Russel Crowe as Holland March and Jackson Healy, respectively, who along with March’s pre-teen daughter, played excellently by Angourie Rice, begin investigating the death of pornstar Misty Mountains, played briefly by Murielle Telio, and the disappearance of Amelia, played by Margaret Qualley. The entire cast of the film play their role excellently. Russel Crowe and Ryan Gosling have amazing chemistry with each other; their dynamic is what creates most of the comedy of the movie. Ryan Gosling is uniquely hilarious in this film giving–in my opinion–one of the best performances in a comedy in the past 5 to 10 years.

The aesthetic of the movie is absolutely wonderful, making L.A. look like both a magical and depraved place. There is a surreal and dreamlike tone that pervades the movie that gives it a psychedelic feel, this style feels at home in the 1970’s setting. The characters that occupy the movie are either exploitative or morally gray in how they handle situations. Both Gosling and Crowe have dark sides to their characters; Gosling’s March is a defeated widowed single father who is looking for a quick buck and is willing to exploit people to gain that and Crowe’s Healy is a violent, but protective, enforcer who is willing to take a life to protect those around him. One would think this darker atmosphere around the characters would confuse the tone but Shane Black is able to blend the darkness and the comedy together magnificently.

The movie also explores the darker side of the film industry by looking at the seedy underbelly of the porn scene of the 1970s. Like Boogie Nights, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and released in 1997, the film takes a slightly critical eye toward the exploitation of the porn industry while also looking at how sex sells, even when it comes to politics. The combination of sex and death is interesting to look at as well; we see in the opening of the movie a young boy look at a centerfold picture of Misty Mountains, she then crashes through his house and wrecking her car and landing in his back yard. The boy goes to check and sees Misty in the same pose that is shown in the magazine, but instead this time she is bloodied up and dying. The boy modestly covers up the dead porn star’s exposed body and then the movie starts. This linking of sex and death is explored throughout the film; however, I don’t want to spoil any plot points in this review so I won’t go into much more detail regarding that subject.

This is a funny, dark, and all-around entertaining buddy neo-noir that I would highly suggest watching during Noirvember. 

Rating 5/5