Tonight is the second episode of L.A. Noire! I’m currently on the traffic desk in the game. My goal at the moment is to finish the traffic desk and make it to the homicide desk. I’ve played the game before. This time is just purely enjoying the story and getting all questions correct to enjoy the story. I can’t wait to go to homicide. They have some of the best missions in-game! The stream starts at 7 as usual on Twitch at robertfrowniejr.
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.
The Maltese Falcon is based on the novel of the same name from author Dashiell Hammet. The Maltese Falcon is considered to be one of the greatest films of all-time and one of the top noir films of all-time. The film is a beautiful tale of mystery with an amazing cast. Humphrey Bogart stars as Sam Spade, who is a hard-boiled detective that is keen on the morals of the people that surround him. After the arrival of the seductive Miss Wonderly (Mary Astor), Spade gets trapped into a web of crime that follows a valuable object called the Maltese falcon.
John Huston (director) does a tremendous job getting viewers emotionally invested in this film. No matter how tough Bogart plays Sam Spade, there is always a sense of urgency that Spade could be killed by these criminals. Mary Astor is perfect playing the innocent woman, who has a sinister side. Bogart and Astor have chemistry together. Bogart, with his facial expressions, shows that Spade finds Miss Wonderly beautiful, but that she is not to be trusted. Spade isn’t going to play her games.
A black-and-white San Francisco is alluring to the eyes. Huston paints the city with a steady brush. Huston lets viewers know the city is a jewel with evil that lurks in the night. A private eye in the city will always be watching their back. Spade’s office at night features a skyline of San Franciscan buildings lit perfectly with white, illuminated bulbs highlighting certain businesses. It’s a gorgeous shot that lights up the black sky.
The film is an exhilarating portrayal of how far people will go for riches and rarities. Greed is influential to the point that people will travel the earth to get wealthy. Spade is a hero that never falters. No one can bribe him or persuade him into helping with their messy schemes. He never falls for the stuff that dreams are made of.
Overall rating: 5/5.
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.
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.
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.