Ford directed at least 25 movies in the 1930’s – this one was made soon after Judge Priest. We watched this for Jean Arthur (a couple years before Easy Living), and a bonus was the really impressive dual acting by Edward G. Robinson and all manner of effects used to make him into two people: a bland office worker, and a bank robber nicknamed Killer. Robinson is turned into the cops by busybody Donald Meek (Stagecoach, etc), so the cops give him a signed letter saying he’s not the killer but a lookalike – of course this gets into the newspapers, since everything back then got into the newspapers, so Killer comes looking for his lookalike, steals the letter and forces the bland Robinson to cover for him. But Bland Robinson’s secret is that he’s a creepy stalker for his lovely coworker Jean Arthur, so when she’s endangered by all this activity, our man steps up and saves the day. I wouldn’t necessarily have thought crime comedies to be in John Ford’s wheelhouse, but dude’s wheelhouse was extremely large.
Tag: Edward G. Robinson
Blackmail (1939, H.C. Potter)
Edward G. Robinson (eight years and twenty movies later, still being billed on posters as “the screen’s Little Caesar”) has a lovely wife (Ruth Hussey of The Philadelphia Story), an annoying son, and an assistant named Moose (Big Boy Williams of Lucky Star and City Girl). Ed and Moose run a thriving company putting out oil-well fires with explosives. But Robinson has a secret past – convicted of a robbery a decade earlier, he escaped from the chain gang and changed his name. This being 1939, we wouldn’t be allowed to root for a crook, so it turns out Robinson was innocent, wrongly imprisoned.
Check the well-fire reflection in the car next to Ruth:
The real thief (a broken-down-looking Gene Lockhart of Meet John Doe, The Devil and Daniel Webster) tracks Robinson down and blackmails him for all he’s got, including his new oil well, and gets Robinson sent back to the chain gang as well. A few hardass prison scenes and depressing letters from home later, Robinson escapes again – his fellow escapee getting shot to death in the process, but no matter – sets fire to his own well and waits for Lockhart to call Moose to put it out. A punchout, a coerced confession, and Robinson’s name is cleared.
Tight little thriller. Loved the infernal opening and closing scenes in front of well fires. Wonder how much fuel was burned up while making this movie. I also dug the chain gang singing “Take This Hammer”. This has nothing at all in common with the other HC Potter movie I’ve seen, Hellzapoppin’, besides that they’re both really good. Actually there’s a scene at the beginning where so-called fireman Big Boy sets a trash can ablaze while on the phone, setting a comic tone that is immediately lost when the sinister Gene Lockhart arrives.
Also enjoyed the superimposition showing Robinson digging his prisoner’s pick into the grinning face of Lockhart, and Robinson’s Cape Fear-style escape clinging beneath a truck.
Whole pile of writers, including Hertz & Ludwig (Love Crazy), Dorothy Yost (The Gay Divorcee) and Brown Holmes (I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, unsurprisingly).
Double Indemnity (1944, Billy Wilder)
Now this is why I keep a movie journal – so I have to take the time to consider and remember what I’ve seen, so next year I’m not confusing Manoel on the Isle of Marvels with City of Pirates with Robinson Crusoe. I know I’ve seen Double Indemnity before, but last time shouldn’t even count, since I’d swear it was a Humphrey Bogart movie that involves some fictional law about not being able to prosecute someone twice for the same crime. Whoops, that was Double Jeopardy with Ashley Judd. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing it again, as they say, for the first time.
It’s really a perfect noir plot. Fred MacMurray is an upright insurance salesman, very close with his boss Edward G. Robinson (the year before he’d take center stage in Lang-noir Scarlet Street). They’re on the same side – Fred sells policies and Ed sniffs out fraudulent claims. But Fred’s head is turned by Barbara Stanwyck (also his costar in Remember the Night), trapped in a loveless marriage with a rich man. When she suggests taking out life insurance on her husband, Fred is immediately on to her. But instead of reporting her spouse-murdering desires, his own desire for her sucks him into the plot. Why not use his inside knowledge of life insurance mechanics to help her, gaining himself a rich and beautiful wife in the process?
Problems: first, Fred is spotted on the train pretending to be her husband (who was already killed a few minutes earlier, strangled in his car). Fred has a brief uncomfortable chat with Sturges regular Porter Hall, who turns out to have a great memory when he’s later interviewed by Robinson. Second, Fred underestimated Barbara, who is now trying to seduce the boyfriend of her dead husband’s daughter so that he’ll kill the daughter and tie up any loose ends. Confrontation: Fred and Barbara shoot each other, and Fred stumbles back to the office to tell the whole story into Robinson’s dictaphone, providing us with a narrator/framing device.
Nominated for every oscar but lost all to Going My Way, Gaslight and Laura. Shot by Preston Sturges’s cinematographer John Seitz. Based on an acclaimed novel by James Cain (Mildred Pierce, The Postman Always Rings Twice) and adapted by Wilder with the great Raymond Chandler (The Blue Dahlia).
R. Armstrong for Senses:
Subverting Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray’s audience-friendly personae, Double Indemnity used genre to comment upon a changing America. Revolving around the combative mating ritual of a larcenous insurance salesman and a bored brassy claimant, the exchanges are tough, vernacular and eventually brutal, echoing a war entering its final bloody stages and a burgeoning crisis in American sexual relations. Featuring a manipulative, sexual woman, and shot on LA locations employing chiaroscuro lighting, this archetypal film noir remains a masterpiece of fleet narrative and sociocultural resonance.
Scarlet Street (1945, Fritz Lang)
Coming home late from a party at work where he’s been awarded for 25 years of loyal service as a cashier, Edward G. Robinson (Chris Cross) knocks down a man (pimp Dan Duryea) beating up a woman (prostitute Joan Bennett). The shot below sums up so much about Cross… stunned, afraid, a little reckless but arms crossed defensively.
He walks the girl home, and she pretends to like him suspecting he’s a rich artist, an idea he encourages. And the stage is set for all of their demises. A murder, an execution, a long-lost husband, lots of lying and cheating, and Chris’s total ruin will follow.
Gotta be one of the best film-noirs I’ve ever seen, and one of the best Fritz Lang movies. Unexpectedly greater than The Big Heat. Gets sad at the end… poor Chris doesn’t deserve his fate.
Michael Grost says: “Scarlet Street (1945) is a remake of Jean Renoir’s picture La Chienne (1931). The most important immediate difference between the pictures is one of tone and attitude towards the characters. Renoir’s film is a kinky black comedy about a pair of sexy low lifes who humiliate a middle aged man. It is basically a sexual fantasy. Lang’s picture is a tale of paranoia, how a pair of disgusting human beings, and fate itself, persecute an innocent man. Lang strips most of the sexiness from the crooked couple in the picture. Instead he and scenarist Dudley Nichols emphasize their sheer awfulness.”
Thought of as a sorta companion film to his 1944’s Woman in the Window, a noir with the same three actors which I remember liking a lot.
Wasn’t paying attention while the commentary played, but it mentioned Matthew Bernstein.
A woman in the window:
A sad man: