“I would destroy myself to take you down with me”

Glenn Ford (this is the anonymous-looking 1940’s Glenn Ford, not the superior 1950’s version from the Fritz Lang movies) is a grifter turned semi-respectable once hired by illegal casino owner George Macready (Paths of Glory, The Big Clock) with the unlikely character name of Ballin Mundson. Buncha noir-lite character development and plot setup ensues, while I’m on seat’s edge waiting for someone – anyone – to ask Gilda if she’s decent, then finally it happens and the movie comes to life.

So I guess Glenn and Gilda dated for years before it all fell apart, and now Glenn’s hiding out in Buenos Aires and his boss goes on vacation and comes back married to Gilda. Because of this movie’s noir reputation I assumed there’d be some femme fatale reveal in which she’s plotting a convoluted revenge scenario, but nope, just a massive movie coincidence – not to say the movie isn’t still convoluted. Glenn and George take turns toying with Gilda and she marries Glenn after George fakes his own death via plane crash. George briefly returns, only to be dispatched by bathroom attendant “Uncle Pio” (actor Steven Geray was Hungarian but hey, any foreigner will do), and we get an anti-Casablanca ending as Glenn belatedly decides he still likes Gilda.

Gilda serenades Uncle Pio:

All this plot is diverting, but Rita Hayworth’s beauty and attitude are the main attraction. I wonder if Gilda’s the only 1940’s female character to marry two men, cheat on both of them repeatedly, and still get a happy ending. Her hit song from the movie “Put the Blame on Mame” (which was pried into the tagline for this movie, confusing those of us who’d never heard the song and thought it a stupid catchphrase) is about a hot-kissin’ hard-dancin’ woman, and Dave Kehr notes it “has been known to provoke impure thoughts”. Maybe Rita even charmed the censors… or maybe they demanded different kinds of changes. Buenos Aires is crowded with corrupt officials, murderous businessmen and sinister Germans – I can’t tell if the fact that nazis and their collaborators hid out in Argentina after WWII was well-known when this film was written. Of course nazis are never mentioned, and in typical Hollywood style, Mundson controls a “tungsten cartel” instead of anything unsavory.

Played the first Cannes Film Festival alongside Brief Encounter, Rome Open City, Notorious, The Lost Weekend and Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. I mainly knew this film as the inspiration for Laura Harring’s character’s name in Mulholland Dr and the excerpt in Shawshank Redemption. Vidor had recently made the not-as-good Rita movie Cover Girl. Shot by Rudoplh Maté (The Passion of Joan of Arc, Foreign Correspondent), one of his last before retiring.

Devil is a Woman masked carnival:

S. O’Malley:

Gilda is a pawn between two men who seem more interested in each other than her … There’s Ballin’s phallic cane/sword named his “little friend”; at one point, Ballin says, “Wait for me here, Johnny. I’ll need both my little friends tonight” … The ending, with Johnny and Gilda exiting together, is a holdover from the days of the cathartic “The End” of musicals, but it leaves an uneasy impression, similar to the final scene in Notorious. In neither ending does it feel like “love has triumphed.” It’s more like a criminal getaway.

I actually kept up with all the plot confusion, so better write this down while I still remember it. Thief Maurice (Serge Reggiani, would-be star of Clouzot’s Inferno) kills and robs his fence/friend Gilbert (Rene Lefevre, Monsieur Lange in The Crime of Monsieur Lange), goes home to girlfriend Therese, hangs out with friends Silien and Jean, then gets caught robbing a house the next night, kills a cop who knew Silien and Gilbert, and gets arrested for both killings, neither of which can be proven.

From another POV (with a few holes), as soon as Maurice leaves Therese’s house robbery, buddy Silien (Jean-Paul Belmondo, one of three Melville movies he did between Breathless and Pierrot Le Fou) runs in, ties up Therese (smacking her around first) and asks her where the robbery is taking place. Cops cars arrive just as Maurice’s partner has started drilling the safe – the partner and the cop are killed, and Maurice faints with a bullet wound, picked up by persons unknown in a car. Belmondo visits the police station, a known informer, and offers to call around the bars looking for Maurice – they catch him in one, and he’s arrested. Meanwhile, Therese turns up dead in her car at the bottom of a ravine. Looks like Belmondo has locked up Maurice for offing his cop friend, and killed his girlfriend too. On top of that, Belmondo finds the buried jewels, cash and gun from the Gilbert killing (Maurice had left Therese a map, in case anything happened to him). In jail, Maurice (who’s as much the star of the movie as the over-the-title-credited Belmondo) hires a dude to kill Belmondo once they get out.

But Belmondo turns out to be a true friend who’s extremely good at covering for Maurice’s crimes. Belmondo killed the girl for ratting, saved Maurice at the scene of the heist, met up with his own ex-girl (Fabienne Dali of Kill Baby, Kill) and used the jewels to frame Michel Piccoli for the murder(s). So all is well… or it would be, but Maurice remembers that he’s got a hit man after his friend, so he races to Belmondo’s house and everybody gets killed.

So much twisty plot going on, I barely noticed anything else. Seemed like one of Melville’s more busy, exciting films.

A fully excellent “neo-noir” with Panic Room levels of tension, slick and confident, and such a perfect cast. I only know the lead actors from one decade-old movie and physical characteristic each: Gina Gershon (Demonlover/big lips), Jennifer Tilly (Bride of Chucky/high voice), Joe Pantoliano (Memento/also high voice) but it seems they deserve more. And considering what great performances the Wachowskis got out of them, it’s surprising that their follow-up films were mainly known for great visuals and cardboard acting. I guess they are genre chameleons – a noir needs complex humans and sci-fi/comic films need flat Phantom Menace acting to not distract from the computer graphics.

Gangster moll Jenny Tilly falls for handyman lesbian-next-door ex-con Gina G. and they plot to steal two million from Jen’s man Joe. But will they pull it off, and will Jenny really stick with Gina and vice versa, when betrayal would be so easy? Yes, a happy ending. Every male character in the entire movie gets killed, and the two actually end up together. Some noir.

Among the dead: Richard Sarafian (director of Vanishing Point) as the big boss, Chris “Law & Order” Meloni as his trigger-happy son and John P. Ryan (its father in It’s Alive) as the secondary mob guy who comes looking for the others. Couldn’t find any good articles on the movie, only ones that are interested in how gay the movie is (answer: not gay enough for the people writing the articles).

A true low-budget “b movie” classic. Made by an indie studio with no-name stars, a rough, dirty-looking film print with short jumps and gaps, shown as part of Emory’s noir series. First Ulmer movie I’ve seen (unless watching The Amazing Transparent Man on Mystery Science Theater counts).

Ton Neal is kind of a pathetic character, a wannabe concert pianist playing a crappy New York restaurant with his sweetheart Sue singing – but she won’t marry him until one of them makes good, so she sets out for Hollywood. Later, Tom has failed to make his fortune, but decides to hitch-hike to L.A. to see his girl. He’s picked up by a slightly dangerous-seeming guy named Charlie, who lets Tom drive while he naps, apparently dying in his sleep. Or maybe he dies when Tom opens the door to see if he’s alright, and Charlie falls out of the car, knocking his head into a rock. Or maybe he’s not dead at all – either way, Tom panics, takes the man’s clothes, wallet and car, and carries on.

But Tom, the dummy, picks up a hitch-hiker who turns out to be severe control freak Ann Savage. She’s onto him, since Charlie had given her a ride in the same car, so she threatens to turn him in, gets him to rent them an apartment and buy her clothes and booze. In perhaps my favorite 40’s-noir death scene so far, one night he grabs the phone cord (I think it was to keep her from calling the cops) leading under her closed bedroom door and pulls with all his might, not knowing that the cord was looped around her neck. Now Tom is a two-time murderer, doesn’t want to bring his fugitive past into sweetie Sue’s life, so he hits the highway, stopping irritably in a diner (where Sturges regular Esther Howard is the waitress) to pause and recount his tale to us via voice-over.

Which leads to The Last Shot of Detour, the subject of a ten-page article by Morgan Fisher in Cinema Scope, which soon lost me when I realized it was a “close reading” of a one-minute piece of film, but after skimming a few pages I got interested again, in his discussion of strangely self-conscious moments in the movie that could only have been inserted on purpose. When watching the movie, the final shot made me laugh – Tom’s narrator voice tells us that one day on the road he’ll catch his final, fateful ride, and at that very moment the state patrol pulls up and takes him away. I hadn’t thought to consider it as a subjective shot, a flash-forward illustrating his thought, but without any cuts or visual cues that we’ve left the present.

Tom Neal, the non-brute lead of The Brute Man, was best known for beating the hell out of Franchot Tone in 1951 and killing his wife in 1965. Ann Savage memorably reappeared sixty-three years later in the great My Winnipeg. Detour was remade in the 1990’s with Tom Neal Jr.

D. Coursen:

Ulmer is actually taking several American fantasies (“going west,” looking to Hollywood for success and happiness, finding freedom and happiness on the open road) and performing unnatural acts on them, with devastating effects … Each ridiculous plot twist narrows his alternatives, increases his victimization, further emphasizes his lack of free will. In fact, the closest thing to a moment of freedom in the movie (though the character doesn’t perceive it as such) comes in the extraordinary sequence in which, working in the nightclub he professes to despise, he plays a brilliant, disjointed piano improvisation, shown largely through closeups of his crazily moving fingers.

Boring city-planner Alan Curtis (of High Sierra) is framed for the strangling murder of his cheating wife. Unfortunately his alibi is The Phantom Lady (Fay Helm with giant black eyes) who has disappeared. A detective with tons of time on his hands (Thomas Gomez, John Garfield’s doomed loser brother in Force of Evil) interviews a bartender and a cabbie, a dancer and a drummer, and they all recall Mr. Curtis and his little mustache, but not his lady friend with her Hellraiser eyes and flamboyant hat. So Curtis is off to the electric chair.

Ella Raines in stalker mode:

But wait! Curtis’s secretary from Kansas (Ella Raines of Hail the Conquering Hero) isn’t gonna let the movie end so quickly, because she has the hots for her boss and an alarming tenacity. Ella gets in touch with her self-destructive dark side and tails first the bartender (bald, skittish Andrew Tombes) then the drummer (hyperactive Elisha Cook Jr., the highlight of the movie, whose drumming is more sexually suggestive than anything in Written on the Wind) to their deaths.

Elisha Jr. at the kit:

The movie has a less complicated view of human nature than most noirs. Ella is the most dynamic character, going from smitten office drone to steely stalker, (just barely) being able to make out with the creepy drummer in exchange for information, but she snaps back into girlish submissiveness at the end. By comparison, Curtis, scheduled to die in a couple weeks, is in a slightly bad mood. The detective re-opens the case because he decides Curtis’s phantom-lady alibi is too stupid not to be true, and offers a worryingly simplistic analysis of the killer: an insane megolomaniac artist. Wouldn’t you know it, Curtis’s best friend Franchot Tone (who played a boring millionaire in Here Comes The Groom), a crazed self-obsessed sculptor with perfect, glowing white hands is back in town.

Franchot Tone examines his perfect hands:

Ella teams up with Tone, his frequent headaches and strong strangler hands failing to tip her off, and tracks down Phantom Lady through a hat manufacturer. P.L. is an extremely delicate rich woman who lost her fiancee, so they have to speak softly and finally leave with her hat (which presumably will be able to testify on its own). Luckily, nobody has to drag P.L. out of her privileged little mourning room because Tone springs into action, giving away the plot and trying to strangle Ella then leaping to his death when the detective bursts in.

Great little movie by Siodmak (just off Son of Dracula) based on a story by Cornell Woolrich (Rear Window, Papa Benjamin) with some nice shadowy scenes (the prison visits, bartender stalking). I could watch it again tonight. And tomorrow night. And every night. And every night. And every night.

Didn’t seem very noirish, nor very good, for at least the first half. Barbara Stanwyck (between Double Indemnity and The Furies) is at her least appealing as a spoiled invalid shouting into the telephone all day and night, and her husband Burt Lancaster (in his noir period, between The Killers and Criss Cross) barely appears. Eventually it all falls into place. She is even more spoiled than it first seemed, having stolen Burt away from his girlfriend, given him a meaningless job at her father’s chemical corporation, then fallen into a psychosomatic paralysis to keep him at home taking care of her. Burt is no jewel himself, attempting to break free of his father-in-law’s grasp by stealing chemical supplies and selling them to gangsters. The “wrong number” of the title is a call Stanwyck accidentally overhears at the start, two men plotting a murder – hers, on order of her husband, who tries to stop it at the last minute. Too late, and though I love Ms. Stanwyck, this was one movie in which I didn’t mind her getting killed.

Since the plot comes together in fragments from Stanwyck’s perspective, gathering backstory over phone calls as time ticks away, I was hoping for a flashback-within-a-flashback, and got one! Burt’s cutie ex (Ann Richards) is nice enough to try helping out, though her husband (Leif Erickson, the grinning would-be cop-killer in The Tall Target) is investigating Lancaster. I also liked meek scientist Evans (Harold Vermilyea of The Big Clock and Edge of Doom), Burt’s reluctant partner in crime, who manages to escape (but perhaps not for long, since the cops are closing in on Burt). The Franz Waxman score can best be characterized as loud.

Between this and The Snake Pit with Olivia de Havilland the same year, Litvak was on fire making popular pictures about mental women – unfortunately, his two stars’ oscar nominations cancelled each other out so the award went to Jane Wyman.

If I count right (and it’s difficult), this was director Orson’s fourth of twelve released feature films. All the usual Wellesian eccentric production tales surround it, and the usual claims of studio mistreatment (an unapproved music track, an hour of footage removed), and the usual reports of poor reviews and low ticket sales. That stuff aside, we’re left with a great movie, full of idiosyncratic camerawork and acting (why oh why does Welles assign himself an Irish accent) and super dialogue.

Trophy wife Rita Hayworth (who’d just starred in Gilda) takes a fancy to Irish-Welles, sends her rich husband Arthur (becrutched Everett Sloane of The Patsy, The Enforcer) to hire Welles for their yachting expedition. Welles doesn’t mind being around Rita, but Arthur and his partner Grisby (Glenn Anders of Laughter, hamming it up) get under his skin with their power plays and upper-class bitchiness.

Welles tosses a sharks-eating-each-other metaphor at the rich folk, later is spotted smooching Rita at the aquarium as a visual tie-in. What distracted me from thoughts of the Steve The Octopus controversy from Citizen Kane was noticing that sometimes Welles and Hayworth seem to be conversing before real fish tanks, and sometimes before massive projection-screen blow-ups of fish tanks, so unrealistically out of proportion that it must have been intentional.

Back in the fold, Grisby offers a way out – he’ll give Welles enough money to run off with Rita in exchange if Welles helps Grisby fake his death, boasting about a murder for which the police could find no body. But the plan, as all movie plans must, goes wrong. Grisby kills Arthur’s private investigator (Ted de Corsia, killer who gets chased over the Williamsburg bridge in the climax of The Naked City) then turns up dead himself, Orson the obvious suspect. He escapes the cops and finds Rita, but she’s behind it all, stashes him in an abandoned funhouse – for no reason other than to provide outstanding visuals for the final mirror-room showdown. Arthur and Rita shoot each other down, and Welles is left behind.

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.

Now that I’ve seen this twice (both times on 35mm at Emory) I’m positive it’s one of my favorite movies. Perfect actors, dialogue, camera and lighting, perfectly paced and scored. It’s such an ideal film that while walking out, I almost fell into the trap of wishing for the glory days of Hollywood because they can’t make ’em like that anymore. Close call – I’m feeling better now.

Criminal flunky Joe (Paul Valentine of House of Strangers) tracks down Robert Mitchum (early in his career) working at a small-town gas station, says that big badman Whit (Kirk Douglas, a few years before Ace in the Hole) wants to speak with him. Mitchum drives up to Whit’s house with his cutie girlfriend, tells her his long flashback story along the way. We spend such a long time in flashback that once the action picks up again, I keep forgetting we’re back in the present.

Mitchum was originally hired by the baddies (both with prominent chins) to track down Kirk’s thieving runaway girl Jane Greer (whose IMDB page is more interesting for trivia about how Howard Hughes used to stalk her than for her film roles). He finds her in Mexico, falls for her, and they run off together, live in hiding for a couple years until discovered by his partner (Steve Brodie, a cop in Losey’s M, also in The Steel Helmet, later Frankenstein Island and The Wizard of Speed and Time). She shoots the partner and runs off, Mitchum belatedly discovering that she’d also stolen Kirk’s money for which she’d been claiming innocence.

So now Kirk wants Mitchum to steal some incriminating files for him, but plans to frame Mitchum along the way as revenge for absconding with Kirk’s girl (now back in the fold). Mitch gets the scoop from Rhonda Fleming (of The Spiral Staircase, Spellbound), and steals the files, but can’t avoid the frame-up and flees home followed by the gangsters and the law.

Mitchum gets unexpected help from his deaf-mute employee, who dispatches Joe with a fishing-rod yank off a cliff. The kid was Dickie Moore – the youngest actor in the movie, but the one who would retire first, near the end of his child-star film career. The Femme proves to be extremely fatale, shoots Kirk to death, then drives herself and Mitchum into a guns-blazing police roadblock. The “happy” ending is that Mitchum’s sweet small-town girlfriend Ann (Virginia Huston – in her short film career she played Tarzan’s Jane once, and four characters named Ann) is free of his big-city corrupting influence, and can be properly courted by local cop Jim (Richard Webb, also of The Big Clock), in a world devoid of excitement or interest.

The author of the “unadaptable” novel wrote the screenplay himself, would later co-write The Big Steal and The Hitch-Hiker. Shot by the great Nicholas Musuraca, who practically invented film noir with his lighting – or lack thereof – on Stranger on the Third Floor in 1940. Nominated for nothing, in favor of timeless classics like Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman, Ride the Pink Horse and Green Dolphin Street. Bah! Remade in the 80’s with Jeff Bridges, James Woods, and re-starring Jane Greer as the femme fatale’s mother.