Sunday, July 28, 2019

Comic Noir

This is my entry in the Noirathon hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films

As I have stated before I enjoy the concept of film noir    If you are unfamiliar with the term, it was created by French essayist Nino Frank to describe a specific sub-genre of mysteries that became popular post WWII (although the concept had been around for a few years prior.)

I could try to describe film noir, but I think David J. Hogan does a much better job in his book Film Noir FAQ:

"As noir evolved, themes became increasingly familiar.  You do not control the circumstances of your life.  Choices you agonize over are likely to be bad ones.  Choices you make without thinking are likely to be worse.  Whatever you love and value can be taken from you at any moment.  Forces greater than you, and greater even than your leaders, can conspire to destroy you.  These forces are no smarter than you, but they have the power and you don't.  You are not a true participant in the events, only an observer.  If you are particularly foolish, or just unlucky, you will be a victim."

(David J. Hogan; Film Noir FAQ; pg xiv).

There are several tropes that pop up in the average film noir.  One is a regular schmo who gets caught up in some rather unsavory incidents due to his being just an innocent bystander (the "victim").  Another is the femme fatale.  The schmo can be seduced easily by a pretty woman, and in the case of the film noir, the woman is not so innocent as public perception would lead one to believe. (the "values that can be taken")  And, as always, there is a puppeteer behind the scenes manipulating the poor schmo (the "forces greater than you").

By 1949, the film noir movie had been developing into a well-loved genre, and was ripe for parody.  Along comes Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, who had already been hard at work parodying one of the classic Universal monsters of days gone by, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.  (The rest of the oeuvre of A & C  vs. monsters would come later.)

In Abbott and Costello Meet The Killer, Boris Karloff,  we finally got the match-up of the comedy duo and the monster king.  (Karloff had declined to participate in the Frankenstein parody because he felt the monster genre deserved more respect, but he apparently had a change of heart by this time.)


Abbott and Costello Meet The Killer, Bros Farloff (1949):

A group of reporters await the arrival of a bigwig attorney, Amos Strickland (Nicholas Joy).  Freddie (Lou Costello), a bumbling bellboy gets off on the wrong foot with Strickland by breaking his glasses, dropping his golf clubs on the man's foot, and in general just being a clumsy fool.  Strickland adamantly demands that the manager, Mr. Melton (Alan Mowbray) fire Freddie.  When this happens Freddie indignantly tells Strickland he will get even with the attorney.

Later, Freddie goes to Strickland's room to try to apologize and hopefully get his job back.  Unfortunately Freddie finds the murdered body of Strickland.  And, of course, Freddie is bound to be Suspect Number One, since he had previously threatened the man.  His friend, hotel detective Casey (Bud Abbott) tries to help by declaring Freddie wouldn't do such a thing, but the police are not so sure and demand that he be held under house arrest.

A host of other guests also are suspects.  Much like the riders in the Murder on the Orient Express, they all have some previous association with Strickland.  These include a Swami (Boris Karloff), and our femme fatale Angela Gordon (Lenore Aubert).  All of these people have some sort of motive for killing Strickland and thus work in conjunction with each other to shift the blame to Freddie and away from themselves.

In particular, Angela tries to seduce Freddie and gets him to sign a confession to the murder.  Ostensibly the idea is presented to Freddie that Freddie will find the murderer and get him to sign the confession, but that is not her true intent.  And the Swami will use his powers of hypnotism to try to convince Freddie to commit suicide, thus eliminating any potential for Freddie to discredit the confession.

Meanwhile, two other murder victims show up.  Unfortunately for Freddie, they show up in his htel room;  in the closet, in the bathtub in his bed....  Casey and Freddie try to move the bodies out of Freddie's room, leading to some of the funnier antics of the film, including Freddie and Casey trying to pretend to be playing cards with the two dead men, and Freddie dressing up as a maid to transport the bodies in a laundry cart.  (And this scene includes an hilarious exchange between Freddie and the night manager (Percy Helton) who tries to put the movies on the "female" Freddie.)

So who actually killed the three men?  Was it our psuedo swami?  Was it one of the three duplicitous women?  Or was it Freddie's friend, Casey?  One thing we know.  As pretty much pointed out in the film, it wasn't Freddie...he's not smart enough to have pulled it off.

As far as film noir goes, this film is a pretty good example of how one can take the tropes of the genre and twist them around.  It's not as good as The Maltese Falcon or  any other of a number of classic serious entries in the genre.  But compare it to some of the really low-budget poverty row entries and it shines.

Well, folks, the time has come to hit the road.  Drive safely.


Friday, July 26, 2019

Blogger Recognition Award

I've been nominated for another award.  I like these awards because there is no competition, so no worry whether I'll win or or lose, and no trepidation about giving an acceptance speech, so no worry whether I'll get up in front of a bunch of people and say something that will be mocked for years to come, like "You like me.  You really like me!"

So Sally @ 18 Cinema Lane thinks this blog deserves an award.  (I guess there's no accounting for taste...:-D)  But seriously, thanks, Sally for the recognition.

The rules say I should tell people why I started this blog in the first place.  So here goes.

When I was 20 years old I got a job with a friend delivering the Dallas Times Herald to residents in the town where I lived.  Since we always had one or two extras, I took it home.  I wasn't all that interested in the news of the world back then, but I was interested in the movies.

On Fridays, a column by a guy named Joe Bob Briggs (pseudonym of John Bloom) appeared in the "Entertainment" section.  Briggs was the drive-in movie critic.  Not a fan of the "indoor bullstuff",  his column dealt with the trashy blood guts and gore cinema of the ubiquitous (at the time) drive-in movie theater.  I read the column religiously every week, until he made some comment once that ended up getting him fired. 

Years later I found two books that collected many of the articles he wrote, published as Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In and Joe Bob Goes Back to the Drive-In.  (Both of these are now Out Of Print and run you about $100 each on many sites I've seen.... so, NO, you can't borrow them...)

Flash forward to late 2015.  I was reading bloggers on line for a couple of years and decided to create my own blog, The Midnite Drive-In.  Originally I had intended on focusing on the kind of fare that populated the drive-in from the early days of drive-in movies to the decline of the drive-in in the early 90's.  If you've been reading regularly you know I've detoured from that plan, but I still try to get a few obscure and oddball entries now and then.  (ie. sometime next month I will be doing one on Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh)

As far as rule #4 on the list; sharing advice to bloggers:

If you want to be a blogger you have to be committed (in more ways than one...)  Don't be discouraged if you miss a promised deadline for something.  I have had to bow out of three or four promised reviews over the past four years.  But I didn't just chuck it all because I have a desire to share.

And never second guess yourself.  Write what you want to write.  Don't let worries about how it will be perceived deter you.  You are unique, just like everyone else.  You opinion matters.

I won't nominate 15 bloggers.  But I will nominate a few.

1.  Rachel @ Hamlette's Soliloquy  (because she is a frequent collaborator on blogathons)

2.  Chris @ Angelman's Place (because I think he needs the work...:-D)

3. Steve @ MovieMovieBlogBlogII  (because he is a fellow lover of the bizarre)

4. Paddy Lee @ Caftan Woman (because she has suffered through nearly every one of my posts..)

Don't feel left out.  I think everyone should get the award.  If you want, just go ahead and post and say I nominated you.  I won't quibble.

In case you do this, here are the rules as given to me:

1. Thank the person who nominated you and feature a link to their blog in your award post.

2. Post the award banner somewhere in your blog.

3. Share the reason why you started your blog.

4. Share two pieces of advice that could benefit new bloggers.

5.  Nominate a maximum of 15 other bloggers.

6.  Tell your nominees about your award post so they can participate.



Saturday, July 20, 2019

Street Swindlers

This is my entry in the Joan Bennett Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood

Yet another example of how the female species can't be trusted in the film noir world.  But to Catherine "Kitty" March's credit, she is spurred on by her lover, Johnny.  Which brings in a second factor to those of you caught in a film noir cycle.  If you see Dan Duryea anywhere in the vicinity, run like hell the other direction.

Joan Bennett is an attractive bait for a harangued and disillusioned man like Chris Cross (Edward G. Robinson).  Like some alcoholics, Cross seems to be of the notion "if you had a wife like mine, you'd look for companionship elsewhere, too..."  Adele Cross (Rosalind Ivan) is the perfect example of a film noir harridan.

But Cross is a victim of his own makings.  Sure his wife is a t-total witch, but his wandering eye is the cause of his own problems.  Kitty and Johnny are duplicitous, but Cross goes into it willingly if not completely aware of the behind-the scenes shenanigans.

Scarlet Street (1945):

Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson) is feted by his boss and fellow employees for his faithful 25 years of service as a cashier.  He is even given a gold watch by his boss as a token of his esteem for his servant.  When the party breaks up, Cross and his friend watch as his boss gets in a limo with his gorgeous (and young) wife.

Cross laments that he never had any luck finding love with a hot number like his boss's wife.  On the way home he witness a beautiful young girl being assaulted by a hoodlum and goes to her rescue.  Unbeknownst to Cross, however, the "hoodlum" was really, in fact Kitty's (Joan Bennett) boyfriend, Johnny (Dan Duryea), whom she allows to escape while Cross goes in search of a policeman.

After the policeman runs off in the wrong direction, due to Kitty's misdirection, the two go off.  Cross invites Kitty for a drink, where Kitty is given the impression that Cross is not a cashier, but actually a painter, and maybe wealthier than he lets on.  (Cross, does paint, and he thinks his work is amateur at best, and, of course, is not in reality a painter by trade.) Later, Kitty and Johnny concoct a scheme to weasel money out of Cross, whom they think is rich.

Cross, stuck in a loveless marriage, falls in love with Kitty (and who wouldn't if she was as true as she lets on to be.)  Kitty uses Cross in anyway she can, trying to wheedle money out of him to pay for a new apartment, among other things.  She sweetens the pot by telling him the apartment can double as an art studio.

Things go on as planned, and even when Cross shows up unexpectedly to find Kitty with Johnny, the two manage to convince Cross that Johnny is not involved with Kitty, but her former roommate instead, with whom she still maintains a friendship.  The subterfuge works mainly because Cross is rather dim-witted at best and truly believes that Kitty really loves him in return.  Love can be blind like that.

The fly in the ointment, of course, is Adele (Rosalind Ivan), Cross' actual wife.  It is a wonder how Cross and Adele ever hooked up.  She is a shrew whose former husband was a police detective who died trying to save a drowning woman.  She is clearly still in love with her dead husband, as a full size portrait of the gent dominates the living room of their apartment.  (The fact that Cross puts up with it just goes to prove how meek and weak-willed he is.)

Cross first manages to steal some of Adele's money she has been hoarding from the death insurance payoff from her previous husband.  When Kitty and Johnny still look for even more money, Cross' commitment to his job proves to be the source of a windfall, as he embezzles the money from his employer. 

Meanwhile, Johnny and Kitty have discovered that some people think Cross' paintings are pretty good, so they concoct a scheme to sell them as Kitty's paintings instead.  Oh the web gets even more tangled...

Cross still debates how he can get out of his marriage to Adele so he can marry Kitty, and when fate drops an opportunity in his lap, he jumps at the chance.

The opportunity in question is the resurfacing of Adele's former husband, Higgins (Charles Kemper) whom, it turns out, was not quite the honest cop he had the world believing he was.  When the supposed dead Higgins tries to extort money from Cross he arranges for the husband to steal it from his own wife, neglecting to tell Higgins that his wife will be in the same room at the time.

When Cross tells Kitty they can now be married, Kitty laughs in his face.  Which doesn't set well with Cross.

As a film noir, this movie has all the elements; duplicitous femme fatales, shading dealing with unscrupulous men, and even a cop who edges on he wrong side of the law.  At the center is the poor schlub whose world falls apart simply because he is in the wrong place at the wrong time.  My only complaint with the film (other than the fact that my two available copies had poor quality transfers) is that the ending seems a little bit disheveled.  Not that its not satisfactory in the sense that everybody gets what they deserve (to a point), just tat it seems to be a bit contrived.

That's it for this time.  Drive safely, folks.


Saturday, July 6, 2019

The Wild Blue

This is my entry in the Janet Leigh Blogathon hosted by Love Letters to Old Hollywood

How many major motion pictures can you name where a branch of the Armed Services gets top billing?  By that, I mean one that is not a documentary?

Jet Pilot does just that.  Check out the movie poster below.  The opening credits of the movie bear it out, too.  After the Universal logo we get scenes of jets spinning in the air with the words "Starring John Wayne... Janet Leigh... and the United States Air Force".

And to be honest, that's the best part of the movie, the Air Force.  Although Jet Pilot is not near as bad as The Conqueror, coupled with the latter it ought to have proved to Wayne and everyone else that Howard Hughes was not the ideal boss to work for.  But then I guess Wayne could be forgiven on some level because part of the reasons for making the two films was that he was sucking up for funds to finance the film of his dreams, The Alamo.

With up around 200 appearances in film and television over the span of his 50 year career in Hollywood, there are bound to be a few duds of course.  (Personally, although I am a huge fan, most of the westerns he made in his early days before [and just after] Stagecoach are pretty much interchangeable.)  But Wayne's experience with Howard Hughes seems to be the low point of his oeuvre.

The story is what hampers the movie more than anything else.  For one thing, the movie was actually filmed in 1950, when jet planes were hot stuff, but by the time Hughes had quit screwing around with the film in 1957, jets were becoming passe.  That and the plot line becomes rather lame.  Even Wayne himself admitted that it was a silly movie.  Which just goes to show what happens when you want to make a political statement but don't bother to get the right people behind you.  Howard Hughes was a brilliant businessman, to be sure.  He just should have stayed in the office and let the people who knew what they were doing run the film industry side of it.

Janet Leigh and John Wayne do have a little chemistry which makes it a better than the pairing of Wayne with Hayward in the aforementioned  The Conqueror.  Can't say I actually believe Leigh as a pilot, or for that matter as a Russian (the producers didn't even bother to have any of the actors and actresses playing Russians use a fake accent... James Bond it's not, but still if you aren't paying attention you may not know which country the characters are supposed to be in).  I did have a hard time accepting Wayne falling in love with a communist soldier (not Wayne's character, Wayne himself.  If it had been any less virulent Red-baiter of an actor I might have fell for it more.)

Watch this movie for the very good scenes of aerial photography and as a window into the early age of jet engine technology.  As I stated in my review of The Conqueror, you could probably just as easily turn off the sound and make up your own dialogue.

BTW, Chuck Yeager supposedly is one of the Air Force pilots you see flying those jets.

Jet Pilot (1957):

In the Alaskan frontier, an Air Force base detects the invasion into American air space of a Soviet jet plane.  After forcing it to land, they discover that the pilot is a woman, Anna Marladovna (Janet Leigh).  Col. Jim Shannon (John Wayne) is assigned to scope her out and figure out just what she is up to.

Eventually over the course of  a few days (or weeks or months; it all depends on how believable you think it is for a man to fall in love with a woman he just barely met...), Shannon does fall for Anna.  Although he acts like a typical shy gallant hero (no hanky panky before marriage, no sir!  At one point when her orders he to take off some of her outer gear, he is flabbergasted when she is on the verge of stripping naked in front of him...).

The brass has the ultimate say in what is going to happen to Anna.  Ultimately, it turns out, Anna is a spy.  She has been sent over by the Soviets to see what she can divulge from the Americans, without giving away any secrets the Soviets might have to which she'd be privileged.  When her subterfuge is uncovered, Shannon determines that the only way to save her from being deported is to marry her.  (Yeah, right...)

But the brass still wants its pound of flesh and determines that they will jail her instead, since they can get away with that.  She is an American citizen now.  But Shannon still has an ace up his sleeve.  On the pretext of taking Anna to authorities south and east of Alaska he instead heads north and west.  Into Siberia.  Yes, that's right, the notorious Communist-hating Wayne defected.  All because of the love of a woman.  (OK, maybe I can see that...)

Of course, now that he's in Russian territory its "the shoe is on the other foot" and Russian authorities are trying to get Shannon to reveal secrets of the Americans.  Well, he may be thinking with his genitalia, but that doesn't mean he's stupid.  There is no point in trying to avoid the spoiler alert, but then if you know John Wayne the actor and his politics you ALREADY know how the movie HAS to end anyway.  Or at least you know the spoiler alert... Shannon doesn't stay in Russia.  But I will leave you with something to watch to see how he manages to get away from the crack superior Russian Air Force.

Time to head home.  Drive safely, folks.


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Pit of Despair

This is my entry in the OLivia deHaviland Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Clasic Hollywood

I will preface this review with this comment:  I did NOT like this movie.  And that has absolutely nothing to do with the acting of Ms. de Haviland or any of the other stars in the movie.  As a matter of fact, I wholly concur with the Academy that Olivia should have been given a nomination for Best Actress (and maybe even should have won. Having yet to see Johnny Belinda, I won't comment on whether it was better than the winner, just that I was impressed.)

No, what I didn't like about the movie was how real it seemed.  Which is a bonus for how well Anatole Litvak, de Haviland et. al. did in presenting the movie, to be sure.  But it made me feel claustrophobic in it's presentation.  Maybe its because the character of Virginia reminded me of a woman in my past.  There is something a little disturbing about Virginia, and even after the issues she has are resolved,   I still felt vaguely unsettled by the character.

That and the film is listed as film noir and my definition of film noir is rather more limited.  I guess I went into it expecting some rather shady dealings to have been the cause of Virginia's committal to the insane asylum (I watched this for the first time just for this blogathon and only chose it because it had been listed as film noir).  I learned one thing after watching, however;  I need to be more open-minded about how I define movies.

One of the things that really made the movie so disturbing was a fact that I hadn't clued in on until it was pointed out by a fellow blogger.  There is no glamor in this film.  None of the women are wearing makeup and apparently no form-fitting undergarments either.  de Haviland and her fellow inmates look rather stark, something not very common in films, where even Ma Jarrett in White Heat is not all that disheveled, even after she has gone to prison.

The movie exposed a rather jaundiced eye on the situation in mental institutions of the time, according to the experts.  And it experienced a bit of controversy as a result.  Especially in England, where censors demanded a point to be made that all of the people in the movie were actors and that the situations portrayed therein were not indicative of the British mental institution system.

Several familiar faces appear in the film, including Natalie Schaefer (Mrs. Howell on Gilligan's Island) as Virginia's mother,  Betsy Blair (Marty's love in the film of the same name) as one of the inmates, Lee Patrick (Sam Spade's secretary in The Maltese Falcon), and Glenn Langan (who was the titular The Amazing Colossal Man) as one of the doctors.  As well, Ms. deHaviland's main co-stars included Mark Stevens and Leo Genn as the two men in her life, her husband and her doctor respectively.

The Snake Pit (1948):

The movie was based on a book, written as a semi-autobiography by Mary Jane Ward which, I think, is sort of a composite of her own experiences in a mental institution as well as incorporated experiences of fellow inmates.

Virginia is a patient in the ward, a mental institution that only caters to women.  Virginia herself is a bit schizophrenic.  She hears voices and wonders exactly where she is.  She has no concept of being in a mental institution and early on thinks she might actually be in a prison.

Over the course of the movie Virginia alternates from being lucid to being entirely in the depths of some fantasy world.  She calls herself alternately Virginia Cunningham and Virginia Stuart (the first being her married name and the second being her maiden name).  At times she admits to being married and at other times she insists that she is NOT married.  This despite the fact that her husband, Robert (Mark Stevens) shows up to visit her.

Her main doctor at the facility (Dr. Van Kensdelaerik (Leo Genn) who, fortunately for us as well as his patients.and colleagues, answers to the name Dr. Kik), is convinced he can help her and tries various methods, including some of the then acceptable treatments like electroshock therapy.

Over the course of the film we find out that Virginia has had some issues with men and that she blames herself for the death of two men in her life, her father and the fiancee she had before she eventually married Robert.  It's a long road to recovery.  She first has to face the hidden psychological tremors of her past, and then has to accept them.

In the process she goes from the lucid part to the almost total insanity.  At one point she is straitjacketed and sent to the ward for the worst of the patients (mentally).  Every scene in this movie has some of the most believable characters.  It's hard to believe that Litvak didn't incorporate a few actual patients in his film.

de Haviland made this movie work.  It's hard to think of anyone else who could have pulled  it off so convincingly, but I noted that Gene Tierney had originally been cast but had to be replaced because she got pregnant before production started.  Kudos to every one of the women who played patients in this film.  Although most of them are unknown to us these days, they all stepped out of the comfort zone, in my opinion, and played parts that had no glamor or prestige.  Still, as I stated before, even though I applaud the performances, it still made me feel extremely uncomfortable.

Well, folks, time to head home.  Drive safely, folks.  Please.