NoOrchidsCorgi77-lg
April 18, 2015
David Kalat
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50 Shades of Miss Blandish

 Tomorrow (Sunday the 19th), TCM will be wallowing in filth. Yup, they’re going to be screening a movie that the Monthly Film Bulletin labeled “the most sickening exhibition of brutality, perversion, sex and sadism ever to be shown on a cinema screen.” Sight and Sound deemed it “a piece of calculated nastiness,” the Daily Mirror called it “as fragrant as a cesspool,” and Sunday Pictorial raved “a piece of nauseating muck.” And if that isn’t enough blurbs to fill out your movie poster with, let’s also add that the Daily Express declared it a “wicked disgrace to the British film industry,” the Star pronounced it “one of the most undesirable pictures ever turned out by a British studio,” and the Sunday Times proposed inventing an all new rating just to classify this one film: “D for Disgusting.”

So, what are we talking about here? A piece of hard-core pornography, perhaps? A snuff film? A work of Soviet Socialist Realism full of secret communist propaganda?

Nope—it’s a 1948 film noir with the unassuming title of No Orchids for Miss Blandish.

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KEYWORDS: No Orchids for Miss Blandish
COMMENTS: 6
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Hammer Noir: A Poster Gallery

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This evening (5 PM PST and 8 PM EST) an interesting batch of British noirs produced by Hammer Films will be making their debut on Turner Classic Movies. The four films scheduled to air include HEAT WAVE aka The House Across the Lake (dir. Ken Hughes, 1954) featuring Hillary Brooke as a seductive blonde who convinces an American writer (Alex Nicol) to help her murder her wealthy husband. This is followed by PAID TO KILL aka Five Days (dir. Montgomery Tully, 1954) where Dane Clark plays a suicidal man with money problems who has second thoughts after he hires a hit man to kill him and the aptly titled GAMBLER AND THE LADY (dir Patrick Jenkins, 1952), which also features Dane Clark as a successful gambler who attempts to “buy his way into British society.” The programming comes to a fun finish with WINGS OF DANGER aka Dead on Course (dir. Terence Fisher, 1952) starring Zachary Scott in one of his more sympathetic roles as a former pilot plagued by unpredictable blackouts who learns that a friend and fellow flyer may be involved with smugglers.

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Border Incidents: Ride the Pink Horse (1947) and The Hanged Man (1964)

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“He hadn’t wanted to come here. He’d wanted it less and less as the bus traveled further across the wasteland; miles of nothing, just land, empty land. Land that didn’t get anywhere except into more land, and always against the sky the unmoving barrier of mountains. It was like moving into a trap, a trap you couldn’t get out of. Because no matter how you tried, no matter how far you traveled, you’d always be stopped by the rigid mountains. He didn’t like it at all when they moved into this town, his destination. Because this was the center of the trap; it was a long way back to civilization in any direction. The thing to do was get out quick.” – Ride the Pink Horse, by Dorothy B. Hughes

 

Ride the Pink Horse is a grim procedural of hate. Published in 1946, it was Dorothy B. Hughes’ ninth novel, and second to be adapted into a film, following The Fallen Sparrow (1943). A cynical gunman named Sailor travels to a remote New Mexico town during their yearly “Fiesta”, a Southwestern Mardi Gras. He is tracking down his former mentor “The Sen”, a corrupt ex-Senator, for shakedown money. Sailor is a single-minded racist brute, circling the small town in ritualistic repetitions, until the map of the main square is in ingrained in your head (one of the early Dell paperback editions included a map on the back anyway). Sailor is an outsider, and no matter how often he treads the city’s streets, it continues to constrict slowly around him. Robert Montgomery’s 1947 movie adaptation for Universal-International alters many of the plot details, but captures the doomed fatalism of Hughes’ work. Typecast as a light romantic comedy lead, Montgomery took on greater risks as a director, starting with the POV experiments of Lady in the Lake (1947) and continuing through the elaborate crane shots orchestrated by DP Russell Metty in Ride the Pink Horse. It has been a certified cult film ever since Jean Cocteau programmed it at the Festival du Film Maudit in Biarritz in 1949, but it has been hard to see until next week, March 17th, when the Criterion Collection releases it on DVD and Blu-ray.

But this was not the only adaptation of Ride the Pink Horse. In 1964 Don Siegel directed the telefilm The Hanged Man for NBC, after his adaptation of Hemingway’s The Killers was pulled from broadcast, deemed too “spicy, expensive and violent for TV screens.” This time he got his project on the air — the second made-for-TV movie ever shown. The setting is relocated to New Orleans during Mardi Gras, emphasizing the choked streets and vibrant colors that Robert Culp and Edmond O’Brien wander through with clenched determination.

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Nippon Noir: I AM WAITING (1957)

iam1In recent years I’ve seen a critical push to apply familiar terms like Film Noir to all manner of Japanese crime films made during the 1950s and 60s. The term has even been applied to the culturally specific Sun Tribe films (please see my previous post that discusses Sun Tribe films), Pink Films of an adult nature and the more experimental and political films that exemplify the Japanese New Wave. I don’t always agree with this “roping in” because it often limits our understanding of Japanese cinema which contains historical and cultural influences that often defy simplistic categorizations. But sometimes the term fits.

It’s worth remembering that after WW2 the Japanese film industry was largely controlled by the U.S. occupation forces and Japanese filmmakers faced immense pressure from American censors to make films that resembled Hollywood‘s own output at the time. And in postwar America Film Noir was thriving. The concentrated effort to destroy much of Japan’s cinematic history and modernize the country led to an onslaught of gun totting detectives, dangerous dames and cutthroat criminals in Japanese cinema that began replacing the sword wielding samurais, kimono clad ladies and gentle families that had previously populated the movies. Amid these changes filmmakers created their own distinct body of work that became more progresses and subversive after the American occupation ended. But the impact of Hollywood’s aggressively imposed influence is undeniable and in this postwar climate elements of Film Noir became deeply rooted within the Japanese film industry. One particularly striking example of this is Koreyoshi Kurahara’s I AM WAITING (1957), which makes its debut on TCM January 18th (1am PST/4am EST).

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January 10, 2015
David Kalat
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The Ministry of Fear

So what do we find here? Two different fortune tellers, neither one genuine. A dead man who isn’t dead—or, put another way, a man who is killed twice. Two different characters who kill a loved one, a set of secret microfilm that is stolen twice, a fake blind man, fake cops, a fake delivery of some fake books to a fake address. Is Mr. Travers the same man as Dr. Forester, or is Mr. Travers the same man as Mr. Costa? Which Mrs. Bellane is the real one—or is neither one of them a real person?

OK, slow down. Take this one step at a time.

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KEYWORDS: Dan Duryea, Fritz Lang, Ministry of Fear, Ray Milland
COMMENTS: 9
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Night and the City: Between Midnight and Dawn (1950)

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 “A brutal policeman is a terrible thing. He has too much power. Too many chances of taking his viciousness out on helpless people.” – Katherine Mallory (Gale Storm) in Between Midnight and Dawn

In the grim police procedural Between Midnight and Dawn, violence is a spigot that cannot be turned off. It begins with a thrill – a tense night time shootout in an auto-body shop with some generic young hoods. But for beat cop prowl car partners Rocky Barnes (Mark Stevens) and Daniel Purvis (Edmond O’Brien), it’s just one of their nightly spasms of gunfire. Rocky is able to retain his humanity, working off his nerves through a constant patter of jokes, but Purvis has worn out his concern for human life. Once it turns dark, all women are tramps, all men are thugs, and Purvis’ misanthropic disgust flows into his trigger finger. The movie strays into unconvincing romance — the brightness looking sallow and jaundiced against the sepulchral evening blacks of DP George Diskant (much shot on location in Los Angeles city streets) — but it retains a bitter aftertaste upon its close. Between Midnight and Dawn is available on the TCM Vault Collection’s “Columbia Film Noir Classics IV” DVD box set.

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KING BROTHERS KRAZY

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I really wish I knew French. I say that because I’m in possession of the Blu-ray box set of Gun Crazy (Joseph H. Lewis, 1950), which is basically a hard-cover book with over 200 pages of essays, beautiful stills, and lots of interesting ephemera relating to Lewis’ most famous work – and all the essays (even the intro by film critic, author, and programmer of the Festival of Film Noir, Eddie Muller) are in French. It’s enough to make me want to take a crash-course in the language, but for now I’ll have to focus on the ephemera. [...MORE]

In a Frame: Out of the Past (1947)

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Jeff Markham knew Kathie would not arrive, but he sat there and drank anyway. He was resigned to his premonitions, seemingly able to tell the future but powerless to stop it. “I think I’m in a frame…I don’t know. All I can see is the frame. I’m going in there now to look at the picture.” The picture remains obscure to Jeff throughout Out of the Past, though the film image itself is luminous in the new Blu-ray from the Warner Archive. Jeff, played by Robert Mitchum as a slow-motion somnambulist, can see the outline of his fate, but not the details. Director Jacques Tourneur and cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca previously collaborated on Cat People, and continue their use of low-key lighting to produce dream-like suggestions of violence. All of the deaths in Out of the Past are hidden off-screen, the specifics elided. They simply accrue in the fog of Jeff’s rueful investigation, a case that turns into a series of delaying tactics to stay alive. But he can only pause to smoke so many times before the darkness finally deigns to meet him.

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August 9, 2014
David Kalat
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Split Decision

At the risk of being absurdly reductionist: there are two kinds of special effects.  The first is the Invisible effect—the kind that you aren’t meant to notice.

Back in the days of classic film, these sorts of effects included matte paintings used in establishing shots, or rear projection effects.  Of course, keen eyed observers probably did notice these effects from time to time, and modern eyes are even more attuned to spot them, but the point was that you weren’t really supposed to remark on these things—they were executed by the production team simply as a means of filling out the scenery and frame within which the important stuff happened.  Nowadays there are even more sophisticated CGI techniques to perform similar functions.  When film fans (like those of us congregated here) argue over the relative merits of CGI vs. old school practical effects, we’re generally arguing over the second kind of special effect, which I’ll get to in the next paragraph.  The fact is, the vast majority of CGI effects and digital compositing pass you by without you even noticing, because they’re Invisible.  Here’s a link to a surprising video montage of the extraordinary ubiquity of digital effects in the most ordinary of situations:

http://petapixel.com/2011/02/15/amazing-effects-from-popular-tv-shows/

Which brings us to the second category of special effects, which is the one most people think of when you say “special effects,” and that’s the Spectacle.  Instead of techniques used to help dress the set and set the stage for the real drama, these are effects that are the drama in and of themselves.

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KEYWORDS: alec guinness, special effects, The scapegoat
COMMENTS: 9
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thekillingposter
August 2, 2014
David Kalat
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First things first, but not necessarily in that order

The Killing is many things.  It’s a 1956 film noir heist film.  It’s the earliest work that Stanley Kubrick embraced as representative of what he wanted to do.  But The Thing You Need to Know About The Killing is: it’s a daringly non-linear jigsaw puzzle of a story that jumps back and forth through its own timeline, looping through the same events as it shifts perspective among its many characters.  Such innovative narrative gymnastics remain striking even today, and give the film a weird modernity for a B&W picture set in an era before airport security.  Quentin Tarantino has identified The Killing as (part of) the inspiration behind his own exploration of non-linear storytelling in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.

But, for all that, there’s a risk here of taking this too far.  The more we praise the supposedly non-chronological storytelling in The Killing the more we risk misunderstanding how movie storytelling works in the first place, and crediting this film for innovations that it doesn’t really innovate.  I don’t mean to be churlish here, it’s just that the events in The Killing did not actually take place—they’re made up.  So there is no “other” chronology involved.  The only order in which these events “happen” is the order in which Kubrick tells them to us.

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KEYWORDS: Edwin S. Porter, Life of an American Fireman, Stanley Kubrick, The Killing
COMMENTS: 7
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