A Killer Stalks the Streets of San Francisco in Edward Dmytryk ‘s THE SNIPER (1952)

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You can currently stream THE SNIPER online at Watch TCM

A few weeks ago I finally caught up with THE SNIPER (1952) on TCM, which tracks the brutal crimes of a gun-wielding maniac stalking women on the streets of San Francisco. The film boasts an impressive pedigree that includes director Edward Dmytryk, producer Stanley Kramer, screenwriters Harry Brown along with Edna and Edward Anhalt, cinematographer Burnett Guffey and composer George Antheil but outside of screenings on TCM, it has been somewhat hard to see until recently thanks to a Columbia DVD release in 2009.

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Navigating the Moral Waters of the Crime Film

Ever rooted for the bad guy?  Of course you have, we all have.  Many times the bad guy is more interesting, more exciting, and much more charismatic.  To take two obvious examples, Batman is brooding and Superman is upstanding but neither is terribly interesting while their nemeses, the Joker and Lex Luthor, are a hoot and despite their clearly psychotic natures,  fun to watch.   The movies picked up on this long before comic books even came into existence and once the sound era began, making criminals the star of the show became even more apparent.  In the course of a little over a year, moviegoers were treated to Little Caesar, Public Enemy, and Scarface, all putting the bad guys front and center as the stars of the movie.  And all tried their damnedest to convince moviegoers that while they were the stars, their actions were wrong.  As time went on, and the production code waned, the movies could be a little more honest about why they were making crime movies:  Because they’re exciting and fun even if we know they present a romanticized view calibrated precisely for our enjoyment.

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Renoir Noir: Night at the Crossroads (1932)

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“Every detail, every second of each shot makes La Nuit du carrefour [Night of the Crossroads] the only great French thriller, or rather, the greatest French adventure film of all.” -Jean-Luc Godard, Cahiers du Cinema (December 1957)

Night of the Crossroads was the first film adaptation of Georges Simenon’s phenomenally popular Inspector Maigret novels, and was lent a thick, hallucinatory atmosphere by director Jean Renoir. Yet, sandwiched as it is between Renoir’s classics with Michel Simon, La Chienne (1931) and Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932), it has escaped much serious critical attention. It does not even get an entry in Andre Bazin’s collected writings on Renoir. Anthology Film Archives arranged a very rare screening of the feature this past weekend, with Simenon’s son John in attendance to discuss the production beforehand. It’s a traditional whodunit, except all of the motivations are missing. Instead of attributing the crime to a single perpetrator, the whole town becomes culpable through their xenophobia and greed. As Renoir’s character Octave says in The Rules of the Game, “everyone has their reasons”. To that Night of the Crossroads would add, “for murder.”

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A Forgotten Pre-Code to Remember: Kongo

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This month, TCM’s Friday Night Spotlight, titled Classic Pre-Code, boasts an impressive line-up of both familiar and little-known movies released prior to the enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code. Despite the diverse selection, there is one film I wish could have been included. With its racism, prostitution, drug addiction, perversion, and torture, Kongo reveals just how far pre-Code films could push the limits of shock and taste.

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How steve mcqueen blew it on a movie that almost had stampeding elephants, and other stories behind CALIFORNIA SPLIT

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I spent the Labor Day weekend at the 41st Telluride Film Festival. There were many highlights, but at the top of my list was a 35mm print screening of California Split (Robert Altman, 1974), which was presented by TCM. And, no, I’m not just sucking up to the folks who sign my paycheck on this one, because if you search “California Split” on the Morlock site you’ll see that I refer to it in a 12.30.12 post as a title I’ve been wanting to watch for quite a while. Since writing that post I did purchase an out-of-print DVD that then proceeded to collect dust along about 100 other “must-watch” titles that currently sit on a bookshelf near my entertainment system. In retrospect, I’m glad it got lost in the shuffle. Why? Because thanks to Kim Morgan and Guy Maddin (this year’s Guest Directors at Telluride), I got to see a nice, uncut, Panavision print of California Split that was followed by a very entertaining Q&A with actors George Segal and  Joseph Walsh (who was also its producer and wrote the script based on many autobiographical elements). Frosting on the cake? The film print is three minutes longer than the DVD, due to legal issues involving musical clearances (strange how the ubiquitous “happy birthday” song can cause so many problems). I want to give an additional shout-out to both Morgan and Maddin for the excellent lineup of other selected films, which included A Man’s Castle (Frank Borzage, 1933), Il Grido (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1957), The Road to Glory (Howard Hawks, 1936), and Wicked Woman (Russell Rouse, 1953). The fact that all of these titles were screened on 35mm film and are each rare and off-the-beaten-path works worthy of a future lengthy post is testimony to both a great film festival and inspired curators. But, for now, let’s get back to California Split, and the story behind how it was almost appropriated by Steven Spielberg, Dean Martin, and a pack of rampaging elephants.  [...MORE]

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September 6, 2014
David Kalat
Posted by:

The Arsenio Lupin Show

As we approach the anniversary of 9/11, I do at least have some good news to report. No, international terrorism is still a thing. Violence still reigns across Iraq, Afghanistan, the Gaza strip, and Ukraine. Injustice and racism still festers here at home, and the income gap widens. But… on this September 11, TCM is gonna run the 1938 Arense Lupin Returns, and if you’re too impatient to wait until then, you can go to Warner Archive and get a DVD double feature of that delightful treat and its even more fabulous predecessor, the Pre-Code gem Arsene Lupin. So, there are silver linings, if you know where to look.

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KEYWORDS: Arsene Lupin
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I’m not finished with you, MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD… not by a long shot!

monsterchallengedI’ve been grooving to the soundtrack to Arnold Laven’s THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (1957) for about 24 hours now (there was some sleep jumbled up in there, but not a whole lot), which was released by Monstrous Movie Music back in 2011. (It should come as no surprise at this juncture that it takes me a while to get to around to new things.) Heinz Roemheld’s full-bodied cues (orchestrated by Herschel Burke Gilbert) for this mollusk-on-the-loose classic are reliably immortal, full of blood and thunder (and slime), and making pioneering use of backmasking ten years before The Beatles got all the girls for doing the same thing. There’s lots of choice misterioso in the mix and moody string work, some of which might remind the older Monsterkids among us of Roemheld’s score for THE MOLE PEOPLE (1956). Anyway, Monstrous Movie Music has done an incredible job of assembling all of Romheld’s cues and providing context for each of them, deconstructing the composition and execution to give the curious a fuller appreciation of the work that went into this project, which I first saw as an impressionable lad of, oh, 10 or 11 or 12, when it was shown at my local drive-in on a triple bill with THE VAMPIRE (1957) and THE RETURN OF DRACULA (1957)– all projected in green, so that they could be sold to us rubes as color movies. I love the track titles that disc producers David Schecter and Kathleen Mayne have provided for our enjoyment, such as “Death by Fright,” and “Mollusk Mood Music” and “Slime.” But one track in particular caught my eye: “Scarf Found.” And it got me to thinking. (Cue flashback music.) [...MORE]

Until Needed or Sold

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I’m afraid I’m going to have to finally play my “Get Out of Blogging Free” card today. Still dealing with the damage caused by the recent earthquake in Napa, which made a mess of my computer. Also wrestling with some kind of stomach flu bug, which is making my life miserable at the moment but I will be back next week. You can count on it!

Melvyn Douglas: Reverse Tracking

It’s my lucky month and your’s, too.  Why?  Because Melvyn Douglas is the Star of the Month and he not only has a great body of work as an actor, one of the greatest actors ever in my opinion, but appears in many great films.  It doesn’t always work out that way.  Many times we can appreciate an actor’s talent while acknowledging there aren’t a lot of great films in his or her catalog.  Other times, an actor may have dozens of great and entertaining movies but not be much of a thespian when you get right down to it (I’d give examples here but I fear that would derail the whole post – maybe another time).  Melvyn Douglas had it both ways: Great talent, great movies.  The thing is, like many actors of the thirties and forties, I came to his career in reverse, discovering him in the contemporary movies of my youth and his old age and then rewinding back to the start of it all.  It’s a process of discovery I rather enjoy.  It’s one thing to follow an actor throughout their career from start to finish, quite another to come in late and then, piece by piece, put together the puzzle of their early career while you discover just how amazing they truly are.

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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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