The Woman in the Window (1944)- Fritz Lang

 ★★★★

 

Apparently there really is no limit to the greatness of Fritz Lang. It’s true. Every time you watch or re-watch (even if it’s for the tenth time) one of his films, it is still amazing how beautifully they are filmed, and how impressive Lang is as a director. “The Woman in the Window” (1944) is a special little film noir, filled with everything that fans of the genre hove come to treasure, and it is yet another in a long line of examples that exemplify Lang’s brilliance.The Woman in the Window Based on the novel “Once Off Guard” by J.H. Wallis, this film tells the story of Professor Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) who happens to be an expert in criminology. He is also a dignified man- a pillar of the community, and a testament to the “honest men” of the world. After sending his wife and two small children out of town, Wanley heads to his club to have dinner and drinks with a couple of friends including district attorney Lalor (Raymond Massey). Just before entering the club, a picture of a young attractive woman hanging in the window next door catches his eye, his attention, and his imagination. This prompts a conversation over dinner and drinks about the duality of man, and his desires for adventure, especially when involving a young, beautiful woman.

After leaving the club Wanley happens to meet Alice (Joan Bennett), who is the woman from the picture in the window. Against his better judgment, he goes to spend the evening with her talking about life and art.The Woman in the Window While drinking together back at her apartment, another older man (Arthur Loft) comes barging in, and attempts to kill Wanley in a jealous rage. Alice hands Wanley a pair of sciccors and he stabs the much larger man to death. Instead of calling the police, Alice and Wanley choose to hide their crime in order to protect themselves, and to hopefully avoid prison. Being a criminologist, one would think that Wanley would know how to hide a murder, but as it turns out, it is much easier to talk about a crime than to cover one up. Things really get complicated as Wanley’s as his old pal Lalor quickly becomes hot on his trail, constantly giving updates as to all the mistakes that Wanley and Alice made. Simutaneously, Alice is being hounded by a con-man (Dan Duryea) who knows about (or at least suspects) the crime, and has decided to blackmail Alice.

So often “The Woman in the Window” and Lang’s next feature “Scarlet Street” (1945) are remembered together for their simalarities. After all, they are both directed by Lang, both films star Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea, and Milton R. Krasner provided his impeccable cinematography to both films. Even with all of these similarities however, it’s what sets them apart from each other that makes each special in their individual way.The Woman in the Window While both Robinson and Duryea play similar characters in both films, Joan Bennett is exceedingly different. All three actors are marvelous in each film, but it is Bennett that pulls it all together. In “The Woman in the Window” she is mysterious, humanistic and unpredicatable. In “Scarlet Street” she is a femme fatale, and therefore follows a somewhat predicatable (albeit marvelous) path. “The Woman in the Window” allows her to share an emotional depth from within her character, and her realistic portrayal feels more genuine, or at the very least, more relateable.

There are some negative opinions floating around about the influence of the Hays Code on “The Woman in the Window”. Obviously you can see the big hands of the production code guiding certain parts of this film, but perhaps this is one of those times where a forced change in story helps set the picture apart from all the similar films that had come, and were going to come.The Woman in the Window “The Woman in the Window” is unique and interesting. It frustrates its audience, but keep them involved, sitting on the edge of their seats, hoping, praying these misguided, unsuspecting criminals find some way out of this suspenseful mess that only true masters of the genre (like Fritz Lang) could create for his characters.

 

Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954)- Don Siegel

 ★★★★★

 

When watching “Riot in Cell Block 11” (1954), one can’t help but be surprised by the film’s gritty, bold style, and stark realism. This is not a documentary, or a film based on an actual event, but it feels like it could be. Its distinct style and down-right brilliant overall production provide the exact ingredients needed in order to create aRiot in Cell Block 11 (1954) lasting film-watching experience that serves as an example to so many filmmakers that would emerge over the next generation.

The picture stars Emile Meyer as a warden who has spent years yelling from his soapbox about the deteriorating conditions of the enormous prison under his control. He has over 4,000 inmates under him, that is, until the men in cell block 11 decide they have had enough. Lead by James Dunn (Neville Brand) and the ruthless Mike Carnie (Leo Gordon), the men in cell block 11 overpower the four guards, holding them hostage. They are all still contained in the cell block, as they aren’t trying to escape- they just want to be heard, and treated like people. The men have a list of demands that they want met, all of which have to do with their mistreatment by guards, and the inhumane way that they are housed. Police Commissioner Haskell (Frank Faylen) is brought in to help with the negotiations, but he doesn’t Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954)care about the conditions that the criminals are forced to live in, day in and day out, so his presence only makes matters worse, resulting in an intense and thrilling standoff.

“Riot in Cell Block 11” has everything that a film needs to entertain and entrance an audience. Filmed on location in Folsom Prison, shot by the amazing cinematographer Russell Harlon, this movie truly makes you feel as if you’re experiencing something real. Not as a leading character fighting alongside the other men, but as an observer, sitting on the catwalk above the action. Don Siegel directs, before his glory days when he made five films with Clint Eastwood (including 1979’s “Escape From Alcatraz”), and even before the popularity that he would receive with hits like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956). Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954)Although it is an earlier film in his career, there is already a clear indication that the man knows what he is doing. Siegel crafts with a precise goal in mind, and he is unwilling to compromise any realism for a more polished picture, which many producers surely would have pushed toward, in order to appeal to a wider audience. This, however, was not the case. Producer Walter Wanger famously served four months after shooting the suspected lover of his wife, actress Joan Bennett. It was his experiences surrounding that event that are said to have inspired him in the producing of this film.

This is a film that was made better because of the circumstances that surrounded the production. Even the actors add to the overall realism here. Sure there were a handful of seasoned character actors, but many of the extras are real guards and prisoners from Folsom Prison. And then there is Leo Gordon, whose dominating physical stature is enough to intimidate anyone. Earlier in his life Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954)he actually served five years after being involved in an armed robbery that also left him shot in the stomach. Even though that part of his life was behind him, it is obvious from his commanding performance here that the effects of his time inside helped in insurmountable terms to creating the most realistic portrayal possible.

“Riot in Cell Block 11” is an extremely interesting movie to come out of the mid 1950’s. It’s a dark, unflinching examination of the prison system, at a time when movies like this just weren’t made. It’s a throw back to those pre-code, ruthless, hard-hitting films like “The Big House” (1930) or even “The Racket” (1928). It also is a film that has spent enough time in obscurity, and now thanks to the Criterion Collection, has a chance once again to gain the recognition that it so clearly deserves.

 

Jesse James (1939)- Henry King

 ★★★★

 

In John Ford’s perfect western film,“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962), a newspaper man (Carleton Young) given the opportunity to set the record straight says, “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” This one brief, but thought-provoking statement can basically sum up the story for Henry King’s western “Jesse James” (1939). Jesse James (1939)This is not a film based on the facts surrounding the life of Jesse James- it’s entertainment based off of legends and myths about one of America’s most notorious outlaws. With that being said, who cares? It doesn’t matter if any of the facts are accurate or truthful. It doesn’t even matter if it comes close because Tyrone Power is our hero. He can’t be an outlaw, he must be misunderstood. Aside from Tyrone being our “hero”, it still doesn’t matter how factual this film ends up being because this is one hell of an enjoyable western.

The film opens as crooked railroad man, Barshee (Brian Donlevy), and his gang of “businessmen” are harassing and coercing farmers into selling their land to the railroad. When they arrive at the James Farm, however, they encounter more than they expected when the family matriarch (Jane Darwell) refuses to sign anything. Barshee is even more shocked when he tries to get physical with Frank James (Henry Fonda), and Frank easily overpowers him. Banshee tells his gang to jump Frank, and that is when Frank’s younger brother Jesse (Tyrone Power) emerges, using his pistol as a way to keep the fight between Frank and Banshee a fair one. You see, he only gets violent to keep things fair and even.

Later Banshee returns for revenge, but when he doesn’t find Jesse or Frank, he becomes angry and somewhat accidentally kills their mother, thus enraging the brothers further, and subsequently creating an enemy for himself… and for the railroad.

Jesse James (1939)Jesse, Frank, and their band of outlaws begin robbing trains in order to “teach the railroad a lesson”, but it begins to wreak havoc on Jesse’s personal life, including his relationship with future wife, Zee (Nancy Kelly). She wants Jesse to give up these evil ways, and even convinces a local Marshall (Randolph Scott) to bring him in peacefully, with a reduced sentence on the table. Of course there is a double-cross instituted by another despicable railroad man (Donald Meek), and after a jailbreak, Jesse and Frank are back to a life of crime, now expanded from trains to banks. But the real drama of the story isn’t a conflict between the James boys and they powers that be, it’s Jesse’s internal struggle between being a “normal” man with his wife and son, or a vengeance seeking outlaw, always trying to get ahead.

Tyrone Power is a magnificent choice in the role of Jesse James, especially when he is portrayed as a hero. His striking good looks and picturesque persona make his mere presence something romantic and inviting. He truly captivates the screen in every frame, and if Jesse James himself would have been given his choice of actors, I don’t think he would have gone with anyone else. Jesse James (1939)Power has the ability to have everyone rooting for him even when his characters go outside the law, which is why he made such a good pirate in numerous films, and even why his portrayal of Zorro is still the best. When he wants to keep things light, he smiles, when it’s time to get serious, he uses his smoldering eyes to glare into your very soul. Just a look from Power says more than pages of dialogue, which works rather well when portraying a quiet western outlaw with just as many internal struggles as external. Teamed with Henry Fonda, these two screen legends could have an entire scene completely void of lines and it wouldn’t matter. They are true actors who can deliver, no matter what stands before them.

Director Henry King and his film have their fair share of highs, including the two stars, some spectacular action sequences, and glorious location shooting. Other than that, “Jesse James” runs into a few problems. Nancy Kelly gives a performance that is way over the top, dragging down her scenes with overly emotional dialogue and endless (seeming) speeches about right and wrong. All of these scenes just pull the pace of the film from a quick-paced trot to a crawl. It’s not even her fault, she is just overused and unnecessary. Randolph Scott makes a good Marshall, and fits nicely into the picture, but there isn’t much for him to do except stand there and look the part, which he can do (and does) in his sleep.Jesse James (1939) If you’re looking for a real stand-out supporting performance in this film, look no further than John Carradine as the infamous Robert Ford. In a very small role, Carradine is perfect.

There are better westerns than “Jesse James”. Then again, there are far worse ones, too. Henry King knows how to make an entertaining film, and with the legendary Jesse James as his leading character, it becomes almost too easy. It is Tyrone Power, however, that brings this one together, and despite a filmography filled with memorable and prolific roles, it is his turn as Jesse James that stands out. Perhaps it’s because he was able to take a legendary character, steeped in the myth and lore of the west, and once again, make him human.

This post is part of the Tyrone Power Centennial Blogathon, celebrating the 100th anniversary of this cinematic legend. A special thanks to Lady Eve’s Real Life and They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To for hosting such a wonderful event. Don’t forget to check out all the posts on Tyrone Power and his glorious career.

 

 

Pushover (1954)- Richard Quine

 ★★★

 

“Pushover” (1954) is a film noir, skillfully directed by Richard Quine, and adapted for the screen by Roy Huggins. The story is based on two separate novels, “The Night Watch” by Thomas Walsh and “Rafferty” written by Lester White.Kim Novak and Fred MacMurray in "Pushover" (1954) The quick developing story revolves around a bank robbery that takes place during the opening credits, masterminded by gangster Harry Wheeler (Paul Richards). Wheeler has a young girlfriend, Lona (Kim Novak), who the police are watching carefully. In fact, Lieutenant Eckstrom (E.G. Marshall) has sent in Detective Paul Sheridan (Fred MacMurray) to get to know her more “intimately”. Sheridan quickly falls for Lona, and it doesn’t take much convincing (once she figures out he is a cop) for the two to conspire to kill Wheeler and run off with the $200,000 in robbery money. The problems arise when Sheridan is seen in Lona’s apartment by a neighbor (Dorothy Malone), who happens to be the voyeuristic object of affection of Sheridan’s partner (Philip Carey). Sheridan’s plan also runs into a few problems when another police officer (Allen Nourse) figures out that Sheridan has more on his mind than just law and order.

When watching “Pushover”, one can’t help but make comparisons to “Double Indemnity” (1944). Obviously they both star MacMurray, but even with a different actor, the plots would still seem similar, with the attractive “bad girl” convincing the upright man to kill for love and/or money.Kim Novak and Fred MacMurray in "Pushover" (1954) “Pushover” is nowhere near the same calibre of film as “Double Indemnity”, but it’s unfair to compare any film to the greatness of “Double Indemnity”. The truth is, all the faults of “Pushover” are forgivable. It runs a fast 88 minutes, which doesn’t leave enough time to develop things properly. The result is a “love” motivated story that feels more like one about sex, attraction, and a love of money than actual love. In fact all the characters are enigmas, hiding their true feeling from the audience. Everything is kept in the dark when it comes to the motivations of pretty much everyone, and in the final reel we are expected to believe whatever happens, and just take it at face value. Richard Quine directs this film with a skill that benefits the plot holes. He keeps things moving with excitement and suspense, so that the audience doesn’t even have time to start asking questions, or even trying to understand which relationships are real. Pushover (1954)It’s only later that you can look back and start to really think about what you watched.

I don’t typically have a problem with young actresses and their on-screen romances with older men, but in “Pushover” I had a difficult time believing that these two leading players had any real spark between them. Don’t get me wrong, each plays their individual roles perfectly, but together they seem to be on different pages. Novak was only 21 when “Pushover” was released, while MacMurray, 25 years her senior, was almost 46. A different casting choice (for either part) would have fared well.

With so many film noir’s in the 1940’s and 1950’s, some of the smaller ones can get lost in the shuffle. “Pushover” falls somewhere in the middle, where overall quality is concerned, but because of an almost unexplainable entertainment, it ends up in the category of “worth watching”- it just could have been better.

The Reckless Moment (1949)- Max Ophuls

 ★★★★

 

“The Reckless Moment” (1949) is a dark crime film directed by German filmmaker, Max Ophuls. The story, based on “The Blank Wall” by Elisabeth Sanzay Holding, is about Lucia Harper, marvelously portrayed by Joan Bennett. Her husband is working overseas, so she is forced to play both mother and father to their almost 18-year-old, trouble-causing daughter, Bea (Geraldine Brooks), and their younger, inquisitive son, David (David Blair). The Reckless Moment (1949)Bea, an aspiring artist, has become involved with a con man named Ted (Shepperd Studwick), who she thinks will aid her in her career. Lucia is against Bea’s involvement with a man like Ted, and soon an accident leaves Ted dead. Lucia knows that her daughter will be a suspect, and attempts to cover the death up. What she never expected was Mr. Donnelly (James Mason), a smartly dressed, well-mannered young man, who appears out of nowhere, holding love letters written to Ted from Bea. He, along with his partner (Roy Roberts), blackmail Lucia, who has no idea what she should do next.

A movie like “The Reckless Moment” often goes unnoticed, or at least unappreciated because it isn’t flashy or overly sophisticated. Max Ophuls directs with care and precision. His movements glide in a fluid manner that allows the audience to enjoy, without noticing his work. He is the film’s guide, but he makes sure that he (and his work) goes unnoticed as well. He is there to make sure that everything is presented the way he intended, without letting anything interfere. The Reckless Moment (1949)Cinematographer Burnett Guffey adds his usually delightful skill to the picture, but once again, it’s the fact that he doesn’t try to do too much that helps things move along- still, he deserves to be praised.

Ophuls was known throughout his career to be a feminist director. His leading ladies aren’t there for their sex appeal, but for their talents, both the characters and the actresses. Enter Joan Bennett. Bennett is the perfect fit for this type of role, just coming out of the 1940’s that saw her play many film noir characters, and just before the 1950’s that would give her the “motherly” roles that would consume much of her time from this point forward. This is her movie. She is the leading character, and she is very much alone. She dominates scene after scene, and even seems capable of taking on these blackmailers that are messing things up. Of course it helps that her husband, Walter Wanger, served as producer on “The Reckless Moment”, so between him and Ophuls, she had plenty of support in taking on an enormous role such as this.

James Mason is a wonder to behold, in what, in all reality, is a very small but crucial role. Already, at this relatively early point in his career, his screen presence is undeniable. He plays a no-good, low-down, contemptible man, but one that has a heart. It’s not an easy role to pull off, but Mason (who we would soon discover could do anything) makes it all look so easy.

Max Ophuls is one of those directors who has flown under the radar for many years. He made his early films in Germany, but (being Jewish) left for France before WWII began. The Reckless Moment (1949)By 1941, he had to move on once again, ending up in the United States, and (somewhat unbelievably) he was unable to find work. Before returning to Europe after WWII he made four films, including “The Reckless Moment”. It, along with the underrated “Letter From an Unknown Woman” (1948), are both marvelous examples of the kind of pictures that he was capable of creating. After the War ended, and he returned to the more comfortable confines of Europe, he would go on only to direct four more films before his premature death at the age of 54. These films, “La Ronde” (1950), “Le Plaisir” (1952), “The Earrings of Madame de…” (1953), and “Lola Montes” (1955) are all magnificent features that perfectly illustrate how to turn a movie into a work of art. It was as if he could paint the images on the screen, so that forever we would have the ability of enjoying his vision- in each and every painstaking detail- just the way he would have wanted.

As long as I am standing up shouting my praise to Max Ophuls, I may as well include this short poem written about the director by James Mason, who also starred in another one of his American films, “Caught” (1949). Part in jest, part in honesty, Mason sums Ophuls’ directing style up quite nicely:The Reckless Moment (1949)

A shot that does not call for tracks

Is agony for poor old Max

Who, separated from his dolly

Is wrapped in deepest melancholy

Once, when they took away his crane

I thought he’d never smile again

 

Whirlpool (1949)- Otto Preminger

 ★★★

 

“Whirlpool” is a film noir, crime, suspense movie effectively written by Ben Hecht and Andrew Solt, based on the novel, “Methinks the Lady”, by Guy Endore.Whirlpool (1949) The story revolves around a well to do, attractive woman named Ann Sutton (Gene Tierney), who also happens to be a kleptomaniac. Her husband, Dr. Sutton (Richard Conte), is a renowned psychoanalyst, who knows nothing of his wife’s condition. When she is caught shoplifting in a department store, the smooth talking David Korvo (Jose Ferrer) come to her rescue and gets her out of trouble. It turns out that he is a hypnotist, and he claims that he can help Ann to overcome her problem. Things go wrong, as Korvo ends up being more than Ann suspects, and she gets mixed up in a crime. Lt Colton (Charles Bickford) comes in to help sort out the facts and psychological details, but Korvo has planned things far better than anyone could have expected.

Otto Preminger is a brilliant director, whose expertise and skill in the crime genre seem to have no limit. “Whirlpool”, however, doesn’t bring everything together.Whirlpool (1949) Is it even really a crime film, or is it just a psychological melodrama? In the years before “Whirlpool”, Preminger delivered time and time again with films like “Laura” (1944), “Fallen Angel” (1945), and even “Daisy Kenyon” (1947), but this one just doesn’t have the excitement of his previous pictures.

What is strange is that there isn’t anything wrong with the construction of “Whirlpool”. The script flows nicely, and the story is interesting. Legendary Oscar-winning cinematographer Arthur C. Miller contributes with his usual high quality skills, and David Raskin provides an unsettling eerie score that seems to fit the overall feel perfectly.

And then there is the acting, which quite honestly, couldn’t be any better.Whirlpool (1949) Gene Tierney is marvelous, especially because she always seems to have that far off distant look in her eyes anyway, so playing a woman under hypnosis fits quite well. Jose Ferrer can do almost anything, but he plays evil best, and “Whirlpool” offers him plenty of chances to shine. Richard Conte and Charles Bickford aren’t given much screen time, but they use it effectively. All in all, it’s a wonderful ensemble picture, and this cast of professionals mesh together extremely well.

The only problem here is that with everything- all the work and all the effort-nothing ever really happens. It sounds interesting and exciting, but doesn’t develop beyond what’s on the surface. Essentially, the first twenty minutes is good, but as things progress it just doesn’t get better.

Whirlpool (1949)“Whirlpool” is one of those rare missteps for Otto Preminger. He would follow this one up with the superior “Where the Sidewalk Ends” (1950), also with Gene Tierney, the hard to find, “The 13th Letter” (1951), and (one of my personal favorites) “Angel Face” (1952). He has the ability to make films that are entertaining time and time again, and I suppose “Whirlpool” will just have to go under the heading of close… but not quite enough.

The Fastest Gun Alive (1956)- Russell Rouse

 ★★★★★

&

My Hall of Fame

 

Where is all the love for Glenn Ford westerns?! Seriously, if you were to research the best western actors, you will find many names worthy of being in the conversation, such as John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Jimmy Stewart, Will Rogers, Randolph Scott, Henry Fonda, Gary Cooper,  and Gregory Peck. The Fastest Gun Alive (1956)The name that’s missing (and with my strenuous objection) is the immensely talented Glenn Ford. Perhaps it’s because he is also remembered for his great film noir and crime movies as well, but to overlook the abundance of quality westerns that he made throughout his glorious career is an injustice to both him and yourself. Take for instance his 1956 picture, “The Fastest Gun Alive”.

This powerful and unlikely western story revolves around Geroge Kelby Jr., or rather, George Temple (Glenn Ford) as he is now known. He is the fastest gun alive, but nobody in his small town of Cross Creek knows about it because he has hidden that part of his past from them.The Fastest Gun Alive (1956) He, and his wife Dora (Jeanne Crain), are essentially taking refuge from his past in this small town- running a store and being treated as an outsider, afraid to act like a man. He is frustrated that he can’t reveal his abilities to the other townsfolk, but knows that if they knew, people would come from all over to challenge his abilities.

Everything changes when word of gunslinger Vinnie Harold (Broderick Crawford) and his most recent killing conquest reach the town. Everybody enjoys retelling the story they have heard, and interjecting their own thoughts on how to be a great gunfighter. The Fastest Gun Alive (1956)It is more than George can take and (after too many drinks) he tells (then proves) his quick-draw abilities. The next morning George decides to leave town, but Vinnie, along with his bank robbing sidekicks (John Dehner & Noah Beery Jr.), are already in town and looking for the supposed “fastest gun alive”.

Besides having a good foundation of a story, there are a couple of surprises that although take too long to develop, make for a highly engrossing tale with a perfect blend of suspense, drama, and action. Cinematographer George J. Folsey is best known for work on bright-colored musicals like “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944), “Million Dollar Mermaid” (1952), and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” (1954), but “The Fastest Gun Alive” allows him to show off his underrated ability to set a mood and a feel for a film with masterfully planned and executed lighting and camera movements.

Glenn Ford is spectacular in a role that is quite different from his other western roles. He isn’t confident or outspoken. He has a timid approach to everything, and because of that, the character’s depth allows Ford to explore himself as an actor in a different way. The Fastest Gun Alive (1956)He doesn’t waste any time or energy, dedicating his entire performance to the “tortured soul” that he feels is always trying to burst out of him, and it works magically.

The supporting cast also adds quite a lot to the overall feel of this picture, headlined by Broderick Crawford as the loud-mouthed, quick to anger, villain. His role is small, but because of its importance to the “real” story, it takes a consummate professional to pull it off- and Crawford is the ideal man for the job. John Dehner is also quite entertaining, and gets the benefit of many comedic lines, even in serious situations. Jeanne Craine stays in the background in a part that is dialogue heavy, that in turn seems to drag out a few scenes, but it’s not any fault of her own. The Fastest Gun Alive (1956)Her real highlight is in her costumes. They are glorious, and although possibly seem a little too fancy and clean, still make each of her entrances exciting. Also of note is the supporting cast is a young Russ Tamblyn. His part is unimportant, his presence is unnecessary, but he gets a chance to show off his athletic dancing ability in an early scene at a hoedown. Although completely gratuitous, his talents are a physical wonder, and it gives an opportunity to smile, to a film that is quite serious.

I know that I can get a bit crazy, ranting about the quality of the westerns from the 1950’s, but “The Fastest Gun Alive” is one that is more than a film that is worth seeing, it’s a film that you should see. And while I’m up on my soapbox, how about some extra appreciation for every single one of Glenn Ford’s underrated, yet still amazing westerns?

Fourteen Hours (1951)- Henry Hathaway

 ★★★★★

 

The idea of a film centered around one desperate man standing on the ledge of a New York building is a difficult one because there are so many unanswered questions that arise. How do you keep the audience entertained when, in all actuality, very little is happening? How do you deal with a main character that just stands there, and in fact, doesn’t even really want to talk to anyone? And finally, what happens at the end of the film?  Paul Douglas in "Fourteen Hours" (1951)All of these questions had to have played heavily on director Henry Hathaway’s mind when filming his noir, suspense drama, “Fourteen Hours” (1951), but fortunately his talent for great storytelling and an extensive cast of sensational actors help turn this possibly entertaining film into a memorable movie, with an exorbitant amount of humanity under the surface.

In a New York City hotel, an emotionally tormented young man named Robert (Richard Basehart) steps out his window onto the ledge. The moment of desperation is seen from the street below by a traffic cop, Charlie (Paul Douglas). Charlie rushes up to the room where he sits on the ledge as well, trying patiently to get Robert to come back inside.

The event turns into a circus, with people filling the streets below, engrossed by the human drama that has presented itself to them. Taxi drivers place bets on what time he will jump, people walking to work stop, frozen, waiting to see what will happen. Even the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is cancelled. Richard Basehart and Barbara Bel Geddes in "Fourteen Hours" (1951)Obviously with a title like “Fourteen Hours”, you can guess that things aren’t resolved quickly, as every step towards a resolution just seems to make things worse.

The acting in this movie is the kind of stuff that directors dream about. Richard Basehart gives a towering performance as the sad, mentally unstable young man at his own personal crossroad. It amazes me how intense he is without being able to move more than a couple of inches the entire picture. He acts through his expressions. He eyes speak for him (his fear, his anger, and regret) present themselves with little dialogue and almost no physicality. It’s Paul Douglas who does most of the talking. The majority of his dialogue goes unanswered…but he keeps talking anyway. He is the driving force of the script, but being an amazing actor, he knows that he can’t take the focus off of Basehart, Richard Basehart in "Fourteen Hours" (1951)so Douglas keeps his perfect performance controlled.

The aspect that helps “Fourteen Hours” to shine is the inclusion of sub-plots that transpire during the 14 hours, and the performances given by the enormous cast of supporting players. Both of Robert’s parents (Agnes Moorehead & Robert Keith) show up to “help”, but end up bringing back years of family dysfunction and drama. His former fiance (Barbara Bel Geddes) also arrives, with Bel Geddes giving a brief, but touchingly memorable performance. And then there are all the individuals involved indirectly, whether down on the street or hiding in the hotel, trying to come up with new ideas; Howard Da Silva as the police chief, Martin Gabel as a psychiatrist, Jeffrey Hunter and Debra Paget as two strangers who meet on the street, even Grace Kelly shows up in her screen debut as a woman in the midst of a divorce, who reconsiders after witnessing Robert’s plight. Everyone who appears on the screen adds to the film’s intensity by acting a human as possible.

It’s been said that “Fourteen Hours” is, possibly, Henry Hathaway’s best film. As a fan of westerns and film noir (both of which he made in abundance), it would be hard to pick which one of his classic pieces of cinema is “best”. He spent an entire career making great movies that all continue to be enthralling because of Richard Basehart and Paul Douglas in "Fourteen Hours" (1951)his underrated skill as a director, and his uncanny ability to entertain an audience. “Fourteen Hours” is a unique film for him, and it is obvious that he was excited at the challenges that filming this type of story would offer. Although it has faded in popularity over the years, it is a film that deserves to be revisited and appreciated by a new audience.

Although “Fourteen Hours” goes out of its way to tell the audience that it wasn’t based on real events, the screenplay (masterfully penned by John Paxton) was based on an article in The New Yorker by Joel Sayre, who was in fact writing about the suicide of John William Warde in 1938. The details are quite different, but it did (unfortunately) serve as inspiration.

He Ran All the Way (1951)- John Berry

 ★★★★

 

My, what a difference a decade can make. Ten years after the release of Anatole Litvak’s “Out of the Fog” (1941), John Garfield teamed with director John Berry to make a very similar film noir, “He Ran All the Way” (1951).John Garfield and Shelley Winters in "He Ran All the Way" (1951) Garfield again plays a small time hood named Nick, who at the urging of his friend (Norman Lloyd), robs a businessman of $10,000. In a frantic moment while on the run and dodging bullets, Nick’s partner is shot, and Nick shoots a police officer.

While scrambling to gain control, Nick hides out at a pool where he meets a young bakery worker named Peg (Shelley Winters). He uses her as a cover, and offers to take her home, where he is introduced to her parents (Wallace Ford & Selena Royle) and her younger brother (Bobby Hyatt). Nick, in a state of paranoia, keeps the family hostage, while trying to figure out a plan. Peg, meanwhile, remains attracted to him, even once she understands his true nature.

The reason that I have compared “He Ran All the Way” to “Out of the Fog” (other than the fact that I just watched them both) is because when you examine them, they are actually veryJohn Garfield and Shelley Winters in "He Ran All the Way" (1951) similar.

  1. Both films are about a low-level hood (John Garfield both times)
  2. Both films have a sympathetic father character, being terrorized
  3. In each movie the daughter character continues to be attracted to the criminal, despite the fact that he is physically hurting her father
  4. Also, both movies happen to have the same magnificent cinematographer (James Wong Howe), which does give each of them a similar overall feel

So what makes “He Ran All the Way” such a better film? Well, the direction here, under the helm of John Berry, is far superior. He manages to capture the feel of a rotten criminal living in despair and anger with a reality that is hard to match. The locations and the claustrophobic feel of the city give off the feeling of a criminal trapped by the world around him. Also, the screenplay is believable, without being frustrating. (Written by Hugo Butler and Dalton Trumbo.) It’s easy to point to mistakes that characters make, but they are realistic mistakes made by people who are scared and worried.He Ran All the Way (1951) The Shelley Winters character, in particular, is a great role, filled with personal flaws that can be easy to question. Her motivations are kept quiet. She is obviously attracted in a sexual way to Nick, and is quick to come to home dolled up, ready to throw herself at him, even with her family members being held hostage in the next room. Her reasons for doing this, however, at not as clear. Is she trying to save the others, or is she ready to move on from her mundane existence and start a new life with Nick? Winters gives a remarkable performance in this movie, and although it isn’t as flashy or intense as Garfield’s, it has an element that will linger in your mind.

John Garfield, in what turned out to be his final film, gives a marvelous performance that shows how far he had come as an actor, and gives us a glimpse of how far he could have gone.John Garfield and Shelley Winters in "He Ran All the Way" (1951) There is an intensity and passion in his performance that is chilling and invigorating. He is a no-good, two-bit criminal, but somehow, we still feel sympathetic toward him. What we know about his past, including his awful relationship with his mother (Gladys George), enables us to have hope that, somehow, things will work out. This is one of the hardest types of characters to play, and yet, Garfield makes it look easy. It’s not necessarily his best, but it is definitely toward the top of the list.

Rancho Notorious (1952)- Fritz Lang

 ★★★★

 

Fritz Lang films are so serious- even his westerns. His colorful, energetic tale, “Rancho Notorious,” (1952) illustrates just that, as what you might expect to be a light-hearted western with a couple of musical numbers, is actually more of a gritty, heartless tale of murder and revenge… with a couple of musical numbers.

The story opens in a small Wisconsin town where cattleman Vern (Arthur Kennedy) is saying goodbye to his fiance (Gloria Henry), before heading out to drive a herd of cattle. Rancho Notorious (1952)Moments after he leaves, Kinch (Lloyd Gough) robs her store. While she is emptying the safe, however, Kinch becomes more interested in the girl’s body and he proceeds to have his way with her, and then kills her when she screams for help. Upon his frantic return, Vern watches his fiance die, and he vows revenge, heading off with the impossible task of figuring out the identity of the killer.

Through a series of fortunate circumstances, Vern follows a trail that leads him to an outlaw named Frenchy (Mel Ferrer), who proceeds to take Vern to “Chuck-a-Luck”- a hideout for outlaws that is run by Altar (Marlene Dietrich). He discovers that the man who has murdered his girl is there (or at least has been there) recently, having gifted Alter a brooch that was stolen from his girl’s body. Vern decides to warm up to Alter, to try to find out who gaveRancho Notorious (1952) her the brooch, even at the risk of aggravating Frenchy, who has always been Altar’s man.

Lang, somewhat unexpectedly, makes a good western director. His other films always have a darker side, and by incorporating that into a colorful early 1950’s western mold, he is able to create a film that is more than entertaining- it’s real. This isn’t a good versus evil story; it’s a human examination into how far someone will go in the obsession of revenge. In this story Vern doesn’t just want to bring his mystery man to justice- he wants someone to understand the pain and anguish that he has suffered. He’s not afraid of anything or anybody. He would do absolutely anything to achieve his final goal of finding, not redemption, but soul-blackening vengeance for what has transpired.

Arthur Kennedy is the very definition of an underrated actor. He is a five time Academy Award nominee, yet many people have overlooked his career almost completely, but not because he’s not talented. Rancho Notorious (!952)It’s because he so often excelled in supporting roles, without ever making a name for himself as a leading man. In “Rancho Notorious” he is perfectly cast, and he holds nothing back in a performance that showcases his ability to be dark and determined, while still keeping the audience in his corner.

Marlene Dietrich was also in an interesting place in her career when she undertook this film. Her leading lady days (whether she knew it or not) were done. After a few less than great performances, “Rancho Notorious” gives Marlene the chance to transition into a supporting capacity that would continue in “Witness for the Prosecution” (1957), “Touch of Evil” (1958), and “Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961). These may not be her best films or performances, but they do showcase her range as an actress when her famous sex appeal was behind her. She (as the misguided matriarch) even gets the best lines in this film like, Rancho Notorious (!952)“I wish you’d go away, and come back ten years ago”. She makes everything feel and sound so genuine, and you can’t help but love her for taking a role that was completely different for her.

“Rancho Notorious” has some flaws, mostly coming from the sound stage landscapes, but push all of that aside and see the film for the character driven piece that is under the surface. It feels real, unfiltered, and even gives off a sense of dread and despair, instead of glorifying the west. Just in case that sounds like too much for an evening, don’t worry. There are a couple of light-hearted Dietrich songs, an opening credits “Chuck-a-Luck” number, as well as a barroom race scene, that all are quite funny, just to show that Lang has a softer, humorous side as well.