King of the Damned (1935)

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Liberté, égalité, fraternité on a prison island!
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UK / 74 minutes / bw / Gaumont–British Dir: Walter Forde Pr: Michael Balcon Scr: A.R. Rawlinson, Charles Bennett, Sidney Gilliatt Story: King of the Damned (1934 play) by John Chancellor Cine: Bernard Knowles Cast: Conrad Veidt, Helen Vinson, Noah Beery, Cecil Ramage, Edmund Willard, Percy Parsons, Peter Croft, Raymond Lovell, C.M. Hallard, Allan Jeayes, Percy Walsh.

Noah Beery as Mooche.

Colonel Fernandez (Hallard), commandant of the prison camp on the island of Santa Maria—which is most assuredly not Devil’s Island, for fear of offending the French—is seriously ill, and his daughter Anna (Vinson) flies out to be with him. The friends (uncredited) with whom she travels warn her she may find that her fiancé, who’s also her father’s deputy on the island, Major Ramon Montez (Ramage), has changed a little since last she saw him. Her early time on the island is spent progressively discovering that the man she thought she loved has become a despotic monster:

Anna: “I wish [my father] wouldn’t worry about things when he’s so ill.”
Montez: “Hm. So do I.”
Anna: “Why doesn’t he leave it all to you?”
Montez: “Well, you see, your father and I work on rather different lines. We’ve got three thousand convicts here, and I believe the only way to keep them under is to keep them afraid of us.”

Helen Vinson as Anna Fernandez.

Without Colonel Fernandez’s knowledge, Montez and his sidekick Captain Perez (Walsh) are, to their own considerable profit, dragooning the Continue reading

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o/t: Crepúsculo (1945; vt Twilight)

***A splendid piece by Theresa/CineMaven on an important Mexican movie of noirish interest — hurry and read the rest!

CineMaven's ESSAYS from the COUCH

Since 2014 Once Upon A Screen’s Citizen Screen has been celebrating the contributions of the Latino community in classic films with her annual “HOLLYWOOD’S HISPANIC HERITAGE BLOGATHON.” And that time is upon us again:

Now listen, if we leave it to Hollywood and our old ‘Good Neighbor Policy’ you may see a whole array of Latino cultures represented by nothing but big sombreros, bullfights and banditoes. Whole civilizations were built without Hollywood’s and America’s help. If one takes a gander of different Latino cultures from their OWN vantage point and film industry, that is a whole different kettle of frijoles. ( Ugh!! ) A few years ago MoMA ( the Museum of Modern Art ) presented their “Mexico At Night” series of Mexican film noir from Mexico’s Golden Age of Cinema. I went a couple of times, seeing the staggering beauty of Dolores Del Rioin her native…

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For the Defense (1930)

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“Ten o’clock? What do you think I am—a milkman?”
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US / 63 minutes / bw / Paramount Dir: John Cromwell Scr: Oliver H.P. Garrett Story: Charles Furthmann Cine: Charles Lang Cast: William Powell, Kay Francis, Scott Kolk, William B. Davidson, Thomas E. Jackson, Harry Walker, James Finlayson, Charles West, Bertram Marburgh, Ernie Adams, John Elliott, Syd Saylor, Billy Bevan.

So successful is New York City defense attorney William B. “Bill” Foster (Powell) at getting his clients off, by fair means or foul—usually foul—that the DA, Herbert L. Stone (Davidson), is moved to describe him to the Bar Association as the greatest single threat to the city’s law enforcement. A cop named Daly (Jackson) has made it his life’s work to catch Bill perverting the course of justice and put him behind bars.

Daly (Thomas E. Jackson) on the trail.

We see Bill’s technique in action early in the movie when, defending palpably guilty Eddie Withers (Adams), he throws to the floor the key piece of the state’s evidence, a bottle supposedly containing Continue reading

Dangerous Afternoon (1961)

UK / 59 minutes / bw / Theatrecraft, British Lion Dir: Charles Saunders Pr: Guido Coen Scr: Brandon Fleming Story: Dangerous Afternoon (1951 play) by Gerald Anstruther Cine: Geoffrey Faithfull Cast: Ruth Dunning, Nora Nicholson, Joanna Dunham, Howard Pays, Gladys Henson, Ian Colin, Jerold Wells, May Hallatt, Gwenda Wilson, Elizabeth Begley, Barbara Everest, Jackie Noble, Deirdre Clarke, James Raglan, Edna Morris, Richard McNeff, Jan Miller, Frank Sieman, Keith Smith, Max Brimmell, Trevor Reid, Frank Hawkins, Barry Wilsher.

Irma Randall used to be one of the most audacious jewel thieves in the country until she was caught and jailed. In making a prison escape she fell and broke her back, and now she’s recreated herself as the wheelchair-bound, ultra-genteel Miss Letitia “Letty” Frost (Dunning), owner of Primrose Lodge, a residential home for elderly ladies—in fact, her criminal pals who’ve retired from the profession.

Letty Frost (Ruth Dunning).

Louisa Sprule (Nora Nicholson).

Well, they have in theory, anyway. Sweet old Mrs. Louisa Sprule (Nicholson) is unable to break herself of the habit of petty shoplifting; Mrs. Judson (Everest) has difficulty letting a pocket go by unpicked; Miss Burge (Hallatt) compulsively Continue reading

Common Law Wife (1963)

US / 76 minutes / bw / Texas Film Producers, Cinema Distributors of America Dir: Eric Sayers, Larry Buchanan (uncredited) Pr: Fred A. Kadane Scr: Grace Nolen Cast: Anne MacAdams (i.e., Annabelle Weenick), George Edgely, Max Anderson, Lacey Kelly, Bert Masters, Libby Booth, Norman Smith, Dale Berry.

Sometime in the early 1960s, schlockmeister Larry Buchanan got halfway through an exploitation movie called Swamp Rose when, for one reason or another (perhaps someone spent the project’s budget on a busfare), he had to abandon it. A while later, director Eric Sayers was hired to cobble together Buchanan’s existing footage with newly shot material and make of the result what he could. That result was the assemblage of continuity errors released as Common Law Wife.

A major problem that Sayers had was that he couldn’t obtain the services of all the same actors Buchanan had used. In most instances the resemblance is close enough that you’re not really aware of the difference. What makes the movie truly confusing, though, is that the two actresses playing the central femme fatale, Jonelle, look nothing like each other—not only that, but they don’t walk the same, they have starkly contrasting Continue reading

o/t: Twin Peaks (1990-91 & 2017)

***The splendid movies (and more) site Wonders in the Dark has recently been running a highly ambitious “countdown” of essays about the greatest TV, and yesterday saw this reach its penultimate posting. Although Twin Peaks was/is not directly noir, it does, like almost all of Lynch’s work, overlap very considerably with noir and borrow boatloads of noir tropes.

So I asked Joel Bocko, author of the brilliant (and exhaustive) essay on the series, and Sam Juliano, WitD’s proprietor, if I might reblog Joel’s piece, and they very kindly said that I might. Hurry over there right now — the link’s at the bottom of this brief extract — and feast your eyes.

Wonders in the Dark

Twin Peaks s1

by Joel Bocko

This essay is spoiler-free until noted within the text itself. Readers unfamiliar with Twin Peaks are encouraged to continue up to that point, marked by “***”, to build interest.

Fair warning: this is also a very long discussion of a complex series, so you may want to read in installments.

Twin Peaks is not a TV show.” You’ve probably heard this refrain before, perhaps moderated to “Twin Peaks is not normal television,” or, more generously to the medium, “Twin Peaks changed TV forever.” However phrased, the essence remains the same: Twin Peaks still stands out boldly from the rest of the televisual landscape, twenty-seven years after its debut on the ABC network immediately following America’s Funniest Home Videos. As if to cement this iconic status, when the series returned for an eighteen-hour limited run this summer (dubbed by Showtime’s marketing department as Twin…

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Lights Out (2013)

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Scary movie!
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Sweden / 2½ minutes / color / David Sandberg Dir & Pr & Scr & Cine: David Sandberg Cast: Lotta Losten.

Many, many years ago I read the complete ghost stories of M.R. James in a single splurge—I was in bed with some minor illness. Aside from scaring myself near-senseless, I learnt something about the art of storytelling: that sometimes less is more. (Nowadays I’d regard that as a cliché, but it was new to me then.) Some of the most effective stories in the collection were among the simplest, tales stripped right down to the bare minimum.

My favorite, which I can still remember clearly to this day (although, oddly, I can’t recall its title), has a man Continue reading

o/t: Chesley Bonestell: A Brush With The Future

Here’s a forthcoming movie that couldn’t be further away from film noir: a feature-length documentary about the great astronomical artist (and so much more) Chesley Bonestell. I’ve adored Bonestell’s work since childhood, and quite a few years back was privileged to be the editor on Ron Miller’s deservedly Hugo-winning, illustrated large-scale biography of the man, The Art of Chesley Bonestell (2001; with Frederick C. Durant III) — in fact, it was Ron who drew my attention to the movie.

To learn more, scurry to the movie’s website here, where you can see lots of yummy artwork and watch a tantalizing trailer.

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Laguna (2001)

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What will you do for “family”?
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vt Segreti di Famiglia; vt Hotel Laguna; vt Vendetta
UK, Italy, France / 92 minutes / color / Metropolitan, Davis, Caimano, ReteItalia, FDC (Laguna) Dir: Dennis Berry Pr: Augusto Caminito, Samuel Hadida, Alan Latham Scr: Augusto Caminito, Claude Harz, David Linter Story: Augusto Caminito Cine: Roberto D’Ettorre Piazzoli Cast: Joe Mantegna, Emmanuelle Seigner, Sergio Castellitto, Henry Cavill, Daniela Alviani, Charles Aznavour, Davide Bozzato, Sam Douglas, Gustavo Frigerio, Francesco Fichera, Paolo Paoloni, Karin Proia, Terry Serpico.

Many years ago, when Thomas Aprea (Fichera) was just a child, his father Terenzio (Serpico) was the saxophonist in a musical trio with singer Nicola “Nico” Pianon (Mantegna) and violinist Joe Sollazzo (Castellitto). As we discover much later in the movie, Terenzio soon decided to supplement his musical income by working as a bagman for mobster Tony Castellano (Aznavour)—so-named in the credits but throughout called Tony Castell.

Terry Serpico as Terenzio

Sergio Castellitto as Joe.

Unfortunately, Terenzio then decided to supplement his musical income yet further by skimming a bit off the top. The result was that one day Terenzio’s car blew up, killing Terenzio, his wife and Thomas’s two siblings—Thomas himself escaped solely because he’d run back into the house to fetch a forgotten present. Since then, “Uncle” Joe Sollazzo has raised the boy on his own in New York City, even putting him through college.

Joe Mantegna as Nico.

Now that Thomas (Cavill) has graduated, Joe sends him off to Venice, to be Continue reading