Paris After Dark (1943)

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Love, death, betrayal and sacrifice in occupied Paris!
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US / 85 minutes / bw / TCF Dir: Léonide Moguy Pr: André Daven Scr: Harold Buchman Story: Georges Kessel Cine: Lucien Andriot Cast: George Sanders, Philip Dorn, Brenda Marshall, Madeleine LeBeau, Marcel Dalio, Robert Lewis, Henry Rowland, Gene Gary, Curt Bois, Michael Visaroff, Ann Codee, Jean Del Val, Raymond Roe, John Wengraf.

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Paris is under Nazi occupation. Renowned surgeon Dr. André Marbel (Sanders) and his principal nurse, Yvonne Blanchard (Marshall), née Benoit, are secretly the leaders of an underground movement dedicated to disseminating anti-Nazi propaganda in the form of posters and tracts, especially targeting the workers in the nearby Beaumont car factory, repurposed by the Nazis to build tanks and armored cars. The effort is not without its dangers, as we discover in the movie’s opening moments, when young Victor Durand (Gary) is gunned down summarily by a German soldier for the crime of flyposting.

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Yvonne (Brenda Marshall).

We assume at first that André and Yvonne must be lovers, but not so: they’re fond friends, no more. Yvonne lives at home with her mother (Codee), her father Lucien (Del Val) and her kid brother Georges (Roe), who works in the Beaumont factory. Yvonne’s husband Jean (Dorn) was a pillar of the Resistance until his capture and imprisonment three years ago. Now he’s among a hundred sick and broken men being released from the labor camp, to be replaced—although this is not yet public knowledge—by five hundred healthy men from the Beaumont plant.

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Jean (Philip Dorn), just one of many sick and broken camp prisoners on the train home to Paris.

The Benoits are delighted by Jean’s return, Yvonne especially, but soon she and her family discover that Jean has changed drastically, thanks to torture and abuse. He now believes that Nazi triumph is inevitable and that the best way forward is to collaborate with the fascist scheisskopfs and just hope to be left in peace to live as well as one can. When he Continue reading

o/t: a great man

I must be the last person on the planet to realize that Sidney Poitier is 90 today. Happy birthday to the great man!

I was thinking to myself that it was a shame he made so few movies of noirish interest, but then I went and checked in my Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir and discovered there were more references to him than I’d remembered:

  • NO WAY OUT (1950)
  • EDGE OF THE CITY (1957)
  • The DEFIANT ONES (1958)
  • PRESSURE POINT (1962)
  • HANKY PANKY (1982)
  • SHOOT TO KILL (1988)

I really cannot now understand why I didn’t give an entry to In the Heat of the Night (1967) and its two sequels; even though they’re not noir they’re obviously of very strong associational interest. In the remote event of the book going into a second edition, I’ll obviously include them.

Probably my favorite of all the movies of his that I’ve seen is Lilies of the Field (1963), in which he plays an itinerant handyman who befriends a destitute immigre community of Eastern European nuns. I must at some point persuade myself, on however spurious a premise, that this movie has been *koff* sufficiently influential on the film noir genre as to deserve a writeup here.

The Dummy Talks (1943)

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Who slew the philandering ventriloquist?
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UK / 82 minutes / bw / British National, Anglo–American Dir: Oswald Mitchell Pr: Wallace Orton Scr: Michael Barringer Story: Con West, Jack Clifford Cine: James Wilson Cast: Jack Warner, Claude Hulbert, G.H. Mulcaster, Beryl Orde, Ivy Benson, John Carol, Evelyn Darvell, Max Earl, Gordon Edwards, Manning Whiley, Charles Carson, Derna Hazell (i.e., Hy Hazell), Eric Mudd, PLUS

  • Ivy Benson’s All-Ladies Orchestra
  • Frederick Sylvester & Nephew
  • Tommy Manley & Florence Austin
  • Cecil Ayres with the Skating Avalons
  • The Five Lai Founs

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A wartime morale-booster set inside a London variety house/music hall (about the same as a US burlesque theater, but without the, er, disrobing) and relying heavily on the BBC radio popularity of three of its major cast: Jack Warner, Claude Hulbert and Beryl Orde. The movie presents itself as a murder mystery with the added elements of some flippant humor and quite a lot of stage presentations. Despite some genuinely clever moments, it seems today—although fans of music hall might disagree—a tad leaden in places.

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Joe (uncredited) knows a thing or two.

Comedian Jack “Blue Pencil” Warner (Warner) and impressionist Beryl Orde (Orde) are the current headliners at the variety theater, drawing the crowds because they’re well known radio personalities, but plenty of other high-profile acts are on the bill: Marvello (Carson) and Maya (Hazell) with their mentalist act; ventriloquist Russell Warren (Whiley); and singer Peggy Royce (Darvell), who performs with the big band Ivy Benson’s All-Ladies Orchestra (one of several genuine variety acts to feature). Behind the scenes we have stage manager Marcus (Edwards); the theater’s managing director, Yates (Earl); Joe (bafflingly uncredited), the stage-door keeper; and a stutteringly unorthodox cop, Victor “Vic” Harbord (Hulbert), who hangs around the theater a lot because he and Peggy are—improbably—enamored.

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Vic (Claude Hulbert) and Beryl (Beryl Orde).

Beryl knows the ventriloquist, Warren, of old, and despises him as a heartless womanizer. She also recalls how one time, when they shared a bill up north, Warren beat to a pulp a husband who objected to Warren’s seduction of the luckless man’s wife. Beryl is thus dismayed to notice that Peggy is seeing rather more than is appropriate of the ventriloquist; Vic may be no Adonis, but he has a good heart and a genuine adoration for the singer. The truth is that Warren has learned that Continue reading

The Black Raven (1943)

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It is a dark and stormy night . . .
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US / 61 minutes / bw / Sigmund Neufeld Productions, PRC Dir: Sam Newfield Pr: Sigmund Neufeld Scr: Fred Myton Cine: Robert Cline Cast: George Zucco, Noel Madison, Byron Foulger, Robert Middlemass, Charlie Middleton, Robt. Randall, Wanda McKay, Glenn Strange, I. Stanford Jolley.

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Years ago Amos Bradford (Zucco) was a criminal mastermind known as The Black Raven. Now he runs a remote inn, also called The Black Raven, somewhere near the border with Canada. Tonight a stranger arrives, Whitey Cole (Jolley)—although he’s no stranger to Amos, but the partner he left to carry the can when he evaded the cops one final time before assuming the mantle of respectability. Whitey’s escaped from the pen with ten years of his sentence still to go. Now he wants to settle up with Amos one last time . . .

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Whitey Cole (I. Stanford Jolley) arrives on the scene.

But then Amos’s dimwit handyman, Andy (Strange), bursts in out of the howling gale, and between the two of them Amos and Andy (yes, really) subdue Whitey:

Andy: “What was the matter? Didn’t he like the service?”
Amos: “He’s suffering from rabid delusions aggravated by a moronic mentality.”
Andy: “Is that bad?”

Other guests arrive seeking shelter from the storm, all of them in one way or another relying on the inn’s reputation as the last stopping point on the way to refuge in Canada. First to arrive is gangster Mike Bardoni (Madison)—his name spelled “Baroni” in a newspaper headline we see, but that’s B-movies for you. He knows of Amos’s past as The Black Raven and wants his aid in Continue reading

Suspense (1913)

US / 10 minutes / bw / Rex Dir: Lois Weber, Phillips Smalley Scr: Lois Weber Story: Au Téléphone (1902 play; vt At the Telephone) by André de Lorde Cast: Lois Weber, Valentine Paul, Douglas Gerard, Sam Kaufman, Lule Warrenton.

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A short but—just as it says on the label—surprisingly suspenseful silent movie.

Mamie the maid (Warrenton) walks out on her job because she’s fed up of living in the middle of nowhere. She leaves behind her employer, the Wife (Weber), and the Wife’s small baby; the Wife’s Husband (Paul) is at work—at a guess he’s a banker. Finding Mamie gone, the Wife gets a bit nervous, especially when she looks out the window and discovers that a sinister-looking Tramp (Kaufman) has approached the house and seems intent on Continue reading

Une Journée Bien Remplie, ou Neuf Meurtres Insolites dans une Même Journée par un Seul Homme Dont Ce n’est pas le Métier (1973)

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If Jacques Tati had made a serial-killer movie . . .
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vt A Full Day’s Work
France, Italy / 86 minutes / color / Cinétel, EIA, Président, Valoria, BAC Dir & Scr: Jean-Louis Trintignant Pr: Jacques-Éric Strauss Cine: William Lubtchansky Cast: Jacques Dufilho, Luce Marquand, Franco Pesce, Albin Guichard, Andrée Bernard, Louis Malignon, T. Requenae, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Antoine Marin, Pierre Dominique, Vittorio Caprioli, Gisèle Abetissian, Gérard Streiff, Maurice Duc, Manuel Segura, Denise Péron, André Falcon, Hella Petri, Jean-Pierre Elga, Robert Orsini, Eugène Berthier, Gérard Sire, Jean-Louis Trintignant.

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If you can imagine what the result might have been had Jacques Tati ever taken it into his head to make a serial-killer movie, you might begin to envisage how this, the first of Jean-Louis Trintignant’s two directorial outings, Une Journée Bien Remplie, plays. Leading man Jacques Dufilho on occasion even emulates the master in his body language and his walk. Despite the generally used English-language variant title, A Full Day’s Work, the main French title is really far better translated as “A Day Well Spent”: that gives you a far better idea of the caustic yet whimsical humor on offer here, because the day of the central character, mild-mannered French provincial baker Jean “Jeannot” Rousseau (Dufilho) is spent knocking off, in individual and inventive ways, the nine jurors who sent his murdering son Fernand to the guillotine.

(The subtitle translates roughly as—creak of schoolboy French moving into action—“Nine Unusual Murders Committed in the Same Day by a Solitary Man for Whom This is not a Profession.”)

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Dad (Franco Pesce) holds the fort back at the bakery.

In this endeavor Jean is aided and abetted by his dear old mom (Marquand) and his dear old dad (Pesce), the former, dressed funereally and bearing a black umbrella, riding as sidecar passenger on Jean’s motorbike, the latter continuing the business of the bakery in Jean’s absence, and trying to cover for him when the cops come calling.

At first everything goes smoothly.

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The guy looking out the rear window is juror Person (Gérard Streiff). Continue reading

Rédemption (2013)

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After prison he wanted to go straight, but there was one little problem . . .
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Canada / 115 minutes / color / Desperado Dir & Scr: Joel Gauthier Pr: Claudine Garant, Roger Morin, Joel Gauthier Cine: Olivier Arends Leblanc Cast: Patrice Godin, Joel Gauthier, Isabelle O’Brien, France Pilotte, Valérie Roy, Roberto Mei, Marc Fournier, Zoé Béliveau, Mathieu Dufresne, Julien Poulin, Carina Caputo, Julien Deschamps Jolin, Francis Martineau, Victor Labelle, Elliot Miville-Deschênes, Alexandre Richard, Simon St.-Georges.

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Isabelle O’Brien as Sophie.

Montréal. Having served eight years inside for cocaine trafficking, and with the suspicion of murder hanging over his head, Alain Gagné (Godin) returns home a reformed man. To the delight of his loving mom Micheline (Pilotte), he gets himself a legitimate job at the garage owned by Gilles Mercier (Poulin) and, with some difficulty, earns the renewed affections of his old girlfriend Sophie (O’Brien). The only fly in his new life’s ointment is his younger brother Danny (Gauthier).

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Danny (Joel Gauthier) and Karine (Valérie Roy) are delighted that Alain’s home . . .

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. . . as is their daughter, Eve (Zoé Béliveau).

It’s not that he doesn’t love his kid brother—he does, very much so. It’s that Danny, under cover of co-owning a profitable nightclub, has a cocaine-dealing empire and Continue reading

o/t: leisure reading during January 2017

Several real goodies here, I’m pleased to say. The links are as usual to my often hasty Goodreads notes.

Gang Smashers (1938)

vt Gun Moll
US / 59 minutes / bw / Toddy Dir: Leo C. Popkin Pr: Harry M. Popkin Scr: Hazel Barnes Jamieson, Phil Dunham, Zella Young Story: Ralph Cooper Cine: Robert Cline Cast: Nina May McKinney (i.e., Nina Mae McKinney), Lawrence Criner, Monte Hawley, Mantan Moreland, Reginald Fenderson, Eddie Thompson, Vernon McCalla, Charles Hawkins, Everett Brown, Neva Peoples, Arthur Ray, Bo Jenkins, Phil Moore and His Orchestra.

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I’m sure I’ve ranted about this on Noirish before, but it’s way past time that someone made a determined effort to recover and restore the “race movies.” Made between about 1910 and the early 1950s, these typically featured all-black casts and were shown to all-black audiences, and were produced outside the Hollywood system on budgets that made Poverty Row enterprises seem positively DeMillean. Because of the cheapness, the production standards generally weren’t high and the acting could on occasion be amateurish; moreover, there was a reluctance to tackle genuine African American problems in the race movies, probably because most of the studios creating work in this genre were white-owned. Despite all this, the movies often show great verve, and some of the acting is top-notch; here you can see many fine African–American actors in leading roles who could get nothing but bit parts, often racially demeaning caricatures, in Hollywood productions.

Because the race movies flew under the radar of cinema historians until relatively recently, they were neglected to the point that only about 20% of the five hundred or so thought to have been made still survive, and most do so only in pretty appalling condition. So far as I know—and I confess a deal of ignorance here!—none of them have been restored in Criterion-like fashion. Please advise in the comments if I’m wrong.

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The great Mantan Moreland as Gat’s sidekick, Gloomy.

Gang Smashers is, I gather, a tad unusual among race movies in that it focuses on the relatively contentious (for the late 1930s) issue of black-on-black crime. In other words, in any other context you’d regard it as a thriller, a borderline noir. I admit it was Continue reading

Unter Ausschluß der Öffentlichkeit (1961)

vt Blind Justice; vt The Whole Truth
West Germany / 98 minutes / bw / CCC, Bavaria Filmverleih Dir: Harald Philipp Pr: Artur Brauner Scr: Harald Philipp, Fred Ignor Cine: Friedel Behn-Grund Cast: Peter van Eyck, Marianne Koch, Eva Bartok, Claus Holm, Wolfgang Reichmann, Werner Peters, Susanne Cramer, Alfred Balthoff, Leon Askin, Rudolf Fernau, Gudrun Schmidt, Ralph Wolter, Heinz Weiss, Jochen Blume, Kurd Pieritz, Albert Bessler, Herbert Wilk, Peter Schiff, Heinz Welzel, Claus Dahlen.

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Staatsanwalt (District Attorney) Robert Kessler (van Eyck) believes he’s just about to strike the winning blow in his latest sensational court case—that of airplane engineer Dr. Werner Rüttgen (Holm), accused of murdering his wife of many years by poison to begin a new life with lovely young mistress Helga Dähms (Cramer)—when court proceedings are interrupted.

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Helga (Susanne Cramer) testifies at the murder trial of her lover, Werner (Claus Holm), seen at rear.

Another lovely young woman, Mrs. Laura Beaumont (Bartok), leaps to her feet and proclaims that the dead woman committed suicide: she knows because she was Frau Rüttgen’s oldest and best friend, and was there when Continue reading