Permission to Kill (1975)

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Alpine scheming!
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vt Kickback; vt The Executioner
UK, Austria, US / 97 minutes / color with occasional brief bw / Sascha–Film, Jungbluth & Lazek, Warner, Columbia–Warner, Embassy Dir: Cyril Frankel Pr: Paul Mills Scr: Robin Estridge Story: W.I.L One to Curtis (1967) by Robin Estridge Cine: Freddie Young Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Ava Gardner, Bekim Fehmiu, Timothy Dalton, Nicole Calfan, Frederic Forrest, Klaus Wildbolz, Anthony Dutton, Peggy Sinclair, Dennis Blanch, John Levene, Alf Joint, Vladimir Popovic, Ratislav Plamenac, Oliver Schott, Erna Riedl-Tichy.

Released at the height of the Bond era—this came out between The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), a time when the Bond franchise was for legal reasons undergoing a (very) brief hiatus—Permission to Kill could hardly, despite its title, be more distanced from the technical hijinx, passionate encounters, shootemups and protracted action scenes that characterized its glitzy counterpart. Perhaps aspiring to the gravitas of Le Carre, it focuses on intrigue and the interplay between characters. It’s not entirely successful in this, but it does have a fair amount of appeal in its own right.

Alexander “Alex” Diakim (Fehmiu), a charismatic populist leader in exile from his Middle European homeland because of the repressive government there, has halfway decided to go back to lead the struggle for liberation, even at the likely cost of his life.

Dirk Bogarde as Curtis.

For reasons unstated—perhaps just a fear of rocking the boat—the British secret services don’t want him to do so. A controller who calls himself Alan Curtis (Bogarde) is put in charge of the effort to persuade Alex to delay his plans or, if he proves intractable, to kill him.

Curtis, using various means of blackmail and claiming to be working for the nonexistent Western Intelligence Liaison, assembles a disparate group of people important for some or other reason in Alex’s life and Continue reading

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No Way to Live (2016)

US / 85 minutes / color / Modernciné, Gravitas Dir & Scr: David Guglielmo, Nick Chakwin Pr: Rebekah Sindoris, David Guglielmo, Nick Chakwin Cine: Alexander Chinnici Cast: Freya Tingley, Tom Williamson, Timothy V. Murphy, Justin Arnold, Paul Rae, Carla Toutz, Christopher Douglas Reed, Larry Fessenden, Roy Frumkes, Bonnie Root, Ryan Harper Gray.

David Guglielmo, one of the co-directors of No Way to Live, approached me a few weeks ago with the suggestion that I might like to write about it for this site. I accepted his kind offer of a screener with I hope my usual impeccable courtesy but also some hesitation, because it’s a sad fact that not all of the independent noirish movies that come this site’s way are altogether wonderful.

In this instance, though, I needn’t have worried. No Way to Live is a first-rate movie that I enjoyed a great deal—far more than I’ve enjoyed many movies with major-studio budgets, which this I gather didn’t. It’s also, to clear matters up at the start, not a neonoir in the stylistic sense of the term: rather, as you might expect from a piece in which the main character has the surname Thompson and one of the supporting roles has the name Big Jim, it’s a movie that very much has its roots in the classic noir tradition, albeit with a greater degree of frankness about sex and racial prejudice than was generally deemed permissible in the 1940s and 1950s.

Paul Rae as Earl.

It’s 1958, and in the small town of Crawfordville, Florida, vacuum-cleaner salesman Monty (Williamson) is trying unsuccessfully to make a sale to householder Earl Thompson (Rae)—in fact, Earl is seeing him off the property at the point of a double-barreled shotgun, Monty being black and Earl being both white and a bigot.

Tom Williamson as Monty.

It’s clear to us that Monty’s eye has been caught by Earl’s pretty daughter Nora (Tingley). That night, as Monty attempts to spy on Nora through her window, he gets his foot caught in one of the gator traps with which Earl has surrounded the house.

Freya Tingley as Nora.

At Nora’s insistence, and much against Earl’s better judgment, the pair bring Monty indoors to convalesce from what’s a pretty serious injury. Love—or something like it—sparks between the two young people; Monty’s ardor is undimmed even after he discovers a terrible secret:

Nora: “He makes me do it. I got no choice. D’you think that I want to? He’s been having his way with me ever since my mother died.”

Monty and Nora run away, after she’s stolen from under Earl’s bed an old blue suitcase containing $10,000 in cash.

As we guess long before Monty does, Nora took the opportunity to murder Earl before she slipped out of the house. Led by Detective Frank Giddins (Murphy), with Detective Bradford (Gray) and hick local sheriff Big Jim (Arnold) assisting, the cops investigate. During the investigation we learn that Nora is not in fact Earl’s daughter but his wife, now widow. We later find out she was in effect sold to him as a child bride when she was just thirteen.

Meanwhile, the two youngsters are on the run and—in between coping as a “mixed-race couple” with the omnipresent racism of that place and time—taking the opportunity to do a lot of what two youngsters on the run generally do in movies like this. Despite all her protestations of eternal love for him, however, Nora has already decided it’s time to ditch Monty, preferably terminally; she even lines up wastrel Jerry (Fessenden) to murder him.

Jerry (Larry Fessenden) readies to shoot Monty (Tom Williamson) in the back.

Nora has had from the outset, you see, a plan that only slowly emerges into the light. What she doesn’t realize is that Monty too has had a plan—that in his way he’s every bit as cunning as she is, and that he’s been withholding from her all sorts of secrets that profoundly affect her.

Theirs aren’t the only plans. Big Jim has been planning for years to bed Nora if only she’d give him the chance, while Giddins has been developing a plan to blow the whole case wide open . . .

Big Jim (Justin Arnold) tries to woo Nora (Freya Tingley).

There’s a love for classic film noir evident in just about every frame of No Way to Live, together with lots of echoes of later noirish road movies like David Lynch’s WILD AT HEART (1990) and perhaps more particularly Tamra Davis’s GUNCRAZY (1992). The screenplay’s full of pace and surprise, not to mention some moments of unexpected cuteness and humor, as when Monty and Nora, lacking fizzy wine with which to celebrate their new freedom, make do with Alka-Seltzer.

And there are some really great performances. Freya Tingley (who I was astonished to discover is Australian, so convincing is she as the Florida belle) delivers a major act as the Lolita-style femme fatale, but she’s if anything outshone by Tom Williamson as the wholesome, loyal, everything-on-the-surface young adventurer who proves to possess an inner darkness. Timothy V. Murphy as the deceptively genial, wide-eyed Detective Giddins dominates the screen during his scenes.

Justin Arnold as Big Jim.

But it’s tempting to see this as an ensemble piece, with fine contributions coming from the supporting cast, even those whose screen time is minimal—such as Carla Toutz as Nora’s mother Celia Weaver, Christopher Douglas Reed as bigoted store-owner Cain, and Roy Frumkes as Nora’s long-suffering lawyer, Thomas Chasen. Indeed, there isn’t a weak link in the chain of actors on display here.

Carla Toutz as Celia Weaver.

Christopher Douglas Reed as bigoted shitface Cain.

Lawyer Thomas Chasen (Roy Frumkes) despairs of his client, Nora (Freya Tingley).

No Way to Live isn’t a perfect movie (as if there could be such a thing). There’s an unexplained hiccup in the storyline when Nora wakes to discover she’s been taken to the orphanage where Monty was reared; furthermore, Jerry somehow knows—by magic, perhaps?—that this is where Monty has taken her. There are two quite separate earlier explanations in the script as to why, in the later stages of the movie, Nora should find herself infuriatingly pregnant. And there are moments during the lovers’ time on the run when things seem to flag a bit, as if the scripters weren’t quite certain where they were going to take things next.

Those are really quite tiny criticisms, especially bearing in mind the egregious plot holes you often find in multiplex blockbusters. No Way to Live, which refreshingly doesn’t require you to leave your brain at the door, is a very satisfying piece whose 85 minutes seem to fly by.

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UPDATE: Contrary to my earlier understanding, you can get this movie on DVD/blu ray from the usual online suspects. And here are some places you can go stream it:

Hulu
Amazon
FandangoNow
Google Play
iTunes
Vimeo
Vudu
Microsoft XBOX
YouTube Movies

Moontide (1942)

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Ida Lupino and Jean Gabin (and Claude Rains and Thomas Mitchell!) in a strange piece of borderline noirishness!
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US / 95 minutes / bw / TCF Dir: Archie Mayo, Fritz Lang (uncredited) Pr: Mark Hellinger Scr: John O’Hara, Nunnally Johnson (uncredited) Story: Moon Tide (1940) by Willard Robertson Cine: Charles Clarke, Lucien Ballard (uncredited) Cast: Jean Gabin, Ida Lupino, Thomas Mitchell, Claude Rains, Jerome Cowan, Helene Reynolds, Ralph Byrd, William Halligan, Victor Sen Yung, Chester Gan, Robin Raymond, Arthur Aylesworth, Arthur Hohl, John Kelly, Ralph Dunn, Tully Marshall, Vera Lewis, Tom Dugan.

On Amazon.co.uk a commenter called Now Zoltan (I assume that’s not his real name) has complained that I omitted this movie, which he regards as quintessential to the genre (“a cornerstone noir, one of my favourites”), from my A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir. He also complained about a typo as if it were an error of fact, which I thought was a bit unfair: 675,000 words of information-dense text? Of course you can expect a few typos—though hopefully not very many!

Anyway, I checked my entry for this movie in my personal catalogue and saw that I’d given it the NSH (noirish) rather than the NOIR classification. Since it stars Lupino, Gabin and Rains, three of my all-time favorite actors, and since Fritz Lang was involved, in the ordinary way I’d have bent over backward to include it in the book—i.e., to persuade myself it was sufficiently noir that it oughter go in.

An enigma on the back of a conundrum, and puzzling too.

It had been yonks since last I’d watched the movie, and to be honest I could remember little about it, so I decided to give it another whirl to see if I could work out why I’d decided to omit it. Here goes.

Jean Gabin as Bobo.

Bobo (Gabin) is a longshoreman, and ostensibly a good one, but he has a penchant for hard drinking. Tonight in the saloon called The Red Dot he’s well and truly hammered, to the dismay of his sidekick Tiny (Mitchell), who wants to Continue reading

36 Saints (2013)

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Oooh, spookitude!
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US / 82 minutes / color / SC Global Media, Active Fox Dir: Eddy Duran Pr: Joey Dedio Scr: Joey Dedio, Jeffrey De Serrano Cine: Isidro Urquia Cast: Franky G, Jeffrey De Serrano, Britne Oldford, Tyrone Brown, Matthew Daddario, Aja Naomi King, Chris Riggi, Alesandra Assante, Laverne Cox, Allan Louis, Joey Dedio, Mihaela Kolich, Maya Days, Raul Casso, Jaime Tirelli, Donna McKechnie, Frances Lozada, Dominic Colón, Esau Pritchett, Jonathan Duran, Carlos Lozada, Mareo Ryan, Cain Ruiz.

36-saints-0

The opening of this movie features cityscapes and apocalyptic scenes overlain by an extended voiceover that it’s hard to resist the temptation to parody:

According to ancient mythology, in every generation, there are thirty-six individuals who carry the suffering of the world, and assist those in dire need. The thirty-six are amongst us all. Anyone you meet could be one of them. The world exists in the merit of these thirty-six righteous people. Without them, the world we know would fall into chaos, corruption and eventually darkness. To achieve this darkness, there are those too who have chosen evil over good. They are united by their leader, Lilith, and are all marked by the symbol of darkness. Once their mission on this earth is completed, they are destroyed, either by self-infliction, or by another Dark One. Damnation falls on the ones who do not choose to be evil and want to escape the wrath of Lilith. Lilith’s ultimate revenge is to destroy the thirty-six by choosing the same fate that their namesakes have immortalized. The final nine have been discovered. By abolishing them, darkness will reign over light.

36-saints-9-what-you-get-when-you-google-for-lilith

What you get when (at least in this movie) you google for “Lilith” — saucy, eh?

I’ve encountered the Hebraic mythology of the Lamedvavnik—the 36 righteous ones—somewhere before (don’t ask me where!), and it has always been my impression that the 36 are supposedly scattered around the world, unknown to each other and perhaps not even knowing their own status. In this movie things are changed a bit, with the assumption being that, not only do they know each other, but that, with a couple of exceptions, they’ve assembled together as a group. Also, they’re linked in to Christian, specifically Roman Catholic, saints, plus other biblical characters whose names they share—including Jesus.

It’s Hallowe’en. Almost exactly a year ago 27 of the 36 saints died in a plane crash near Montreal, the only survivor of the tragedy being a priest, Father Judas Neri (Tirelli). Seven of the other nine saints were off being presented with a humanitarian award at the UN; these seven young people are now studying at the swanky Academy of Royals in what I think is supposed to be Continue reading

Last Light, The (2013)

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Whose fault was it what happened that night?
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US / 14 minutes / color / Coral House Productions Dir: Jennifer Cummins Pr: Lisa Cooper Scr: Persephone Vandegrift Cine: Dan McComb Cast: Telisa Steen, Sarah Dennis, Elora Coble, Randall Dai, Pearl Klein, Danika Collins.

the-last-light-0

A very simple albeit narratively rather complex short that gives a powerful portrayal of grief but is, for me, let down by the triteness of its ending. The movie was, as acknowledged in the closing credits, funded through Indiegogo.

the-last-light-1-karen-and-her-two-girls-in-happier-times

Karen (Telisa Steen) and her two girls (Sarah Dennis [right] and Elora Coble) in happier times.

Karen Kingston (Steen), a single mother and seeming career woman, always promised her timid younger daughter Rebecca Anne “Becca” (Coble) that she’ll make sure to protect her from any harm that might come her way; but Becca was Continue reading

Intruder (2011)

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Who came to the lonely housewife’s aid?
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US / 20 minutes / color / Senese Films Dir & Scr: Billy Senese Pr: Brinn Hamilton, Billy Senese Cine: Jeffrey Stanfill Cast: Jennifer Spriggs, Josh Graham, Kayte Miller, Jeremy Childs, Craig Armstrong, Iain Montgomery, Adonni Samuels.

intruder-2011-0-opener

A nifty little psychological thriller that declines to speak down to its audience—in fact, you might find yourself immediately replaying it to try to confirm in your own mind exactly what happened.

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Samantha (Jennifer Spriggs) gazes wistfully at her sleeping daughter Allie.

Rendered a paraplegic by his injuries, soldier Nathan (Graham) is being looked after in their small, dismal apartment by his wife, Samantha (Spriggs). She’s at the end of her tether trying to cope with both him and Continue reading

Midnight’s Child (1992 TVM)

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Kate’s not wanted any more,
Gonna throw her out the door.
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US / 89 minutes / color with some bw / Victoria Principal, Jeff Myrow–David Gottlieb, Polone, Hearst Dir: Colin Bucksey Pr: Kimberly Myers Scr: David Chaskin Story: Jeff Myrow, David N. Gottlieb, David Chaskin Cine: Anthony B. Richmond Cast: Marcy Walker, Cotter Smith, Olivia d’Abo, Elissabeth Moss, Jim Norton, Judy Parfitt, Roxann Biggs (i.e., Roxann Dawson), Mary Larkin, Jeff Nowinski, Pierrette Grace, Nicole Prochnik, Jake Jacobs, Matt Corey, Stephanie Shroyer, Beth Bjork.

Midnight's Child - 0 opener

For most of its running time this rather neat made-for-television movie presents itself as a psychological thriller, an interesting riff on the likes of The HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE (1992), but in the later stages it fairly abruptly morphs into something quite different.

It’s the end of term at the Roman Catholic St. Helena Akademy in Stockholm, and young Anna Bergman (Grace) has fixed up a job as an au pair in distant California. On her final night at the school she gets a note from her room-mate, Kirsten Grossbaum (d’Abo), asking to meet in the science lab for a surprise. The surprise is that Kirsten beats her over the head with a pestle, then organizes a gas explosion so that Anna is burnt to unrecognizability. Using Anna’s passport and a knack for disguise, Kirsten then flies out to take Anna’s place as au pair to high-powered executive Kate Cowan (Walker) and her struggling-professional-illustrator husband Nick (Smith), looking after their nearly-eight-year-old daughter Christina “Chrissy” (Moss).

Midnight's Child - 1 The real Anna Bergman (Pierrette Grace)

 The real Anna Bergman (Pierrette Grace).

Midnight's Child - 2 Kirsten looks back at the mayhem she's caused

Kirsten (Olivia d’Abo) looks back at the mayhem she’s caused.

“Anna” has a fearsome first day, the breaking of the washing machine being the highlight. Kate manages, however, to Continue reading

Blood Moon (2012)

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Could this lycanthropic lunatic be tamer than his shrink?

US / 18½ minutes / color / Tombstone, IndieFlix Dir: Farnaz Samiinia Pr: Don E. FauntLeRoy, Andreas Wigand, B.J. Rouse Scr: Farnaz Samiinia, James C. Wolf Story: Blue Moon (2000) by Pol McShane Cine: Don E. FauntLeRoy Cast: Brandon Beemer, Gil Darnell.

Blood Moon 2012 - 0 opener

At Lancaster Mental Hospital, criminal psychologist Dr. Luke Parker (Beemer) must attend to his main high-security patient, William Titus (Darnell), the murderer of as many as “thirty innocent people.” Titus, discovered reading Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (c1600) when Luke arrives, is unimpressed by such statistics. So far as he’s concerned, Luke and the rest of the psychiatric team have got it all wrong: “No, not murdered. Killed, as in killed.”

Blood Moon 2012 - 1 Titus waits wearily for Luke's next faux pas

Titus (Gil Darnell) waits wearily for Luke’s next faux pas.

Luke is quite reasonably reluctant to be too condemnatory of Titus’s actions—”I’m a psychiatrist, not a judge”—but at the same time Continue reading