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

Journey into Fear (1975)

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An all-star cast in an Eric Ambler adaptation!
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vt Burn Out
Canada / 95 minutes / color / New World, IFD Dir: Daniel Mann Pr & Scr: Trevor Wallace Story: Journey into Fear (1940) by Eric Ambler Cine: Harry Waxman Cast: Sam Waterston, Zero Mostel, Yvette Mimieux, Scott Marlowe, Ian McShane, Joseph Wiseman, Shelley Winters, Stanley Holloway, Donald Pleasence, Vincent Price, Alicia Ammon, Michael Collins.

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Ambler’s novel was earlier and far more famously filmed as Journey into Fear (1943) dir Norman Foster (plus uncredited directorial assistance from Orson Welles), with Joseph Cotten, Dolores del Rio, Orson Welles, Ruth Warrick, Jack Moss and Agnes Moorehead. (Also, in 1956 the TV series Climax! made an hour-long episode out of the novel, and in 1966 a single episode was produced, “Seller’s Market,” of an intended TV series, Journey into Fear, using the character of Dr. Howard Graham and some of the novel’s ideas.)

This 1975 remake shifts the time to the present—i.e., the mid-1970s—and now, rather than an engineer who’s learned Nazi armaments secrets, our hero, Howard Graham (Waterston), is a geologist who’s discovered, somewhere in the mountains neat the Turkey/Iran border, something (it’s never specified what) of use to oil companies. For some reason this makes him a target for international terrorists.

We first meet him as he and his driver are careering down a mountain dirt-track, their brakes having failed (we assume they’ve been cut). The driver shoves Howard out of the vehicle and moments later flies off a cliff.

Howard makes his way to civilization, where he catches a train to Istanbul. Aboard that train there’s another attempt to kill him. Two men in the guise of Greek Orthodox priests spot where he’s sitting, sneak into the next compartment Continue reading

Dernier Domicile Connu (1970)

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Lino Ventura, midst trademark ass-kicking, warms to Marlène Jobert!
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vt Last Known Address
France, Italy / 101 minutes / color / Cité, Valoria, Parme, Simar, Rizzoli Dir & Scr: José Giovanni Pr: Jacques Bar Story: The Last Known Address (1965) by Joseph Harrington Cine: Étienne Becker Cast: Lino Ventura, Marlène Jobert, Michel Constantin, Paul Crauchet, Alain Mottet, Béatrice Arnac, Guy Heron, Albert Dagnant, Monique Mélinand, Marcel Pérès, Germaine Delbat, Hervé Sand, François Jaubert, Philippe March, Jean Sobieski, Bianca Saury, Raymond Meunier, Frédéric Santaya, Luc Bartholomé, Michel Charrel, Max Desrau.

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Paris cop Marceau Leonetti (Ventura) has a reputation for toughness. In the opening minutes of the movie—as per the opening minutes of a Bond movie—we witness some action-packed sequences that have nothing to do with the plot but fix in our minds that this is the hard man of Paris policing. When he arrests the drunk-driving son of a prominent Paris lawyer, however, he discovers there’s something tougher than him: political corruption.

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Arnold (Albert Dagnant, left) explains to Marceau (Lino Ventura) that he’s this month’s scapegoat.

His boss, Arnold (Dagnant), manages to spare Marceau the worst of the flak, but only by dint of transferring him to a sleepy suburban precinct, the Commissariat du XVIIIth Arrondissement, Section Junot 54. There the most exciting case that’s likely to come Marceau’s way . . . well, one day a little boy (uncredited) reports that his fancy pet pigeons have been stolen and, even though the desk sergeant declines to do anything about it, Marceau, like the good serious-crime cop that he is, successfully tracks down and nails the perpetrator.

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Big Frank Lambert (Alain Mottet) has a job for Marceau.

But that’s hardly enough. So, when one day his old colleague and friend “Big” Frank Lambert (Mottet) phones him up to recruit him into a new Special Squad that Lambert’s been asked to form, Marceau leaps at the chance. The fact that the new squad liaises with the Flying Squad and Vice sounds great; in fact it’s been formed to catch a plague of perverts who’ve been pestering young women in the Paris cinemas.

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Marceau’s new partner, Jeanne Dumas (Marlène Jobert), arrives for her first day working with the Special Squad.

As his partner, Marceau is assigned a rookie, Jeanne Dumas (Jobert). At first glance he realizes she’s not so much his partner as his baitfish: it’s her job to sit in the cinemas looking repressed and virginal—to be a sort of perve-magnet, luring the creeps so that Marceau can then leap out of the shadows and Continue reading

o/t: my youngest reviewer yet?

There’s an interesting site called LitPick that’s devoted to reviews of books for children and young adults. The premise of the site, which has grown to be fairly huge by now, is that the books should be reviewed not by adults but by children themselves.

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When I heard this morning that the reviewer who’d written for them about my book Eureka: 50 Scientists Who Shaped Human History is aged just 11, I was slightly startled — after all, the book’s intended for young adults. But Continue reading

Rope of Sand (1949)

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Burt Lancaster battles it out with Paul Henreid in a tale of diamonds and dust!
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US / 104 minutes / bw / Wallis–Hazen, Paramount Dir: William Dieterle Pr: Hal B. Wallis Scr: Walter Doniger, John Paxton Story: Walter Doniger Cine: Charles B. Lang Jr Cast: Burt Lancaster, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Corinne Calvet, Sam Jaffe, John Bromfield, Mike Mazurki, Kenny Washington, Edmond Breon, Hayden Rorke, David Thursby, Josef Marais, Miranda (i.e., Miranda Marais).

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Welcome to Diamondstadt, headquarters of the Colonial Diamond Co. Ltd:

“This part of the desert of South Africa, where only a parched camelthorn tree relieves the endless parallels of time, space and sky, surrounds like a rope of sand the richest diamond-bearing area in the world—an uneasy land where men enflamed by monotony and the heat sometimes forget the rules of civilization.”

The place is run like a fascist state in miniature—complete with torture chamber—by its sadistic police chief, Commandant Paul G. Vogel (Henreid), and his thugs. Vogel’s primary task is to ensure that no one strays into the Prohibited Area, a region of desert where sometimes clusters of diamonds can be found mere inches beneath the surface of the sand.

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Total bastard Vogel (Paul Henreid) rules his little fiefdom with an iron fist.

It’s here that Mike Davis (Lancaster) returns after an absence of two years. Almost from the moment of his arrival it’s clear he has a bitter past in Diamondstadt . . . and a bitter past with the loathsome Vogel. When Mike refuses to be intimidated at the docks by Vogel, the police chief deliberately engineers an “accident,” so that a derrick’s worth of stuff falls—not on Mike, because that could cause problems, but glancingly on the leg of a sailor, John (Washington). Mike tends John’s wounds and sends him off to see Diamondstadt’s physician, Dr. Francis Kitteridge Hunter (Jaffe), who’s more or less permanently inebriated but remains competent.

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As Mike (Burt Lancaster, right) tends the wounds of John (Kenny Washington), the two men become fast friends.

Vogel’s boss is a man called Martingale (Rains); he’s listed as Arthur Martingale in the closing credits but in fact called Fred throughout the movie. The two work together and on the surface are allies, but in fact there’s no love lost between them, as we witness when Martingale covertly blackballs Vogel from membership of the snooty Perseus Club in Cape Town. Also in Cape Town, Martingale is picked up by Suzanne Renaud (Calvet), supposedly the French niece of a Colonial Diamond Co. stockholder but in fact a scammer whose trick is to inveigle herself into the rooms of married men and then threaten to accuse them of sexual impropriety.

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Suzanne (Corinne Calvet) casts an alluring glance Martingale’s way.

Martingale, having been informed of Mike’s return to Diamondstadt, calls Suzanne’s bluff—aside from anything else, he isn’t married—but then offers her a job. The reason there’s bad blood between Mike and Vogel is that Continue reading

Çarpisma (2005)

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The fatal power of coincidence!
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vt Crash
Turkey / 18 minutes / color / Atlantik Film, T.C. Ministry of Culture, Tourism Directorate General of Copyright and Cinema, MTN, Galaksi, Sinefekt, Melodika, Cobay, Sinemaj Dir & Scr: Umut Aral Pr: Umut Aral, Ömer Atay Cine: Gökhan Atilmiş Cast: Ruhi Sari, Gürkan Uygun, Ali Çekirdekçi, Selçuk Uluergüven, Inanç Ayar.

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One day, on the sidewalk in front of the train station in Konya, there’s a collision between three men. By coincidence, all three are criminals, and the consequences of this accident are going to be profound.

The accident occurs because small-time pickpocket Ali Akar (Sari) is being chased by a street cop (Ayar) and fails to see the other two in time to dodge them. Those other two are Continue reading

Ivy League Killers (1959)

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A rare Canadian noir set among bikers and their molls!
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vt The Fast Ones
Canada / 68 minutes / bw / Ivy League Dir: William Davidson Pr: Norman Klenman, William Davidson Scr: Norman Klenman Cine: William H. Gimmi Cast: Don Borisenko, Don Francks, Barbara Bricker, George Carron, Jean Templeton, Patrick Desmond, Barry Lavender, Igors Gavon, Art Jenoff, John Ringham, John Paris, Gertrude Tyas, Jack Blacklock, Boyd Jackson & The Black Diamond Riders.

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Apparently the producers of Ivy League Killers, Norman Klenman and William Davidson, were eager to establish a commercially successful movie industry in Canada, and so they rather cynically tailored this teen melodrama as an attempt to cash in on the US fad, begun with movies like Rebel Without a Cause (1955), for dramas featuring juvenile delinquents. Whatever their motives, Klenman and Davidson succeeded in creating, out of a minuscule budget and a group of unknown actors, a movie that is actually rather fine, and one that could quite reasonably be considered a film noir.

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Nancy (Jean Templeton) and Don (Don Borisenko) in the face-off with the rich kids.

Four rich kids in posh sports cars—Susan Grey (Bricker), Andy (Francks), Charlie (Desmond) and Bertie (Lavender)—exchange words with a biker gang, the Black Diamond Riders, led by Don Gibson (Borisenko). Andy, the leader of the posh kids, is pretty rude to the bikers, and Don is rather reluctantly goaded by his jittery deputy, Bruno (Carron), into Continue reading

Mr. Wong, Detective (1938)

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Boris Karloff stars in a triple locked-room mystery!
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US / 69 minutes / bw / Monogram Dir: William Nigh Assoc pr: William Lackey Scr: Houston Branch Based on: characters created by Hugh Wiley in 12 stories published 1934–38 in Colliers Magazine Cine: Harry Neumann Cast: Boris Karloff, Grant Withers, Maxine Jennings, Evelyn Brent, George Lloyd, Lucien Prival, John St. Polis, William Gould, Hooper Atchley, John Hamilton, Wilbur Mack, Lee Tong Foo, Lynton Brent, Grace Wood, Frank Bruno, Wheaton Chambers.

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The first of a series of six movies about the San Francisco PI James Lee Wong, created in print by Hugh Wiley; the first five movies starred Boris Karloff as Wong, while the sixth starred an actual Chinese-American in the role, Keye Luke. Depressingly, that sixth movie, Phantom of Chinatown (1940), flopped and so the series came to abrupt end. (When I get a chance, I’ll add it to this site. But it seemed silly to start watching a series with its final entry.)

I confess that for years I’ve avoided the Mr. Wong movies—as I generally do the Charlie Chan ones—because I find it just as creepy to watch a white actor play what I suppose we have to call Yellow Face as I do watching white actors play Black Face. I have to report, though, that the experience wasn’t as grueling as I’d expected. There is no mockery at all of Chinese culture or mannerisms. To the contrary, Wong is the most respected character in the movie; at one point the romantic lead compares the elderly Wong so favorably to her police-detective boyfriend—“Mr. Wong, it’s been such a pleasure meeting a detective with such charming manners”—that the cop’s eyes narrow in jealousy.

The Dayton Chemical Co. is planning to ship a consignment of toxic chemicals to Europe aboard the good ship Orinoco. The operation is spied upon by Lescardi (Bruno), an enforcer working for a pair of activists embedded in European politics, Anton Mohl (Prival), who goes by the name Baron von Krantz, and Olga Petroff (Evelyn Brent), who goes by the name Countess Dubois. They’re eager to divert Continue reading

Hotel Imperial (1927)

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Pola Negri stars in a high melodrama!
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US / 77 minutes / bw / Paramount Dir: Mauritz Stiller Pr: Erich Pommer Scr: Jules Furthmann, Edwin Justus Mayer Story: Hotel Imperial (1917 play) by Lajos Biró Cine: Bert Glennon Cast: Pola Negri, James Hall, George Siegmann, Mickael Vavitch, Max Davidson, Otto Fries, Josef Swickard, Nicholas Soussanin.

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The opening title of this intriguing silent movie sets the time and place:

“Somewhere in Galicia, March, 1915—when Austrian fought Russian on Austrian ground.”

This is worth remembering because, according to the Turner Classic Movies online database, the movie is set in Hungary. The same site shows a capsule review by Leonard Maltin, which summarizes the plot thus:

“As WW1 floods over the map of Europe, a squad of Austrian soldiers seeks sanctuary in a small village inn, only to find it occupied by enemy Russians. Chambermaid Negri holds the key to their survival.”

This is less worth remembering because, while it does bear some similarities to the movie’s plot, they’re no more than similarities. Also less worth remembering is that IMDB renames Vavitch’s character—calling him Tabakowitsch rather than Petroff—with the result that TCMDB and Wikipedia call him Tabakowitsch as well. I suspect he may have Continue reading

o/t: leisure reading during 2016

For what it’s worth:

JANUARY

FEBRUARY

MARCH

APRIL

MAY

JUNE

JULY

AUGUST

SEPTEMBER

OCTOBER

NOVEMBER

DECEMBER

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The links are to my often rather hasty Goodreads notes. All told, I read 118 books for leisure during the year, of which, by my possibly unreliable count, 68 were by women and (shamefully) just 18 were in translation. For two of the books listed, I’m the only person ever to have recorded reading them on Goodreads, so there.

And a Happy New Year to both my readers!