Flesh and the Spur (1956)

US / 78 minutes / bw / HY, American–International Dir: Edward L. Cahn Pr: Alex Gordon Scr: Charles B. Griffith Jr, Mark Hanna, Lou Rusoff, Edward L. Cahn Story: Charles B. Griffith Jr, Mark Hanna Cine: Frederick E. West Cast: John Agar, Marla English, Touch Connors (i.e., Mike Connors), Raymond Hatton, Maria Monay, Joyce Meadows, Kenne Duncan, Dale Van Sickel.

flesh-and-the-spur-0A dangerous criminal—a member of the infamous Checkers Gang—breaks out of prison and, in stealing a farmer’s horse and gun, murders the farmer, Matt Random (Agar), in cold blood. Matt’s identical twin brother Luke (Agar again) sets off to hunt down the killer, his only real clue being that the stolen gun was a very unusual model, one of a pair given by their deceased father to the two sons.

One day Luke comes to the rescue of a Havasupai Indian woman, Wild Willow (English), who, while bathing in the river, has been Continue reading

o/t: Christmas movieola

Here’s how we spent yesterday, in between guzzling. The links are to the movies’ IMDB pages.

Kokuhaku (2010; vt Confessions)
I read Kanae Minato’s source novel a while back, and for the most part enjoyed it a lot. The screen version, which is beautifully made, cleared up the main minor quibbles I had on reading the novel. A teacher takes hideous revenge on the two little psychos among her students who killed her daughter. This isn’t a movie for the impatient; it treats its material with respect, stripping away masking layers in carefully measured fashion to reveal cruel truths. I loved it, and plan to cover it in more detail on this site sometime soon. Even so, we very much needed the next movie as a counterbalance:

Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953; vt M. Hulot’s Holiday)
A perennial favorite in this household. I hadn’t realized until I was fetching the IMDB url just now that this is one of only two screen credits for Nathalie Pascaud, who plays the beautiful Martine to whom M. Hulot—like every other male in sight—loses his heart, nor that the Englishwoman was in fact played by a French actress, Valentine Camax.

La Guerre des Tuques (1984; vt The Dog Who Stopped the War)
Reminiscent of The Goonies (which it in fact preceded), this was a lot of fun, with an underlying pacifist message that wasn’t too labored. In a small Canadian town, two sets of kids wage a snowball war during the Christmas break. There’s a really interesting review of the English-dubbed version here. We watched the Quebecois version with subtitles; a couple of the reviewer’s problems with the acting are clearly artifacts of the dub.

The Wind Cannot Read (1958)
Dirk Bogarde and Yôko Tani star in a weepie romance about a young English intelligence officer stationed in India during WWII who falls in love with a Japanese teacher. If this sounds a bit The World of Suzie Wong (1960) to you then it’s no major coincidence: both movies were based on novels by Richard Mason. I read the novel in my teens, and loved it. I last watched the movie a few years before that—I think my mum didn’t realize quite what the movie was about when she took me to see it—and most of it went over my head. (The movie’s quite cleverly made in that respect. For example, in a couple of places the leads have a conversation that to an adult is immediately recognizable as post-coital or even inter-coital, but, because the characters are fully clad, to a child is just another conversation.) Watching the movie again yesterday after all these years was like renewing a friendship.

Speed Devils (1935)

vt Thru Traffic
US / 60 minutes / bw / Melbert, Perfect Circle, Warner, Hoffberg Dir: Joseph Henabery Scr: Burnet Hershey Cine: E.B. DuPar, Ray Foster Cast: Marguerite Churchill, Paul Kelly, Russell Hardie, Leo Curley, Walter Fenner, Earl Mitchell.

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After a crash at the Madison County Fair Ground, rival racecar drivers Marty Gray (Kelly) and Dan Holden (Hardie) find themselves in adjacent beds in the Harristown Hospital. When Dan’s told his injuries mean he must give up racing for life, Marty, whose injuries are less debilitating but still likely to keep him out of the game for a while, suggests they Continue reading

Youth Aflame (1944)

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Well, maybe getting a bit overheated . . . but in a thoroughly wholesome way!
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vt Hoodlum Girls
US / 61 minutes / bw / Jay-Dee-Kay, Continental Dir & Scr: Elmer Clifton Pr: J.D. Kendis Story: Helen Kiely Cine: Jack Greenhalgh Cast: Joy Reese, Warren Burr, Kay Morley, Michael Owen, Rod Rogers, Edwin Brian, Julie Duncan, Sheila Roberts, Edward Cassidy, Mary Arden, Duke Johnson, Johnny Duncan.

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I confess it was the variant title that sold me on this one.

Stuffy bank guard Mr. White (Cassidy), a widower, is single-handedly raising two daughters of a dangerous age. The younger, Katy (Reese), is prim, righteous and self-righteous; she and the equally wholesome all-American head boy of her high school, Frank Monaghan (Burr), have their cute little hearts set on each other. The older White girl, Laura (Morley), is the wild one; she has her heart set on small-time punk Al Simpson (Owen), who encourages her to drink alcohol in nightclubs:

Al: “Laura’s free and . . . well, just old enough for me.”

Today Al calls by to pick up Laura for a date and sees Mr. White cleaning one of his collection of guns. He tells Laura that, if she really loves him, she’ll steal the gun for him. Later in the movie, Al and his slimy sidekick Harry Ketchall (Brian)—who, in an important subplot, has a hankering after Katy and a Trumpean way of expressing it—will use the gun in an attempted mugging.

But back to the present. Soon after Al and Laura have left the White kitchen, teenage-liaison cop Amy Clark (Arden) arrives in it. She’s concerned that teenagers are going astray not just because of parental disinterest but through the lack of suitable social facilities. A local businessman has offered the use of an empty store should the kids want to set up a jive club; to set the joint a-jumpin’ they could even have a milk bar!

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Amy Clark (Mary Arden) wants to expand the local yoof’s access to milk bars.

The wholesome Katy thinks this is a fabulous idea. The wholesome Frank thinks this is a fabulous idea. Their wholesome pal Lester (Rogers), a self-styled intellectual who serves as a sort of walking encyclopedia, thinks this is a fabulous idea. The unwholesome Al and Laura have left by now, but we can guess they’d probably think this is an idea that sucks major-league, milk bar or no milk bar . . . although, as we see in due course, Laura sees in it the opportunity to tell Dad she’s off to knock back the nourishing milk at the jive club when really she’s sneaking away to Continue reading

Schachnovelle (1960)

vt Brainwashed; vt Three Moves to Freedom; vt The Royal Game
West Germany / 102 minutes / bw / Roxy, NF Dir: Gerd Oswald Pr: Luggi Waldleitner Scr: Harold Medford, Gerd Oswald, Herbert Reinecker Story: “Schachnovelle” (1941; vt “The Royal Game”) by Stefan Zweig Cine: Günther Senftleben Cast: Curd Jürgens, Claire Bloom, Hansjörg Felmy, Mario Adorf, Hans Söhnker, Albert Bessler, Rudolf Forster, Alan Gifford, Jan Hendriks, Albert Lieven, Harald Maresch, Dietmar Schönherr, Karel Stepánek, Wolfgang Wahl.

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Like Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), this is based on a Stefan Zweig story. It’s a fascinating and distinctly noirish psychological piece, and in most of the important respects it’s surprisingly faithful to the original.

It’s the immediate aftermath of WWII, and the departure of the SS Adria, bound for New York, is being held back to await, as First Officer Nadis (Hendriks) explains to Glasgow blowhard MacIver (Gifford), the arrival of a special passenger. When world chess champion Mirko Czentovic (Adorf) arrives aboard with his manager cum flunkey Baranow (Stepánek), MacIver declares himself honored by the delay; as someone with more than a little experience of the chessboard, he can appreciate a man like Czentovic.

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Czentovic (Mario Adorf) and Baranow (Karel Stepánek) arrive at the dockside.

Which is more than Czentovic can do for the Adria or anyone aboard it. It looks like a refugee ship to him, and if he had his druthers he’d travel to his North American tournament in better company. In short, Czentovic is an obnoxiously arrogant toad, a Backpfeifengesicht, and it’s clear some of the Adria’s crew wouldn’t mind decking him.

Nadis tells MacIver that in fact this isn’t the passenger they’re waiting for. The passenger they’re waiting for is someone really special.

When the mystery passenger arrives, in the company of Bishop Ambross (Söhnker), he proves to be Continue reading

Shadow of the Law (1930)

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Can William Powell really be the hardened criminal he seems?
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US / 70 minutes / bw / Paramount Dir: Louis Gasnier Scr: Max Marcin, John Farrow Story: The Quarry (1913) by John A. Moroso Cine: Charles Lang Cast: William Powell, Marion Shilling, Natalie Moorhead, Regis Toomey, Paul Hurst, George Irving, Frederick Burt, James Durkin, Richard Tucker, Walter James, Oscar Smith, Harry Strang.

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After a night on the town—seemingly their first date—young engineer Jim Montgomery (Powell) brings home his somewhat hatchet-faced upstairs neighbor at the swanky Franklin Apartments on NYC’s 72nd Street, Ethel George (Moorhead), and inveigles his way into her apartment on the pretext of “a last cigarette” (“or cigar,” he suggests in a Pre-Code manner).

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Jim and Ethel come across Ethel’s lover Lew (Richard Tucker).

Alas, waiting therein is her brutish lover, Continue reading

Orders to Kill (1958)

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Assassination seemed so easy . . . at first!
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UK / 107 minutes / bw / Anthony Asquith, Lynx, British Lion Dir: Anthony Asquith Pr: Anthony Havelock-Allan Scr: Paul Dehn, George St. George Story: Donald C. Downes Cine: Desmond Dickinson Cast: Eddie Albert, Paul Massie, Lillian Gish, James Robertson Justice, Leslie French, Irene Worth, John Crawford, Lionel Jeffries, Nicholas Phipps, Jacques Brunius, Robert Henderson, Miki Iveria, Lillabea Gifford, Anne Blake, Sam Kydd, William E. Greene.

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“The central story on which this film is based is true,” reads a line in the opening credits of Orders to Kill, an offering that starts out as an orthodox war movie but then ventures far farther into noirish territory, both thematically and in visual style, than do most UK films noirs of the era.

It’s Boston in 1944, and the French officer Commandant Morand (Brunius) conveys to two of his US opposite numbers, Major Kimball (Crawford) and Colonel Snyder (Henderson), that there appears to be a traitor in a Paris cell of the French Resistance. The two US officers determine to send Gene Summers (Massie)—a fighter–bomber pilot recently demobbed because of injury and exhaustion who before the war lived some while in Paris, gaining fluent French—to murder the suspected traitor, a process server named Marcel Lafitte (French).

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Commandant Morand (Jacques Brunius) reports the apparent betrayal . . .

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. . . to Major Kimball (John Crawford, left) and Colonel Snyder (Robert Henderson).

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Gene (Paul Massie) reckons he can easily cope with the challenge.

Overseen by his handler, Major “Mac” MacMahon (Albert), Gene is sent to be trained as a spy and an assassin under the tutelage of an unnamed Naval Commander (Justice). He’s taught how to slay Germans without wasting bullets, how to invent lies that will hold up under interrogation and even torture, and so on.

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James Robertson Justice excels in the role of the unnamed naval commander primarily responsible for training Gene (Paul Massie).

It’s during this section of Orders to Kill that we realize that what we’re watching is less a war movie, however quirky, than a noirish piece. For me the transition became apparent with Continue reading

The Spiral Staircase (2000 TVM)

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Not so much a remake, more a sorry porridge!
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Canada, US / 88 minutes / color / Shavick, Saban International Dir: James Head Pr: Shawn Williamson Scr: Matt Dorff Story: Some Must Watch (1933) by Ethel Lina White and (uncredited) The Circular Staircase (1908) by Mary Roberts Rinehart, plus screenplay by Mel Dinelli, Helen Hayes and Robert Siodmak for The SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1945) Cine: Gordon Verheul Cast: Nicollette Sheridan, Judd Nelson, Alex McArthur, Debbe Dunning, Christina Jastrzembska, Dolores Drake, David Storch, William McDonald, Holland Taylor, John Innes, Brenda Campbell, Candice McClure (i.e., Kandyse McClure), Dallas Thompson, Charles Payne, Kristina Matisic.

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Although this movie claims in its opening credits to be a remake of Robert Siodmak’s classic period noir The SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1945), just about everything that distinguished the original movie from a run-of-the-mill murder mystery has been excised.

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Despite all the plot-changes, this remake is ready to offer the occasional visual quote from Siodmak’s original.

Perhaps most importantly, the killer’s motivation has been altered. In the original, the killer has a psychotic detestation of disabilities in women; this puts our heroine, who’s a traumatic mute, in severe danger of being his next victim. Here the motive’s just the humdrum one of financial gain—there’s an inheritance up for grabs—and, when this motive is suddenly produced in the final minutes, it makes no sense, because we’ve been told the killer has been murdering and assaulting pretty young women at random for some while. Furthermore, the muteness of the central character has no real impact on the plot—in fact (and this is actually quite cleverly done), we’re a good few minutes into the movie before we realize she’s mute at all.

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Helen (Nicollette Sheridan) hears a strange noise outside her bedroom.

Here’s the plot in short:

There’s a prologue in which a young girl (not properly identified in the credits) is walking home at night in Westport, Washington State, when she encounters Continue reading

Shadows on the Stairs (1941)

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So many seedy secrets behind a boarding house’s doors!
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vt Murder on the Second Floor
US / 62 minutes / bw / Warner–First National Dir: D. Ross Lederman Pr: Bryan Foy Scr: Anthony Coldeway Story: Murder on the Second Floor (1929 play) by Frank Vosper Cine: Allen G. Siegler Cast: Frieda Inescort, Paul Cavanagh, Heather Angel, Bruce Lester, Miles Mander, Lumsden Hare, Turhan Bey, Charles Irwin, Phyllis Barry, Mary Field, Paul Renay.

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London, 1937, and on the surface Mrs. Armitage’s boarding house appears tranquil enough. But, as we soon find out, not all is as it seems . . .

The movie opens at the docks. One of Mrs. Armitage’s lodgers, Joe Reynolds (Cavanagh), observes as another, Ram Singh (Bey), helps smuggle a small trunk onto the dock and away. Back at the boarding house next morning, it’s clear that the two are in uneasy, mutually suspicious cahoots.

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Ram Singh (Turhan Bey) awaits the arrival of the smuggled box.

Not all is well among the building’s other occupants. Startled while clearing away the breakfast things, the maid, Lucy Timpson (Barry), drops a tray of dirty dishes and is promptly and viciously fired by the landlady, ex-actress Stella Armitage (Inescort). Joe has been carrying on a long-term affair with Stella—in fact, it was he who bought the boarding house for her to run ten years ago when her acting days were over. Stella’s chess-fiend husband Tom (Mander), likewise an ex-actor—he boasts he once played the aunt in Charley’s Aunt—is oblivious to the pair’s shenanigans even after a decade. On the other hand, Stella is equally oblivious to the fact that her lover Joe has been canoodling on the side with Lucy.

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Lucy (Phyllis Barry) is startled by various goings-on.

Also living in the house are Miss Phoebe Marcia St. John Snell (Field)—“I usually leave out the Marcia”—a spinster who sublimates her unmentionable yearnings by reading an endless string of fevered romance novels; and a young, would-be playwright, Hugh Bromilow (Lester). Hugh is carrying on with Stella’s daughter Sylvia (Angel), but at least for the moment in what we might call Continue reading

o/t: leisure reading in November

I decided to devote this month to reading fiction in translation, and for the most part had a moderately good time, the standout being Sascha Arango’s The Truth and Other Lies (thanks to Mrs Peabody for my copy of this splendidly twisty novel), though Claudia Piñeiro’s All Yours ran it a damn’ close second. I’d expected to make inroads into my hefty backlog of Scandinoir, including several Jo Nesbo titles, but in fact I barely touched them.

The links are as usual to my Goodreads notes.