Blitz (2011)

|
“A cross between hockey and murder!”
|

UK, France, US / 97 minutes / color / Davis, Current, Kushner/Wyman, Metropolitan, Lionsgate UK Dir: Elliott Lester Pr: Zygi Kamasa, Steven Chasman, Donald Kushner, Brad Wyman Scr: Nathan Parker Story: Blitz (2002) by Ken Bruen Cine: Rob Hardy Cast: Jason Statham, Paddy Considine, Aidan Gillen, Zawe Ashton, David Morrissey, Ned Dennehy, Mark Rylance, Luke Evans, Nicky Henson, Steven Harwood-Brown, Ellie Fairman, Nabil Elouahabi, Joe Dempsie, Christina Cole, Martina Laird.

A relatively recent movie that’s an adaptation of a Ken Bruen novel is definitely something of interest to this site—especially since in the past months I seem to have been covering preponderantly vintage movies rather than the usual mixture of ancient and modern.

I should tell you at the outset that Blitz is probably not a movie to watch with your mom. (Yes, yes, I know, I know, your mom is the exception that proves the rule. But my mom would have had a fit.) The profanity’s ubiquitous—there’s plenty of the F word, the C word and just about every other type of word you can think of except the Guardian cryptic crossword. The sexual references are pretty prolific, too, although there’s no actual sex unless you’re really, really into violence.

Mark Rylance as Chief Inspector Bruce Roberts.

Brant is a Sarf East London maverick cop—which is to say, at least within the terms of this fiction, that he’s a cop who has severe anger-management problems and habitually uses brutality to solve, as he sees it, society’s problems—the Met’s very own John Bolton, in other words. In the opening moments we see him tackling three thugs who’re trying to break into a car:

“This, lads, is a hurler [hurley stick]. Used in the Irish game of hurley. A cross between hockey and murder.”

He proceeds to beat them senseless with the hurley stick. We know the kids are indeed thugs, not just because they’re armed with carpet knives but because they swear a lot—selfconsciously so, in fact, as if worried that their moms might be watching the movie. This isn’t to say that Brant objects to their language—everyone in this movie, moms included, uses much the same vocabulary and “heavens to Betsy” isn’t a part of it.

Nicky Henson as Superintendent Brown.

There’s a bit of a fuss about the three “innocents” having been beaten up by an off-duty copper, and Brant’s superior, Superintendent Brown (Henson), tells him to keep a Continue reading

Advertisements

Feet of Clay (1960)

|
“So I gave her wings!”
|

UK / 56 minutes / bw / Danziger, UA Dir: Frank Marshall Pr: Edward J. Danziger, Harry Lee Danziger Story: Mark Grantham Cine: Jimmy Wilson Cast: Vincent Ball, Wendy Williams, Hilda Fennemore (i.e., Hilda Fenemore), Robert Cawdron, Brian Smith, Angela Douglas, Alan Browning, Sandra Alfred, David Courtney, Jack Melford, Ian Wilson, Howard Lang, Lawrence Ireland, Arnold Bell, Edith Saville.

As with Monogram or PRC in the US, the name of the UK Poverty Row studio Danzigers was rarely a guarantee of any great quality, but often enough you got a perfectly amenable mediocrity and, every now and then, you got a jewel. This was one of the jewels—or, perhaps more realistically, a diamond in the rough.

Vincent Ball as David Kyle.

Wendy Williams as Fay Kent.

When probation officer Angela Richmond (Saville) is stabbed in a dark alley in London’s docklands, the workers within the legal system, from beat cops to judges, are horrified: Richmond was “The Angel of the Police Courts,” the golden-hearted woman who sponsored the release of young offenders from custodial sentences and gave them the opportunity to build a life.

Alan Browning (right) as Inspector Gill.

The constable (Ireland) on patrol near the alley where the murder was committed saw young Jimmy Fuller (Smith) fleeing from the scene, and Continue reading

They Never Learn (1956)

|
Recorded in a bathroom?
|

UK / 46 minutes / bw / E.J. Fancey Productions, New Realm Dir & Scr: Denis L. Kavanagh, Edwin J. Fancey Pr: Edwin J. Fancey Cine: Hal Morey Cast: John Blyth (i.e., John Blythe), Jackie Collins, Graham Stark, Adrienne Scott, Michael Partridge, Ken Hayward, John Crowhurst, Campbell Singer (voice), Diana Chesney, Geoff Roberts, Brian Goff, Jack Gray, Robert Vince, Joyce Jeffery PLUS, as Holloway inmates, Fay Witmond, Dorothy English, Joyce C. Maloney, Jean Rice, Gladys Clark, June Pennock, Dorothy Budman, Anita Ellery, Pauline Hedgecock, Irene Cast.

A quota quickie that’s so bumblingly amateurish that it’s really quite fun to watch: it’s not a movie that’s “so bad it’s good” (a trope to which I’ve never much subscribed) but one that seems almost puppyishly anxious to please. The incompetence is puppyish too. If you prefer your crime movies to be lean, smoothly powerful Dobermans, then They Never Learn isn’t for you. But, if your heart really belongs to that three-month mongrel pup from the pound that’s wagging its tail in a blur and could well wet the floor in its eagerness to be tickled behind the ears, then you have a treat in store.

Which is all to say that They Never Learn is a thoroughly bad movie but I enjoyed it even so.

Adrienne Scott as WPC Marie Watson.

One oddity is that the sound effects have clearly been added separately. All the dialogue, too, has been very obviously dubbed on afterwards, and not especially adroitly. (It gives the impression, in fact, of having been Continue reading

Room 327 (2009)

|
What is the secret of Room 327?
|

US / 19 minutes / bw / Dead Leaf, Lucky Studio XIII Dir & Scr: Glenn Payne Pr: Glenn Payne, John Wee Cine: John Wee Cast: Carlton Wall, Michelle Payne, Daniel Lee, Brandon Murphree.

A young man, John (Wall), books into Room 327 at the Mockingbird Suites, as instructed by a note from whoever has kidnapped his unnamed girlfriend (Payne)—or it could be his wife, or his sister: the relationship is never made clear beyond the fact that, clearly, he cares very much about her. With him he has a satchel that we assume contains the ransom payment.

Carlton Wall as John.

Although he doesn’t notice it until later, when he enters the room its ashtray contains a freshly lit, still smoking cigarette.

Instructions come to him from an anonymous voice (Murphree) on the phone: he must Continue reading

Traitor Spy (1939)

|
Whose torso is it?
|

vt The Torso Murder Mystery
UK / 72 minutes / bw / Rialto, Pathé Dir: Walter Summers Pr: John Argyle Scr: Walter Summers, Jan Van Lusil, Ralph Bettison Story: Traitor Spy (1939) by T.C.H. Jacobs Cine: Robert LaPresle Cast: Bruce Cabot, Marta Labarr, Tamara Desni, Romilly Lunge, Edward Lexy, Cyril Smith, Percy Walsh, Eve Lynd, Alexander Field, Hilary Pritchard, Miriam Minetti, Davina Craig, Vincent Holman, Anthony Shaw, Peter Gawthorne, Bernard Jukes, Nino Rossini, Rosarita, Ken Johnson’s West Indian Band.

Carl Beyersdorf (Cabot) is a freelance spy, currently working under the name Jim Healey for the Bideford Marine Engineering Company in Devon, England. (For convenience we’ll call him Jim throughout, even though sometimes he’s in his true guise of Carl.) He’s aiming to get the blueprints of the company’s new antisubmarine patrol craft and sell them to the Germans.

Bruce Cabot as Jim.

And, sure enough, he’s able to steal the prints. Later, when an armed German agent arrives, Jim tries to jack up the price of the purloined documents from £1,000 to £4,000. But the agent, shouting threats, draws his gun. There’s the sound of gunfire and . . .

. . . and the next day a dismembered body is fished out of a reservoir nearby. Evidence leads the cops Continue reading

The Bad Sister (1931)

|
Well, baddish . . .
|

US / 65 minutes / bw / Universal Dir: Hobart Henley Pr: Carl Laemmle Jr Scr: Edwin Knopf, Tom Reed, Raymond L. Schrock Story: The Flirt (1913) by Booth Tarkington Cine: Karl Freund Cast: Conrad Nagel, Sidney Fox, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Charles Winninger, Emma Dunn, ZaSu Pitts, “Slim” Summerville, Bert Roach, David Durand, Helene Chadwick.

This was the third time Booth Tarkington’s novel The Flirt had been brought to the screen—the precursors had been

  • The Flirt (1916) dir Phillips Smalley, with Lois Weber, Marie Walcamp, Grace Benham and Juan de la Cruz, and
  • The Flirt (1922) dir Hobart Henley (who also directed The Bad Sister), with Eileen Percy, Helen Jerome Eddy and Lloyd Whitlock.

The movie has many great strengths and a few weaknesses, but really The Bad Sister is one of those pieces whose significance goes far beyond the artistic creation itself. Here we have the first screen role for Bette Davis and an early screen role for Humphrey Bogart, and it could so easily have been the last screen role for both. It was also the first screen role for poor Sidney Fox, the Star Who Never Was.

Sidney Fox as Marianne.

In Council City, Ohio, realtor John Madison (Winninger) is respected throughout the community as a man of utmost probity. With his wife (Dunn) he has raised three daughters: Amy (Chadwick), now married to plumber Sam (Summerville), vivacious, “highly strung” Marianne (Fox) and the drabber Laura (Davis). Much younger is son Hedrick (Durand). Rounding out the household is the long-suffering maid, Minnie (Pitts).

Although her parents cannot see this, Marianne is a Continue reading

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.

======

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

Sensation Hunters (1933)

|
Unsuitable liaisons?
|

US / 73 minutes / bw / Monogram Dir: Charles Vidor Pr: Robert Welsh Scr: Paul Schofield, Albert E. DeMond Story: “Cabaret” (original story) by Whitman Chambers Cine: Sid Hickox Cast: Arline Judge, Preston Foster, Marion Burns, Kenneth McKenna (i.e., Kenneth MacKenna), Juanita Hansen, Creighton Hale, Cyril Chadwick, Nella Walker, Harold Minjir, Finis Barton, Zoila Conan, Sam Flint, Walter Brennan.

This bears no relation to Sensation Hunters (1945) dir Christy Cabanne, with Robert Lowery, Doris Merrick, Eddie Quillan, Constance Worth, Isabel Jewell, Wanda McKay and Nestor Paiva. Where the later movie is a good minor film noir, this one is a pre-Code romantic melodrama punctuated by a couple of musical interludes.

On a ship bound for Panama from San Francisco, pausing at Los Angeles, demure Dale Jordan (Burns) attracts the attention of the male passengers, such as the exaggeratedly English uppercrust blowhard Upson (Chadwick) and the snobbish Hal Grayson (Minjir), who’s traveling with his even more snobbish sister (Barton) and his quite terminally snobbish mother (Walker).

Cyril Chadwick as Upson.

When the Graysons discover Dale is to join the troupe of cabaret artistes that’s joining the ship at Los Angeles, the two women drop her like a hot potato and Hal, after unsuccessfully trying his luck—because “everyone knows” cabaret girls are easy— Continue reading

Sensation Hunters (1945)

|
The price of rebellion!
|

vt Club Paradise
US / 62 minutes / bw / Monogram, Associated Artists Dir: Christy Cabanne Pr: Joseph Kaufman Scr: Dennis Cooper Story: John Faxon Cine: Ira Morgan Cast: Robert Lowery, Doris Merrick, Eddie Quillan, Constance Worth, Isabel Jewell, Wanda McKay, Nestor Paiva, Byron Foulger, Vince Barnett, Minerva Urecal, Janet Shaw, Maurice Murphy, Billy Nelson, John Hamilton, The Rubenettes, The Johnson Brothers.

Every now and then Poverty Row studio Monogram got it just right and produced a splendid minor noir, and this was one of those times. Despite the coincidence of title, it bears no relation to the earlier Sensation Hunters (1933) dir Charles Vidor, with Arline Judge, Marion Burns and Preston Foster, a far inferior movie that I plan to cover here next week.

In the opening moments we see a man arrive at a darkened frontage and ring the doorbell. A negligée-clad woman appears at a balcony overhead, and summons him upstairs. Moments later, three shots ring out . . .

The rest of the movie is one long flashback leading us up to this scene. We’re soon pretty sure who the woman was (will be?), but who was the man? And who shot whom? And why? Continue reading

Crime Over London (1936)

|
Thrills in store!
|

UK / 63 minutes / bw / Anglo–American, Criterion Dir: Alfred Zeisler Pr: Marcel Hellman Scr: Norman Alexander, Harold French Story: probably Punks Kommt aus Amerika (1929) by Louis de Wohl Cine: Victor Armenise Cast: Joseph Cawthorn, Bruce Lister, Rène Ray, Paul Cavanagh, Basil Sydney, Margot Grahame, David Burns, Edmon Ryan, John Darrow, Danny Green, Googie Withers.

Oxford Street’s department store Selfridges, dressed up as Sherwoods.

A movie that’s littered with noirish tropes and dialogue, plus some noirish cinematography, yet for the most part doesn’t have much of a noirish feel. It nevertheless has lot to interest us, both as a period piece—there are some truly evocative London street scenes—and for some of its cast.

Years ago gangster Eddie “Joker” Finnigan (Sydney) sought career advancement in New York, but now things are getting too hot for him in the States and so he’s come back to London, bringing some of his gang members with him. Although those goons are eager to start pulling off a few heists, Joker insists they bide their time, instead opening up a gambling joint where hostesses Pearl (Grahame) and Miss Dupres (Withers), plus floorwalker Sniffy (Burns), entice the gullible into losing money on the cards.

David Burns as Sniffy.

Googie Withers as Miss Dupres.

Pearl is Joker’s moll, but it’s his sidekick Jim (Darrow) who stokes her fires. The feeling’s mutual, and the two plot secretly and rather clumsily to Continue reading