Fear is the Key (1972)

UK / 100 minutes / color / Kastner–Ladd–Kanter, Anglo–EMI, KLK Dir: Michael Tuchner Pr: Alan Ladd Jr., Jay Kanter Scr: Robert Carrington Story: Fear is the Key (1961) by Alistair MacLean Cine: Alex Thomson Cast: Barry Newman, Suzy Kendall, John Vernon, Dolph Sweet, Ben Kingsley, Ray McAnally, Peter Marinker, Elliott Sullivan.

Many of the adaptations of MacLean’s popular novels were epic blockbusters with major stars among the cast: The Guns of Navarone (1961) dir J. Lee Thompson, with Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Stanley Baker and Anthony Quayle, for example, or Ice Station Zebra (1968) dir John Sturges, with Rock Hudson, Patrick McGoohan, Ernest Borgnine and Jim Brown. At the opposite end of the scale lies this quite palpably lower-budget outing: although released as an A-movie it has B-movie written all over it. It can also, with its themes of revenge and godgaming and its convoluted plot, and despite having plenty of sequences of MacLeanesque high adventure and some quite Bondish moments, be considered as lying within the noir genre, and indeed as one of the precursors, alongside such near-contemporaries as KLUTE (1971), of the modern neonoir subgenre.

Fear is the Key - Barry Newman, with a young Ben Kingsley behind as the psycho Royale

Barry Newman as our avenging hero, Talbot. That youthful figure behind him is Ben Kingsley, here playing a psycho, Royale.

Three years ago, in a remote radio outpost, airline owner John Montague Talbot (Newman) was speaking with his wife when the plane in which she, his brother and his son were traveling was shot down by a bogus USAF fighter jet; aboard the downed plane was a fortune in gold and gems being brought out of Honduras.

Now Talbot seems to be a bum drifting through Louisiana. In a remote gas station/bar he picks a Continue reading

East, The (2013)

US, UK / 116 minutes / color with some bw / Scott Free, Dune, Fox Searchlight Dir: Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling Pr: Michael Costigan, Jocelyn Hayes, Brit Marling, Ridley Scott Scr: Brit Marling, Zal Batmanglij Cine: Roman Vasyanov Cast: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell, Shiloh Fernandez, Aldis Hodge, Danielle Macdonald, Hillary Baack, Patricia Clarkson, Jason Ritter, Julia Ormond, Billy Magnussen, Wilbur T. Fitzgerald, Jamey Sheridan.

Ex-FBI agent Jane Owen (Marling), now working for the security operation Hiller–Brood, which contracts to various corporations, goes undercover as Sarah Moss to penetrate an ecoterrorism group called The East, whose mission is, one corporation at a time, to bring home to CEOs and other powers that be the meaning of their crimes by inflicting upon them a measure of the same suffering that they’ve happily meted out to others. She finds The East to be a small group spearheaded by Benji (Skarsgård), Izzy (Page)—the nickname’s short for Isabella Duncan, although Izzy’s real name is Katie Cannon—and Doc (Kebbell), a physician who’s dying because of a contaminated antibiotic.

The East has promised that it will commit three “jams”—acts of retribution—over the next six months. Sarah/Jane is roped in for the first of these, and begins slowly to be won over to The East’s cause. That first jam involves infiltrating the party being thrown by pharmaceuticals company McCabe–Gray to celebrate the contract the firm has just received to supply the US military with its “miracle drug” Dinoxin. Attending as wait-staff or guests, The East’s members lace the champagne with Dinoxin and, sure enough, over the next few days and weeks the company’s bigwigs fall ill from ingesting the drug.

East, The - Richard Cannon (Sheridan) discovers the hard way about the water his company's polluting

Richard Cannon (Jamey Sheridan) discovers the hard way about the water his company has been polluting.

The second jam involves Izzy’s father Richard Cannon (Sheridan), an industrialist whose company, Hawkstone, has been insouciantly polluting water supplies, with nary a care for the consequent death toll. After The East has hurled him and a colleague into one of their own polluted ponds to discover how they like it, the group is Continue reading

I Thank a Fool (1962)

UK / 100 minutes / color / Eaton, MGM Dir: Robert Stevens Pr: Anatole de Grunwald Scr: Karl Tunberg Story: I Thank a Fool (1958) by Audrey Erskine Lindop Cine: Harry Waxman Cast: Susan Hayward, Peter Finch, Diane Cilento, Cyril Cusack, Kieron Moore, Athene Seyler, J.G. Devlin, Brenda de Banzie.

In Liverpool, largely thanks to the efforts of obnoxious prosecutor Stephen Dane (Finch), Canadian Dr. Christine Allison (Hayward) is found guilty of manslaughter for the mercy killing, by drug overdose, of her patient and adulterous lover, Benson (uncredited). Two years later she’s released from prison and, stripped of her medical credentials, does her best to find a job—any job. Even under her phony new name, Christine Garden, she can find no takers.

She’s in despair when suddenly she receives a mysterious phonecall offering her a job as a nurse. Obediently, she goes to the designated rendezvous where she’s met by dotty Miss Chandler (Seyler)—Aunt Heather—who erratically drives her out of town to meet her new employer . . . who proves to be Stephen Dane, the man who got her sent down.

Christine’s patient is Stephen’s wife Liane (Cilento), who’s been suffering mental difficulties—schizophrenia, Christine eventually concludes—ever since she was involved in a terrible car crash, in which her father died, near her Irish hometown of Caragh. Liane seems to be getting iller and iller, whatever Christine tries to do, and it’s evident that most of the people involved—Christine herself excepted but including the Danes’s studly Irish stableboy Roscoe (Moore), who’s possibly Liane’s lover—are often lying through their teeth about what’s going on.

I Thank a Fool - Liane hypnotized by a spinning sawbladeLiane (Diane Cilento) is hypnotized at sight of a spinning saw-blade.

For most of the movie we’re convinced that Continue reading

Perfect Host, The (2010)

US / 93 minutes / color / STI, Mark Victor, Perfect Host, Preferred Content, Magnet Dir: Nick Tomnay Pr: Mark Victor, Stacey Testro Scr: Nick Tomnay, Krishna Jones Cine: John Brawley Cast: David Hyde Pierce, Clayne Crawford, Nathaniel Parker, Megahn Perry, Helen Reddy, Tyrees Allen, Cooper Barnes, Annie Campbell, Indira Wilson, George Kee Cheung, Brooke “Mikey” Anderson.

After sticking up a bank with the connivance of his bank-teller girlfriend Simone De Marchi (Perry), John Taylor (Crawford), limping from a bad foot injury and having lost his wallet to a junkie (Anderson) during a convenience-store robbery, seeks refuge by talking his way into a stranger’s house. In the mailbox of Warwick Wilson (Pierce) he finds a postcard sent from Australia by “Julie” and, ringing the doorbell, claims to be a friend who met Julie in Oz and was told by her to look Warwick up.

The fey-seeming Warwick invites him in to make a phone call to the cops to report his lost wallet and eventually asks him to join the dinner party whose other guests are expected imminently. Soon John reveals his true colors, telling Warwick he might, just might, spare his life if he cooperates. (“You can’t kill me,” Warwick responds. “I’m having a dinner party.”) But Warwick has Continue reading

Delivered (2011)

US / 89 minutes / color / Nelson Madison, Indie Rights Dir: Michael Madison Pr: Linda Nelson Scr: Branson Manbeck Story: Linda Nelson, Michael Madison Cine: Ricky Fosheim Cast: Michael Madison, Jeanette Steiner, Toshi Toda, Alana Stewart, Chic Daniel, Ludwig Manukian, Robert Rusler, Kenny Lombino, Tadamori Yagi, Brian McGuire, David Wolf Perez, Brendon Walsh.

Fighting in Fallujah, US soldier Shane Green (Madison) would have died had it not been for the heroism of his CO, Jack Roberts (Daniel). Back in the US, Shane slowly recuperates under the care of his mom, Marilyn (Stewart); during his absence in Iraq the family home has been foreclosed on, and Marilyn has been reduced to renting an apartment for them in a crap neighborhood of LA. Shane coasts awhile, rejoicing in the fact that his mother has preserved for him his dad’s 1967 Mustang . . .

Delivered 2011

The Mojave Desert is the real star of Delivered (2011).

We see a couple of examples of Shane having difficulty working through his PTSD—he beats the shit out of an old friend insistent upon hearing Shane’s war stories, and in a very funny sequence a casual burglar discovers the hard way that robbing the home of an Iraq vet is a bad move—before Shane decides it might be a good idea to get a job. A friend suggests he ask the friend’s uncle, Sarkis (Manukian), to employ him as a courier. At first Shane refuses on discovering it’s a condition of employment that he carry a gun; when he finds out that Marilyn is trying to hold down two jobs and is still months behind with the rent, he swallows his pride.

It’s pretty obvious to Shane that his courier tasks are on the wrong side of the law (shades of Le TRANSPORTEUR [2002; vt The Transporter]), but they seem harmless until one day Continue reading

Dark Harbor (1998)

US / 87 minutes / color / Hart Sharp, Killer, ACC Dir: Adam Coleman Howard Pr: John N. Hart Jr., Jeffrey Sharp, Justin Lazard Scr: Adam Coleman Howard, Justin Lazard Cine: Walt Lloyd Cast: Alan Rickman, Polly Walker, Norman Reedus, Janet Mecca.

Bickering as they drive through a downpour, late for the ferry to take them to their island vacation home near Dark Harbor, Maine, grumpy lawyer Dave Weinberg (Rickman) and his pretty wife Alexis “Lex” (Walker) find a bruised young drifter (Reedus) lying by the roadside. He refuses to let them call the cops or a doctor.

Dark Harbor

Seduction by mushroom.

Having missed their ferry, the Weinbergs overnight at the port and catch a boat the next morning. Although they don’t know it, so does the drifter. Later, out sailing, the Weinbergs are caught by a mist and are lucky to come to land, on the remote Seal Rock. To their astonishment, the drifter is there before them, with a tale of his own. When the mist clears, the trio sail back to the vacation house. Next day, before the Weinbergs wake up, the drifter prepares a sumptuous breakfast; Dave insists the drifter stay on until the evening so that Dave can return the compliment by cooking a gourmet dinner. In the meantime, though, Dave must go play a round of duty golf with an important client.

All through the day, Alexis and the drifter revel in each other’s company, and one can sense the sexual attraction growing between them—in Alexis’s case, Continue reading

Business of Strangers, The (2001)

US / 83 minutes / color / IFC, i5, HeadQuarters Dir & Scr: Patrick Stettner Pr: Susan A. Stover, Robert H. Nathan Cine: Teodoro Maniaci Cast: Stockard Channing, Julia Stiles, Frederick Weller, Marcus Giamatti.

On a business trip, software company vice-president Julie Styron (Channing) fires the junior who arrived late at a meeting and thereby embarrassed her, Paula Murphy (Stiles). That night Julie learns from her boss, Robert (Giamatti), that, far from being herself fired, as she’d imagined was imminent, she’s been appointed CEO of the company. Later, Julie discovers that bad weather conditions have grounded Paula’s flight home, and so the two women are stranded overnight in the same airport hotel. So too—although Julie doesn’t yet know it—is Nick Harris (Weller), the “employment consultant” whom Julie summoned when she thought she was out of a job.

Business of Strangers

Julia (Channing) and Paula (Stiles) on their way to dumping the unconscious Nick (Weller).

Julie apologizes to Paula for her earlier fit of temper, and the two women begin a drink-fueled evening together. Paula informs Julie that really she’s not an office dogsbody but a writer—a writer of nonfiction, however, rather than fiction: she prefers the sloppiness of real life as her subject over fiction’s tidiness. It soon becomes evident to us that, for Paula, she uses the real world rather than paper and ink as her literary medium: her “writing” consists of godgaming those around her. She starts with a harmless effort, persuading Julie to join her in a madly risqué conversation that entertains the other passengers of the elevator in which they’re traveling. Soon Julie is for once letting herself be a wild girl, like Paula.

When Nick reappears on the scene, Paula at once freezes up, explaining to Julie privately that she recognizes him as the man who, four years ago, raped a friend of hers at a Boston frat party. Together, Paula and Julie—who figures out that it was Paula herself, not some friend, who was the rape victim—exact a bizarre revenge on the hapless Nick . . .

This is a movie whose noirishness stems from the fact that it’s all about godgaming, a central theme of cinematic (and written) noir even though often not recognized as such. The term “godgaming” was apparently invented by John Fowles to describe the situation in his classic novel The Magus (1965) whereby the narrator, unrealizing, moves through a form of the world that has been almost entirely shaped by the deceptions of those around him. In the classic-era noir CROSSROADS (1942), for example, we find an amnesia victim being godgamed by the bad guys into believing for a while that in the life he’s forgotten he was himself a bad guy, one of the worst.

In The Business of Strangers the person being godgamed is, very obviously, Julie. Afterwards, when she realizes what’s been done to her, her pain is only partly to do with the overt humiliation meted out to her, being far more concerned with her loss, on returning to sobriety and reality, of the irrational freedom she enjoyed for those few hours when she was obeying someone else’s invented, cockeyed rules rather than those that govern the—and in particular her—real world.

The movie’s really a two-hander (Weller spends much of his scant onscreen time unconscious, Giamatti’s role is essentially a cameo) and plays out on a limited number of sets; it’s thus reliant entirely on the performances of the two leads. Luckily, after a slightly creaky start, they both show themselves more than able to carry the piece, Stiles deploying enigmatic half-smiles and expressionless eyes to show her control over and self-distancing from the situation, Channing managing even more effectively to convey the feeling of a woman torn between triumph and despair, and by the realization that she suddenly finds herself having difficulty telling the difference between the two.

On Amazon.com: The Business of Strangers