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

Casa del Ángel, La (1957)

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An adolescent crush leads to disaster!
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vt The House of the Angel
Argentina / 73 minutes / bw / Argentina Sono Film SACI Dir: Leopoldo Torre Nilsson Scr: Beatriz Guido, Leopoldo Torre Nilsson, Martín Rodríguez M. Story: La Casa del Ángel (1954) by Beatriz Guido Cine: Aníbal González Paz Cast: Elsa Daniel, Lautaro Murúa, Berta Ortegosa, Bárbara Mújica, Yordana Fain, Alejandro Rey, Eduardo Naveda, Lili Gacel, Alicia Bellan, Paquita Vehil, Elvira Moreno, Nora Massi, Guillermo Battaglia.

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An unmarried woman, Ana (Daniel), serves at the table as her father, Dr. Castro (Battaglia), entertains the guest who comes for dinner every Friday evening, Pablo Aguirre (Murúa). There’s a tremendous tension between Ana and Aguirre, and we sense she nurtures a great but unspoken passion for him. We guess wrong, as we discover when she recounts her story of events years ago, when she was but a girl of 14 . . .

Ana was the youngest of the three Castro children Continue reading

Cobweb, The (1955)

US / 124 minutes / color / MGM Dir: Vincente Minnelli Pr: John Houseman Scr: John Paxton, William Gibson Story: The Cobweb (1954) by William Gibson Cine: George Folsey Cast: Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Charles Boyer, Gloria Grahame, Lillian Gish, John Kerr, Susan Strasberg, Oscar Levant, Tommy Rettig, Paul Stewart, Dayton Lummis, Jarma Lewis, Adele Jergens, Edgar Stehli, Sandra Descher, Bert Freed, Mabel Albertson, Fay Wray, Oliver Blake, Olive Carey, Eve McVeagh, Virginia Christine, Jan Arvan, Ruth Clifford, Myra Marsh, Marjorie Bennett.

By the mid-1950s the studios were becoming seriously worried over losing their audience to the new kid on the block, TV. One stratagem they tried in response to this threat was the star-studded ensemble movie, of which The Cobweb is a prime example. This blackly comedic soap opera isn’t of much direct noir interest, if any, save for its astonishing cast, with noir icons like Widmark, Grahame and Bacall at the top but others like Jergens and Stewart further down as well as actors better known outside noir but who nevertheless made noir contributions, such as Boyer, Wray, Christine and even Bennett.

Dr. Stewart “Mac” McIver (Widmark) is the de facto chief of a psychiatric clinic, although the physician who ran it for many years, the boozy, philandering Dr. Douglas N. “Dev” Devanal (Boyer), is still formally its Medical Director. Mac has instituted a self-government policy for the patients as part of their therapy; in fact, the place seems more like a posh country hotel with psychotherapy laid on than a grim sanitarium.

Meg Rinehart (Bacall) views Stevie’s designs.

All are agreed that the clinic’s library requires new curtains. Victoria “Vicky” Inch (Gish), in charge of administration, assumes she should order something bland from the usual local supplier, Petlee & Sons. Before she can do so, however, two things happen. First, Mac’s seemingly spoilt, shrewish wife Karen (Grahame), visiting the clinic and discovering the situation, decides to take matters into her own hands and, with the connivance by telephone of the Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, the formidable Regina Mitchell-Smythe (Albertson), orders the most expensive drapes money could buy—to be delivered by special airmail, no less! Second, the extraordinarily repressed patient Sue Brett (Strasberg) suggests the patients should design the new drapes themselves, an idea picked up by the suicidal but artistically talented patient Stevie Holte (Kerr) and supported by the clinic’s art therapist, the widowed Meg Faversen Rinehart (Bacall).

Stevie produces his designs for the drapes, and they’re Continue reading