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Richly deserved Best Picture Award, superb social comment
Director Bong Joon Ho directed, wrote the screenplay and produced PARASITES. He deserved all the four Oscars that his film and he collected. There is something Tarantino-like about his style, in the way that he presents intersecting individuals from different social strata with apparently comic but definitely violent ultimate consequences. However, he is more polished than Tarantino was at the same age, and stage in his career.
He presents reality without judging: the Kims are a family of jobless and largely useless individuals who do not even know how to fold pizza boxes properly, who have no money for Wi-Fi, and find it only in a toilet in the strangest place in a house that I've ever seen.
The father - superbly played by Kang-ho Song - claims to have a plan but ultimately admits that the sole plan that won't fail is no plan. He tries to adapat to situations and is quick to react to any opportunity.
The mother is admirably played by Hye-jin Jang, a courageous and resilient fighter in the face of life's adversities, and a fantastic imitator of North Korean leaders' speech delivery styles.
Sun Kyun-Lee plays the son, a likeable young man who forges a university degree and copies a more successful friend's example, which will ultimately weigh him down like the rock that the friend gives him.
His sister, the extremely beautiful So-dam Park, is the most level-headed and intelligent of the lot, a quick thinker who has a touch for children,
The son finds a job as a teacher of English in a rich home run by a father who is often away on business in Paris, and a completely useless but physically gorgeous Yeo-jeong Jo (lovely legs!)
By first pulling in his sister to placate and teach painting to the bolshy child in the rich family, and then finding jobs in the household for his father and mother, the son gets the family's foot in the door to a world of wealth such as they had never imagined, and which they rapidly start wishing they could occupy. Needless to say, that can only be achieved with violence, and violence does indeed beget violence, but there are surprises along the way.
Acting is of the highest standard by all, but I would like to single out Jeong-eun Lee as the governess who is allergic to peaches, who keeps her husband hidden in the rich house's basement. The sequences where she rings the bell during the torrential rain, and where she tries to open the passage to the basement are unique and memorable.
Cinematography is immaculate, with memorable sequences like the flood in the poorer sections of town -- in contrast with the safety in the higher grounds occupied by the rich; the scramble for the cell phone before a video can be sent from it; and the overhead shot of Kang-ho Song running into hiding after stabbing the rich homeowner.
Credible and gripping screenplay, fantastic action sequences. Completely deserved Best Picture Academy Award.
Superb direction, acting, photography; gripping script could have been shorter
The great Polanski is back. This is the inventive and talented director of ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE TENANT returning in style, after a series of minor and forgettable films since CHINAOWN (US 1974).And he does it without the gore of THE TENANT, but certainly with the pervasive terror of ROSEMARY'S BABY -- not because this is a horror occult movie but rather because of the immanent terror embodied by the power of government, and its underhand ways to hold on to power and avoid damage to its image, even if it means wrongly accusing a man of high treason, dishonorably discharging him from military service, and condemning him to an undeserved and long prison sentence.
Polanski has Jewish blood in his veins but, to his credit. he does not turn J'ACCUSE into a study of anti-semitism, which would have been too easy. Picquart (Dujardin) readily admits to Dreyfus at the start that he does not care for Jews but that that would not cause him to deliberately prevent a good soldier serving France to the best of his ability, regardless of racial background.
He lives up to his word and to his conscience - not least because Picquart realizes that his own life is in danger and he has no option but expose the government's ignoble cover-up -- which ultimately rescues Dreyfus from, Devil Island and allows him to recover his good name.
Picquart is superbly played by Dujardin but the entire cast is in top form.
J'ACCUSE also has the great merit of recreating the atmosphere of Paris in the late 19th Century. The attention paid to interiors, door knobs and bells, phaetons and other vehicles of the time, and the cobblestone streets, is awesome.
I certainly recommend J'ACCUSE as a much better than average history lesson, as a social comment that applies to today as it does to France about 130 years ago. It avoids making value judgements, preferring instead to present facts and letting the viewer interpret them. 10/10
The Last Sunset (1961)
Good Western - not memorable but worth watching
THE LAST SUNSET grips you from the start with Rock Hudson hunting down Kirk Douglas for killing his brother in law and then causing his sister to commit suicide.
Kirk is a nasty character who packs a Derringer, a small pistol normally used by women or for the purpose of shooting someone at very close range, unexpectedly, and often in the back. In the end, though, he turns out to be more decent than initially imaginable.
The acting is solid, Aldrich's direction typically competent, photography is passable color, stunts and action sequences OK -- Dorothy Malone and Kirk's daughter are beautiful pluses.
The minus comes from the choice of weapons in the final duel: Kirk looks positively ridiculous trying to draw his Derringer against Hudson's Colt .45.
Oh, well, it's watchable fare if you have about 90' to spare.
Superlative first two thirds, last third hard to believe
Photography is the single best aspect of 1917. Acting - Dean-Charles Chapman and George Mackay are still cutting their teeth as actors - is good enough. Direction is first class, especially during the first two thirds.
Unfortunately, from the moment Scho (Mackay) is shot by a wounded German soldier, I found it tough to believe that a fully-fledged British Army lance corposal in WWI would just abandon his weapon and try to elude bullets, not just once but at least twice - just as I found incredible that so many German soldiers were such poor shots as to keep missing him when they had him cornered.
1917 is a piece of memorabilia to Director Sam Mendes, as his grandfather Alfred was the source of the story he tells us, but that last third tries to elevate the hero and film to virtually supermannish heights, as Mackay runs through his army's attacking lines to deliver the crucial message. As it turns out, he is late, the first wave has already gone on to the frontline.
Cumberbatch has a small but, as ever, intensely repellent part, as Col. Mackenzie, who initially refuses to read his general's orders -- another flaw in the movie's credibility -- and who apparently loves to wage war, regardless of costs in terms of men.
I think 1917 is a good movie, and it pays homage to two great WWI movies: ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (US 1930) and LA GRANDE ILLUSION (France 1935), but it fails to reach the heights provided by the simplicity and sincerity of those two films.
Vanishing Point (1971)
Good road movie with unconvincing ending
VANISHING POINT contains Barry Newman's finest performance. It is a very engaging road movie, in which former decorated soldier, policeman and car racer Kowalski (Newman) is chased by police across the USA, and duing the course of which he meets interesting men, beautiful women, and has recollections of war, of his time in the police force, relations with women, and other unusual characters.
VANISHING POINT is also a credible 1970s time capsule: the trends, changing relations, and other signs of that decade are present.
Photography is splendid, action sequences likewise, Sarafian's direction memorable, and acting very good across the board, all very natural and simple.
The weakness is the inclusion of oracle-like high falutin' Super Soul (Cleavon Little) as a radio man who communicates with Kowalski, and the ending. I could not be believe that highly experienced racing driver Kowalski did not see the caterpillars on the road to block him off, after spotting, and surmounting all other dangers during the journey. What is more, at the beginning you see him spot the caterpillars, turn around, and flee.
I also did not understand the racist attack on the radio station, only for it to continue operating. It just seemed like some statement that Sarafian wished to make. It might even be significant, but it has nothing to do with the rest of the movie.
All told, VANISHING POINT is well worth watching. 8/10
One of the worst, most pretentious Westerns I recall watching
Sloppy direction by Philip Kaufman, substandard acting even by such outstanding actors as Cliff Robertson and Robert Duvall, shabby photography, and mediocre action sequences, plus a rambling script that makes no sense but claims to be the story of the Jesse James and Younger gangs.
Duvall embodies the unlikeliest Jesse James I have ever seen. Frank James, usually credited as the more balanced and intelligent of the two brothers, is portrayed by some unknown who only appears to utter grunts.
Waste of time, best avoided.
It Happened in Hollywood (1937)
Very touching precursor to SINGIN' IN THE RAIN
Wonderful flick about the transition from silent movies to talkies. For a B movie, the direction by Lachman is top drawer, and the acting by Dix and Wray (far better here than in famously screamy role in KING KONG, for instance) quite splendid.
The cherry on the cake is that it takes a touching approach to the problem of overnight joblessness in a glamorous, no failure accepted, world, without losing contact with reality. True love can really save the day!
Ride Clear of Diablo (1954)
Superior B Western with solid Murphy, excellent Duryea
Director Jesse Hibbs does a sterling job with B material. He extracts one of Duryea's best performances as the backshooting killer who actually has some decency and gets to like Murphy for being so honest.
Murphy, a more limited actor than Duryea, also performs credibly throughout, and supporting actors like Paul Birch (Sheriff Kenyon) and William Pullen (Lawyer Meredith) only add to the film's overall quality, as the top heavies.
Even pretty Susan Cabot, a substandard actress at the best of times, does well.
Photography is typical B quality, and the script not bad at all, with Cabot asking Murphy if the tunnel is long enough. I can only wonder if Hitchcock saw this film and decided to use a similar, but subtler, line at the end of NORTH BY NORTHWEST.
You could do a lot worse than watch this likeable and unassuming Western.
One Chance (2013)
Well directed and acted
David Frankel does a good job of directing this biopic. He treats intelligently the relationship between Paul and Julz, and also between Paul and Alessandra; and he extracts superb performances from Corden, Roach and Julie Walters.
The script is a bit meandering, and the ending somewhat flat, but by then you have been on a rollercoaster of emotions. Sadly for Paul Potts, he suffered far too many accidents that were bad for him and that somehow adds too much to a simple story, and becomes a distraction.
The really great thing is that all these are believable characters. The scene where Walters happens upon Paul and Julz as they are beginning to date is truly memorable for its simplicity, but it is only one of a number of sequences that render this film so touching and worth watching.
The Lawless Breed (1952)
Good Western but no biopic of John Wesley Hardin
If you ignore the written introduction claiming that this film is based on John Wesley Hardin's autobiographical book, you will certainly enjoy this Western.
It is very adroitly directed by the consistently competent Raoul Walsh, Photography by Irving Glassberg is gorgeous. Stunts above average.
Good first leading role by Hudson, well seconded by the beautiful Julie Adams and a solid supporting cast.
The script is acceptable... but only if you ignore the fact that Hardin is thought to have killed some 43 people, many of them shot from behind in ambushes. As rendered here, Hardin is an upstanding citizen who excels at cards, and lawfully earns the money to buy the horse farm he always dreamed of.
I think it is fair to assume that Raoul Walsh adopted a tongue-in-cheek approach to the Hardin case, and that in THE LAWLESS BREED he created the ultimate proof that crime paid in the Old West (think of Wyatt Earp, always portrayed as the greatest of many heroes who helped tame lawlessness in the West, and who was in fact a cattle rustler, believed to have killed the Clanton gang in a far more deceitful manner than has been portrayed in any film involving his name).
Once the reality premise is removed, THE LAWLESS BREED is well worth watching.
Flawed but possibly best Batman film so far
At the time of writing this review, 4 Jan 2020, this 1989 version of BATMAN is the best I have seen yet.
It is anchored by a superlative Jack Nicholson performance, redolent with flamboyance and child-like, demented malevolence. Memorably, he envies Batman's car and other gadgets, calling them "toys." His performance is in stark contrast with a very understated Michael Keaton in the title role.
Tim Burton's direction is flawed and uneven, but he manages to give the film a consistently dark undertone that gives it unity and even continuity, making Gotham look like the city I imagined from the comics.
BATMAN is overlong by at least 20 minutes, but it is definitely worth watching. If you are a Batman fan like me, it is must-see. 8/10
Average Western with average actors, director, script and photography.
Not very much to remember about this film: Hudson's slap on Clark's lovely behind (can't have been easy for Hudson, he'd have preferred a male behind); Hudson getting shot in his behind but easily jumping around to fire shots; Martin's stale jokes; and a forest fire that costs Martin's horse's life before it is put out by the rain.
There is also a ludicrous attempt at making Martin and Hudson look like young friends.
The script is downright predictable and direction pedestrian.
Richard Jewell (2019)
Very good Eastwood, vintage Rockwell, Bates performances
I am a great admirer of Clint Eastwood, especially in the capacity of director. He has directed doubtless masterpieces like MYSTIC RIVER and MILLION DOLLAR BABY, with UNFORGIVEN and CHANGELING in close proximity.
RICHARD JEWELL is on the same level as CHANGELING. It presents a real life incident and its implications, and it does so intelligently and by and large without taking sides.
Strong dialogue, script and cinematography. Acting by Rockwell and Bates is top notch, with Wilde and Hamm also excellent in their comparatively small parts.
Sadly, it is Paul Hauser's performance that I don't buy. He looks like Babe Ruth and his mannerisms, especially when he rolls his eyes for no apparent reason, began irritating me from mid-movie. That said, his relationship with his mother (played by Bates) is quite convincing, and that is a big plus.
One other aspect that didn't go down well with me was the alleged affair between journalist Scruggs and FBI officer Tom Shaw. Perhaps it was meant to suggest collusion between FBI and media, but these people exist, have a reputation to preserve, and there is no evidence that they actually exchanged info in that manner.
I was also not very impressed with Wilde crying at the end, as if suddenly she developed a conscience after consciously dropping Jewell's name in the mud.
Once all is said and done, this is a good film and a massive boost for democracy, and I'm really happy that Eastwood, who turns 90 on 31 May 2020, is still able to produce films of this quality.
Secret Beyond the Door... (1947)
Mediocre rehash of Rebecca with a lot of psycho hot air
Basically, SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR is a rehash of REBECCA (directed by Hitchcock, 1940) with some touches of SPELLBOUND (also directed by Hitchcock, 1945) thrown in.
As great an actor as Redgrave was, he was no Laurence Olivier, just as Bennett comes nowhere near Joan Fontaine, or Barbara O'Neill, Judith Anderson.
This is one of Lang's poorest directorial efforts, and the meaning of the excellent chiaroscuro and smoky photography is lost, just as Mandalay and Redgrave's house.
I find myself unable to comment further on this pretentious psychobabble, a real waste of valuable time.
Walk a Crooked Mile (1948)
Good spy docunoir
Interesting docunoir about atomic/nuclear formulas being syphoned out of the Lakeview facility in the USA and finding their way into the iron curtain via the UK.
This is a very early example of FBI-Scotland Yard cooperation, showing the sophistication that already existed immediately after WWII, in spite of much more rudimentary spying technology than we have today. Amazing how sound was recorded on LPs, and 16 or 8mm cameras were used at stakeouts.
With Reed Haley as the narrator, the viewer gets the low-down on an intricate international operation to detect why fomulas are spirited out of the USA in art form -- paintings which, as agent O'Hara (O'Keefe) memorably points out, only suffer from having "too much red" in them.
As ever, O'Keefe is very convincing as an FBI agent, Hayward likewise as his Scotland Yard counterpart, and you can see that it is not the beginning of a beautiful friendship, but one that is already firmly in place.
Massey would have deserved a better part, and I found Onslow Stevens and Charles Evans very effective and chilling top villains. Allbritton is a beautiful woman, pity we see so little of her
Photography and action sequences top notch. Recommended.
Thieves' Highway (1949)
Good - not great - movie
I think Henri-Georges Clouzot must have watched THIEVES' HIGHWAY en route to making LE SALAIRE DE LA PEUR. The scenes involving the trucks, especially when one falls on top of Conte, are remarkable and bring to mind the predicaments facing the four drivers in SALAIRE.
Acting is not particularly good. Supporting actor Lee J Cobb easily steals the show. Conte looks much weaker, and is not helped by a character reminiscent of Hamlet, always showing anger in the face of injustice but dithering far too much when it comes to acting. Also, he is not the brightest spark -- why would anyone carrying $4,000 (a very large sum even by today's standards) at night, by a railroad, waiting to be pounced on, when you have just forced it out of a man who has crippled your father, and must perforce want revenge?
Photography is fine, truck stunts are particularly good, and Dassin's direction is sound. Sadly for Dassin, it was this very film, and its portrait of the American Dream going sour, that first caught the attention of Senator McCarthy and of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, forcing him to flee to Europe.
It is worth watching, but not a great noir, certainly no match for the likes of RIFIFI, THE THIRD MAN, OUT OF THE PAST, NIGHTMARE ALLEY or LAURA.
Mister 880 (1950)
Great biographical account with comic touches, great characters, fantastic trio of performances
I like MISTER 880 very much. Edmund Goulding's direction is flawless, never allowing the film to stray from its aims and keeping a high moral ground throughout. All characters are worthy of heartfelt sympathy, even the forfeiter played by the excellent Edmund Gwenn.
In fact, what makes this film so endearing is that it treats a money counterfeiting case with extremely deft comic touches.
The young Burt Lancaaster and Dorothy Maguire make a beautiful and elegant couple, and their acting is top notch, too. Kind-eyed Maguire, in particular, comes across as someone who cares, and I think any man could fall in love with her.
To be honest, I did not expect much from this film, but I can safely state that it exceeded my expectations on every count: even photography and soundtrack work to make this a truly pleasant film to watch, not least because of its subtle humor.
Out of the Past (1947)
Film Noir to compare with the very best
There are two films noir which I would take anywhere and re-watch as often as I could: THE THIRD MAN (UK 1949) and DU RIFIFI CHEZ LES HOMMES (France 1955).
OUT OF THE PAST (1947) is the other film noir that I would watch anywhere anytime, with the added merit that it was done before the other two.
Robert Mitchum's performance is justifiably famous, possibly his career-best, although I also rate him very highly in THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, TRACK OF THE CAT and THE GRASS IS GREENER.
Jane Greer is the most seductive, elegantly deceitful and deadly femme fatale I remember in the movies.
Photography by Nicholas Musuraca is gorgeous and Jacques Tourneur's direction sublime, making the most of Daniel Mainwaring's superb script.
Nightmare Alley (1947)
Superlative film noir with Ty Power in best form ever
Edmund Goulding is not one of my favorite directors but that is mainly because I have not seen enough of his work knowledgeably to judge it. That said, I have the greatest admiration for the directorial skills he shows in GRAND HOTEL, THE RAZOR'S EDGE, MR.880, and now NIGHTMARE ALLEY, which I rate his very best.
His direction is greatly enhanced and assisted by Lee Garmes' superb b&w photography, bringing to light the dark corners in devious souls memorably played by Tyrone Power, Helen Walker, and Taylor Holmes, among others; and to bring darkness to the better and kinder souls played by Joan Blondell, Colleen Gray, and - against type - Mike Mazurki, also among others.
The script by Jules Furthman is very strong, too. In fact, dialogue is well ahead of its time, and the characters remarkably complex -- especially Power's Stanton Carlisle.
I rate this Power's finest hour, although it is difficult for me to pick one role of his that I did not like. What makes his performance as Carlisle exceptional is that he has the courage to play a completely self-absorbed, mendacious, and deceitful character, who must ultimately pay for his misdeeds. It is no surprise that Daryl Zanuck, among others, tried to dissuade him from playing this part, for fear that it might harm his glamorous image.
Blondell is also very good as the fortune teller on a descending curve, from whom Carlisle learns the code which she used to fleece her marks.
Stunningly beautiful Coleen Gray manages to radiate purity in this film peopled by dark characters. Her motives are openly pure and in stark contrast with the dark designs and moral values of the man she loves, Carlisle.
Helen Walker is the other overwhelmingly evil character, Lilith Ritter, a psychologist who builds files on her clients the better to exploit their flaws and sins, and to blackmail them -- through Carlisle, for instance -- and who is not above stealing and lying.
NIGHTMARE ALLEY remains a very modern film, and an excellent cautionary tale. A must-see masterpiece.
Top Gun (1955)
Poor direction, script, action sequences: immediately forgettable Western
Sterling Hayden was an actor of some quality, as proven by his performances in Stanley Kubrick's THE KILLING and DR STRANGELOVE, among others -- but he never sat comfortably as a lead, and that is the case here, too.
Hayden just looks uncomfortable and wrong for the part throughout -- and, with such an unbelievable mish-mash of a script, you can hardly fault him.
I had never heard of Rat Nazarro as a director, but now I will avoid him -- he should never have been entrusted with any role higher than extra. His is a careless and lazy direction, beginning with female lead Booth who is neither beautiful nor convincing, and whose role appears to borrow from Grace Kelly's in HIGH NOON (1952). The difference is, of course, is that Kelly was a far better actress and much kinder on the eye.
James Millican, as the town sheriff, and Toomey as the only person in town who will give Rick Martin (Hayden) the time of day, provide the film's better moments.
Even top villain William Bishop is given such a patchy part that he can't save it, in spite of lying most of his way.
The idea of a 20-strong band of "renegades" (what they are renegading against is - sadly and absurdly - unexplained) attacking a town which they know to have few people able to defend it, and losing more than half of their force in the attack, really stretches your suspension of disbelief to complete snapping point. John Dehner is the band leader and he, too, is poorly used, to a large extent because his character's motivations are not clear - one moment he has no use for money, the next he's ready to kill for it.
The final shootout is ludicrous. You get no sense of where the goodies and baddies are in relation to each other, and the stunts are amongst the poorest I have ever watched in a Western - and I have watched many. Even spaghetti Westerns had more credible stunts than you see in this movie!
TOP GUN works as a case study in missed opportunities: much of it borrows from HIGH NOON (the scared inhabitants, the church offering insufficient sanctuary, and one man against the rest as criminals ride into town), and a potentially interesting angle is thrown in when Rick Martin discovers that his mother was murdered by Bishop, who also forged the deed of sale to her house for good measure... but Nazarro just can'y make it work.
4/10 is much too generous, but then Rod Taylor makes a surprise and uncredited appearance -- in a Western! -- and I am a sucker for Westerns.
Man with the Gun (1955)
Solid Mitchum show in Western with some holes
Never heard of Richard Wilson as a director and I am less than surprised about that after watching this innocuous piece of directing.
Mitchum carries the movie with a solid performance, Karen Sharpe is good to look at and seems unable to take her eyes off Mitchum, Jan Sterling seems poorly used as madam at the local brothel, and the real surprise in this movie comes from a young and beautiful but uncredited Angie Dickinson, who would catch John F. Kennedy's roving eye in the near future.
The big baddy only turns up at the end and is shot like an animal, and all the other villains get whacked. Claude Akins' demise is memorable for its improbability: he is shot, gets his foot caught in the stirrup as he falls from his horse, gets pulled along, and in a show of remarkable strength and fitness before passing on, he sits up straight, gets his foot off the stirrup, and bites the dust dead as a door nail.
Good photography helps, even if the action sequences are by and large less than credible.
Sleep, My Love (1948)
Uneven Mary Pickford production, Douglas Sirk direction
Douglas Sirk is one of those directors that I find to have been neither good nor bad. Most of his films are average in most respects, and SLEEP, MY LOVE (1948) is no exception.
It also seems to borrow ideas emerging in films of the 1940s such as SUSPICION (1941) and NOTORIOUS (1946), both directed by Hitchcock, and GASLIGHT (1944, directed by George Cukor).
Sirk is not helped by an uneven script that leaves a few loose ends: for instance, what is the point of stealing the horn-rimmed glasses, and what kind of evidence are they? What is Cummings' Chinese assistant actually doing in this film? What is Cummings: a gumshoe who's in love with Colbert, does he do anything else in his life?
Raymond Massey is also pitifully underused: he appears only briefly as a policeman apparently not overly interested in doing his job.
The eye-catching sultry beauty, Hazel Brooks, steals the show. She oozes sexiness and danger in even the slightest of motions.
Colbert looks slightly old for her part: Don Ameche seems rather a young husband, and Cummings an even younger second hubby to be -- and that's that, she walks off with a new lover/husband to be after husband Ameche and horn-rimmed glass stalker/photographer Coulouris are conveniently shot dead.
In spite of the implausible touches, including Ameche administering hypnotic drugs in her chocolate drink and alcoholic beverages, and consuming them himself just to prove to her that there's nothing in her drink, there's something charming about this tale. I've seen a lot worse... even if that middle section could well help enhance your ability to doze off!
Eyes in the Night (1942)
Versatile Zinnemann, great Armold performance, sublime Friday
Fred Zinnemann is of my favorite directors. EYES IN THE NIGHT is an early entry in his career but it already shows all the quality that in time would lead to such masterpieces as HIGH NOON, NUN'S STORY, and A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, among other excellent films.
In addition, EYES IN THE NIGHT is riddled with comic touches that are not so recurrent in his later work, and they are provided manily by Edward Arnold, with a very convincing role as a blind gumshoe -- as preposterous as it might sound -- and the most sublime, complete and athletic canine show I have ever watched, courtesy of guide dog Friday.
The latter comes across as more intelligent than many of the humans in the film, and his antics are expertly exploited and filmed, adding to the wonderfully effective cinematography.
Acting is of a very high standard, with the peerless, larger than life Arnold in extraordinary form throughout. He is ably helped by the beautiful Donna Reed, the chillingly clever and elegant Katherine Emery, the butler with a twist Stanley Ridges, and the inevitably poised and competent Reginald Denny.
The script is very clever, never taking itself so seriously that the viewer even thinks of questioning its believability. At first, I thought I was watching something of a film noir whodunnit, but the moment the Arnold-Friday relationship emerges, with all its funny and humorous touches, you know that is not quite it. The sudden realization that we are watching a group of Nazi spies operating in America is very slyly woven into the film.
EYES IN THE NIGHT is no masterpiece but it has enough strong points and quality to rate must-see status.
I really enjoyed it. 8/10
Private Hell 36 (1954)
Impressive noir with excellent Siegel direction, Cochran, Lupino performances
I have the highest regard for Don Siegel's directorial capabilities, which he repeatedly proved in films such as INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956, to me one of the most perfectly directed films ever), RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11, THE LINEUP, DIRTY HARRY, among others. He has a keen sense of the real, and of the difficulties facing any given character at any point. He does not try to find the easy, or pleasant way out: life is tough and you survive or die.
The economy of his direction is evident in PRIVATE HELL 36, saving it from any dishonest and sentimental approach that would have irremediably undermined it. One crucial highlight is the car chase, still spectacular today, reflecting all the potential hazards, and showing the extent to which the unprincipled cop (Cochran) is prepared to go -- not to enforce the law, but to line his own pocket, although the viewer does not know it yet at that point.
Siegel's direction always rests on three pillars: photography, which is superb and to the point in PRIVATE HELL 36; script, which is concise and gripping enough, with the important contribution of Ida Lupino's writing talent; and acting.
In the latter department, Steve Cochran is in a class of his own. This good-looking man and seemingly law-abiding cop plays his part so perfectly -- he is also helped by his sympathetically built character -- that when he steals money from the accident scene, he hardly seems to break the law, and I almost felt like urging Howard Duff not to be stupid but take advantage of the opportunity.
No doubt I would make a corrupt cop, but the point I'm making is that Cochran achieves this seamlessly, without even seeming smug about it.
Lupino provides the other great performance. She is out to have fun regardless, and her morals are clearly loose - in fact, she might even be open to being picked up at a cost.
Duff plays very convincingly the part of the honest cop. Sadly, good is seldom as eye-catching as evil, so he is overshadowed by Cochran's subtle shiftiness.
I regard PRIVATE HELL 36 as must-see for anyone interested in film noir, and certainly for any Don Siegel fan like me. 8/10
The League of Gentlemen (1960)
Good production values, solid acting let down by predictable and theatrical script
The League of Gentlemen boasts a great cast headed by Jack Hawkins who, unfortunately, began to show in this film signs of the throat cancer that would first lead to the removal of his larynx in 1966 and his death in 1973.
Nigel Patrick is the second in command in the cast, but he struck me as unintentionally smug. Bryan Forbes seems to be more interested in looking like a pretty boy than acting, and the rest of the cast is competent but the parts too small to allow them to shine.
In the end, Richard Attenborough and Robert Coote probably fare best after Hawkins.
Director Basil Dearden is in good form, and photography is quite effective.
The action sequences are generally well done, although I thought the smoke sequence near impossible in reality -- at the very least, there would have been accidents, loss of life, and other shortcomings, but instead all goes well.
Except that you know that robbing the army of weapons and banks of the citizens' hard earned money has to attract punishment and in this case the long arm of the law comes in the shape of a boy who likes to jot down car license plates.
Production values are sound, and the film is definitely no waste of time, but it is hamstrung by a predictable script.