Film Noir 10-Movie Spotlight Collection
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Film Noir 10-Movie Spotlight Collection

There are a lot of film genres that have managed to assist despite changes in audience preferences. It seems that stories concerning crime have always fascinated people in a macabre, vicarious thrill sort of way. Long before the Bible’s account of fratricide; Cain, murdering his brother Abel, mythology is full of criminal activity ranging from grand theft, adultery, and of course murder. Even within the category of crime thriller, there are numerous subdivisions. In the 30s, with the newspaper headlines dominated by organized crime, bank robbery in bootlegging, the gangster flick tended to draw in the largest box office. Then, in the 40s, there was a subtle change in what the filmmakers of the time were producing. Film noir became the genre that turned a group of actors into Hollywood stars. The more erudite cinephiles will undoubtedly talk about the influences of German Expressionism in the use of sexuality that was shocking for the sensibilities of time. This is the type of film that gave rise to the femme fatale and in many cases, the ever present voiceover narrative.

Why these factors may be fine for scholarly discussion. I doubt that they were prevalent in the minds of the people buying the tickets at the time. Film noir satisfied certain primitive needs that worked in the recesses of our civilized minds. The stories were gritty, the characters generally untrustworthy. Even the protagonists of these movies were frequently shiftless and morally ambiguous. Previously in crime dramas, the detectives were honest, diligently searching for the truth for the sake of bringing the offender to justice. In a film noir movie, the motivations were quite different, usually ranging from greed, lust, self-preservation. These detectives worked out of a seedy little office, taking almost any case, if the price is right. Don’t try to apply the political correctness of our time for these films. Guns were heaters or gats, detectives were gumshoes and women would dames, skirts, or broads. Most characters were chain smokers and heavy drinkers and generally unfit for polite society. Movies like this allowed people a chance to walk on the wild side of the safety of the theater’s seat. While World War II raged on, people were able to lose themselves for couple of hours. These movies were fundamentally a modernized version of the popular penny dreadfuls and pulp crime novels.

The pure intensity of these stories led to some of the great performances in cinematic history. Actors such as Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Fred McMurray and Edward G. Robinson achieved iconic status in large part due to their participation dark films. Most studios have fairly substantial catalogs of these movies, but Universal Studios were responsible for producing some of the best. They have put together a collection of 10 of the most influential films that represented the epitome of the Film Noir School of filmmaking.

The Big Clock (1948)

Director: John Farrow

Writer: Jonathan Latimer (screenplay)/ Kenneth Fearing (novel)

Cast: Ray Milland, Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Sullivan

The majority of the story is related to the use of flashbacks with the editor-in-chief of a crime oriented tabloid, George Stroud (Ray Milland), is hiding from security behind the buildings most notable feature, a highly sophisticated and rather large clock. He was looking forward to taking his wife, Georgette (Maureen O'Sullivan), on vacation. He fully intends to keep his promise to his wife, despite being fired by his draconian boss, Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton). George is tempted by Janoth’s mistress, Pauline York (Rita Johnson). More glamorous than any woman he’s ever encountered. She pulls him into a blackmail scheme against the lover. The film follows a basically good man as he spirals into depravity.

Black Angel (1946)

Director: Roy William Neill

Writer: Roy Chanslor (screenplay)/ Cornell Woolrich (novel)

Cast: Dan Duryea, June Vincent, Peter Lorre, Broderick Crawford

Catherine (June Vincent) is desperate to clear the name of her husband, Kirk Bennett (John Phillips), who was wrongly accused of killing a nightclub singer. Offering to help, is the club’s pianist, Martin (Dan Duryea), who was married to the victim. The detective who investigated the case, Captain Flood (Broderick Crawford) is certain he had the right man, but Catherine strongly believes the evidence points to the ship, the owner of the nightclub, Marko (Peter Lorre). This film depends on one of the victim genre’s favorite themes, the vindication of a man wronged by the justice system. In many of this type nightclubs, are frequently the preferred setting. The juxtaposition of the glitz and glamour of high society nightlife, to the criminals frequently the owners of the establishments was certain to provide an exciting contrast with the audience.

The Blue Dahlia (1946)

Director: George Marshall

Writer: Raymond Chandler

Cast: Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, William Bendix, Hugh Beaumont

Navy pilot Lieutenant Commander Johnny Morrison (Alan Ladd) had been fighting in the South Pacific against the Japanese. When placed on the inactive list. He has the opportunity to go back home the Hollywood to resume his civilian life. This is returned to the States Johnny brings along a pair of his Navy buddies; crewmates Buzz Wanchek (William Bendix) and George Copeland (Hugh Beaumont). Both of them have received medical discharges with Buzz inflicted by severe headaches and radical mood swings. Johnny is understandably anxious to reunite with his wife, wife Helen (Doris Dowling). He finds that she is now living in a bungalow with her boyfriend, Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva). His first glimpse of his wife is her kissing this other man. She has been living the high life constantly partying while Johnny away at war. That is the owner of the popular nightspot, the Blue Dahlia, which places him in the ideal position to provide Helen the excitement she craves. Despite George’s willingness to amend their marriage, Helen is not willing to give up the nightlife she has grown accustomed to. What follows is a tale of betrayal that rapidly escalates into violence. The screenplay for this film was written by one of the most influential authors in film noir.

Criss Cross (1949)

Director: Robert Siodmak

Writer: Daniel Fuchs (screenplay)/ Don Tracy (novel)

Cast: Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo, Dan Duryea

Steve Thompson (Burt Lancaster) returns to his home in Los Angeles hoping to reunite with his ex-wife, Anna Dundee (Yvonne DeCarlo). Despite her willingness to rekindle what they had themes. Steve’s life is about to take a very dark turn. In order to throw suspicion of their relationship, Anna marries a monster, Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea). Steve pulls Slim into a daylight robbery of an army truck with the heist only leaves the betrayal.

Double Indemnity (1944)

Director: Billy Wilder

Writer: Billy Wilder/Raymond Chandler

Cast: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson

This film is undoubtedly one of the most famous examples of the genre, widely considered to be the epitome of film noir. The received Academy Awards nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography. It was also listed by the American film Institute is one of the best American films of the 20th century and has been inducted into the US Congress film Registry as culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant. It contains all the classic elements of the genre as a corrupted insurance investigator played by Fred McMurray lies dying while leaving a message for his boss played by Edward G Robinson. He details how he perpetrated an insurance fraud with the seductive femme fatale, perfectly played by Barbara Stanwyck, which involve the murder of her husband.

The Glass Key (1942)

Director: Stuart Heisler

Writer: Jonathan Latimer (screen play)/ Dashiell Hammett (novel)

Cast: Brian Donlevy, Veronica Lake, Alan Ladd, William Bendix

As is the case with many examples of the best the film noir, the screenplay this film was based on a novel by one of the great in literary crime fiction, Dashiell Hammett. Paul Madvig (Brian Donlevy) is corrupt political boss working behind the scenes pulling strings. Unexpectedly, he decides to back a reform candidate, Ralph Henry (Moroni Olsen), for governor. His motivation is not the usual accumulation of money or power, but purely emotional. The power broker has fallen in love with the candidate’s daughter, Janet (Veronica Lake). The relationship raises suspicions with Madvig’s chief lieutenant, Ned Beaumont (Alan Ladd), who correctly suspects the young woman’s motivation is not the reciprocation of romance. The requisites betrayal is infused in the story as she begins the ball for Beaumont.

The Killers (1946)

Director: Robert Siodmak


Anthony Veiller (screenplay)/ Ernest Hemingway (story)

Cast: Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O'Brien

Considered by some to be one of the more suspenseful film noir movies of its time, the story focuses on former professional boxer, Ole "the Swede" Anderson (Burt Lancaster). After his career is cut short by an injury to his right hand, the Swede rejects a suggestion from his longtime friend, Police Lieutenant Sam Lubinsky (Sam Levene), to join the force. Instead, the former boxer falls in with a bad crowd, particularly a group of thugs led by "Big Jim" Colfax (Albert Dekker). As part of his lifestyle change, for the worse, he dumps is nice girlfriend, Lily (Virginia Christine), the one that is trouble in a tight skirt, Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner). Kitty demands for a lifestyle beyond the means of the Swede results and him stealing jewelry to appease her. When Sam notices the stolen jewelry, Ole confesses and winds up during a three-year sentence in prison. Once again, flashbacks play a dominant role in relating the story. It is an efficient way to provide exposition without disrupting the overall flow of the screenplay. Another common archetype appears here as well, life insurance investigator. When the former boxer is eventually murdered, Jim Reardon (Edmond O'Brien) is assigned the investigation. Many big stars got his start in these movies. An excellent example of this here, this was Burt Lancaster’s very first screen credit. Passable the author of the story, you can’t get much better than Ernest Hemingway.

Phantom Lady (1944)

Director: Robert Siodmak

Writer: Bernard C. Schoenfeld (screenplay)/ Cornell Woolrich (novel)

Cast: Franchot Tone, Ella Raines, Alan Curtis

This film has the distinction of having been the first to be produced by John Harrison, the first woman executive in a major movie studio. She certainly had the right training, having been a screenwriter for Alfred Hitchcock. Scott Henderson (Alan Curtis) is a 32-year-old engineer who was looking forward to celebrating his anniversary with his wife. Unfortunately they get into a rather vehement fight leaving Scott in a bar downing his troubles really runs into a woman in a similar the depressed situation. Scott winds up picking her up and they take a taxi to see show. The woman, remain mysterious not revealing an iota concerning who she is. Once at the club, the headliner, Estela Monteiro (Aurora Miranda), becomes outraged when she notices that the woman is wearing the same hat as she is. When Scott returns home, three men are waiting for him; Police Inspector Burgess (Thomas Gomez), and two of his men. The inform him that his wife has been strangled to death in the weapon was one of his ties. He tries to use the bartender of the club is an alibi, but the man refuses to admit that Scott was in the club with some woman. Unclear of the details, Scott is tried and sentenced to death. Is this movie touches on some of the great memes of the genre, including infidelity framing an honest man. Once again, going to the nightclub is pivotal to the story as a catalyst for a man’s corruption.

This Gun for Hire (1942)

Director: Frank Tuttle

Writer: Albert Maltz/ W.R. Burnett

Cast: Veronica Lake, Robert Preston, Alan Ladd (screenplay)/ Graham Greene

This is a tautly constructed story of wartime espionage blackmail and murder. Albert Baker (Frank Ferguson) lives in San Francisco, where he works extensively as a chemist. It is his sideline of blackmail of them will be his downfall. A hit man, Raven (Alan Ladd), murders him in order to obtain an exceptionally important chemical formula. Raven, is betrayed by his employer, Willard Gates (Laird Cregar), by paying him in marked bills. Gates then turns around and reports. Raven to the Los Angeles Police Department, claiming that a theft of his company, Nitro Chemical, has been committed. Los Angeles Police Department detective, Lieut. Michael Crane (Robert Preston), is on vacation in San Francisco with his girlfriend Ellen Graham (Veronica Lake), a singer in a nightclub.

Touch of Evil (1958)

Director: Orson Welles

Writer: Orson Welles (screenplay)/ Whit Masterson (novel)

Cast: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles

While ‘Double Indemnity’, is hailed as the quintessential example of film noir, ‘Touch of Evil’, is frequently cited as one of the genre’s greatest from the perspective of cinematic artistry. Listed in the American film Institute’s hundred top thrillers, the movie was also haunted by the U.S. Congress by inclusion in their film Registry for preservation. The story is classic. As far as intrigued and betrayal goes. A newlywed couple, Miguel Vargas (Charlton Heston) and his wife, Susie (Janet Leigh), are enjoying a leisurely drive on the US/Mexico border. On several occasions during the trip, they pass the same car auto bad that in the last town. They pass through somebody planted a time bomb in the vehicle. The car explodes, killing both occupants. For this is a drug enforcement official, the Mexican government who realizes that there will be severe implications for the Mexican bomb exploding on American soil. There are several versions of this film as a result of litigation by Orson Welles daughter in various attempts by the studio to redistribute the film. The one contained in this set is the 1:52 addition, released in 1976. Typical of a movie, written and directed by Orson Welles, the movie is a stunning example of some of the most intriguing and novel cinematic techniques ever devised. An opening shot is a three minute, 22 seconds continuous tracking shot considered to be the longest example of this directorial technique.

Posted 11/05/2014

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