Saturday 26 June 2010

He Walked By Night

I've been on a slight Anthony Mann kick of late - what with recently tackling "The Naked Spur", "Winchester '73", "The Man From Laramie" and "Border Incident" - and I see no reason to slow down. Though I'm a bigger fan of the Noir genre (John Alton's work with Mann is stunning), the Westerns have been enormously entertaining and I was really struck by the direction in "The Naked Spur" and Mann's ability to really work with and around the natural surroundings.

So anyway, a week or so ago, I stumble across the evening's TCM lineup and note that two true crime films are being shown. One of them was "He Walked By Night" which was a film that was already high up on my list of movies to see. I set the PVR to do its thing and watched it the next day. As I'm settling in with Robert Osborne's introductory comments, he mentions that director Alfred L. Werker fell ill during the shoot and had to be replaced. The new director took the job on one condition - that Werker retain the only on screen credit. Any guesses as to who the new man at the helm was? Yep, Anthony Mann. As it turns out, TCM had been showing a couple of Mann films as well (and will be again this coming Wednesday June 30th).

The film is pretty damn spiffy. It's taut, holds solid suspense and doesn't overdo the typical "based on a real crime" story narration and plodding police procedural steps of many of its counterparts. However, it's the cinematography that really impresses - it's absolutely gorgeous (once again, Alton lensed it). I took these screencaps directly from the TCM broadcast, so they may not be as pristine as other sources, but you can still get a good feeling for the care that was brought to every scene. In particular, the end chase scene through the underground sewers of Los Angeles is worthy of The Third Man.

Great stuff.

Ryuji The Gun Slinger

Don't tell me that Facebook isn't useful. The good people at Wild Grounds recently posted the following trailer there:

It's looks like tremendous fun and has all the hallmarks of so many of the Nikkatsu action film from the 50s and 60s. The film was directed by Hiroshi Noguchi - a man who was a mentor to one of my all time favourite directors Seijun Suzuki (according to Mark Schilling in his recent book "No Borders No Limits").

If the 4 minute trailer is too much to handle (it's worth it just for Jo Shishido's chubby cheeks and smiling mug), some of these screencaps I took from it should at least whet the appetite:

As far as I know this isn't released anywhere on any region (correct me if I'm wrong please!), so one can only hope that the good folks at Criterion/Eclipse might sneak this into another Nikkatsu set in the not too distant future. Set number 1 was glorious.

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Scribblings Of A Random Nature #17

Right back at ya big guy...

The Glass Wall (1953 - Maxwell Shane) - As far as I can tell, this film is typically considered a minor Noir, but can anything with Gloria Grahame really be called minor? She's fabulous as always, playing the down-on-her-luck girl who stumbles into helping a newly arrived stowaway after he initially saves her from being caught after a minor theft. Though called a stowaway, Peter had actually arrived in New York City with the intent on finding his friend (a soldier whose life he saved during the war), but isn't allowed off the boat because he doesn't have a passport. He escapes thinking that it should be easy enough to find his musician friend in order to get sponsorship. After all, how hard could it be to find a clarinet player in Times Square? The story loses steam a couple of times when it switches to following his musician friend while he tries to decide between auditioning for a gig (with famous trombone player Jack Teagarden) and going to the police to speak up for his buddy who is now the subject of a city wide manhunt. There are also several moments when things could easily have all been straightened out, but due to several good chase scenes, splashes of lovely cinematography and, yes, Ms. Grahame, you can easily forgive the shortcomings.

If You Could Only Cook (1935 - William A. Seiter) - The first of four films from the Icons of Screwball Comedy Volume 1, this Jean Arthur/Herbert Marshall vehicle doesn't measure up to the classics of the genre (it's terrible title sure doesn't), but managed to keep me smiling for a good part of its rather too short running time. Arthur plays a down-on-her-luck woman (what, another one?) who's scanning the job listings on a park bench when Marshall's rich executive happens to sit next to her. He's just stormed out of his office (he's head of his own car company) after the Board refused to take his new designs seriously. She mistakes him for being out of work, offers him some pages from the Want Ads and they somehow come up with the idea of teaming together as a butler and cook so that they can find a decent job with a room. He's more than willing since he's been looking for a change (and looking for a way out of his upcoming nuptials to a society girl), but he still sneaks out of their room at night to head back to his home. It's nowhere near perfect and hits some bland moments, but when Arthur and Marshall are one-on-one it's quite snappy. There's an ease in their rapport that allows you to buy into the whole plot and be perfectly happy knowing ahead of time the obvious outcome. I also give the movie credit for being at least fairly original in the method that Marshall's character gets extracted from his wedding. The final rush to end the film, however, feels really tacked on (or perhaps chopped off?) as it should have stayed with the two lovebirds for at least a little while longer.

The World According To Sesame Street (2006 - Linda Goldstein Knowlton, Linda Hawkins) - This documentary on how Sesame Street brings its philosophies of teaching to other countries begins rather slow, but it builds into quite a lovely and even moving piece about some vastly different issues that other areas of the world have when it comes to educating their children. The film settles on following the implementations of three separate instances of new versions of Sesame Street in Bangladesh, South Africa and Kosovo. In Bangladesh, many children must leave school at an early age in order to work for their families who suffer from crushing poverty. Meanwhile, South Africa struggles with similar issues, but is also greatly impacted by the spread of AIDS across all segments of their population. The film touches briefly on some of the American reaction to the creation of a Muppet who has AIDS - and yes, the responses are as stupidly ridiculous as you might expect - though these were obviously the far end of a spectrum. In Kosovo, the issue is the constant battles between Albanians and Serbians - how do you avoid a new generation of racism when the adults can barely speak to each other? There's a short segment where a lovely young Serbian girl is being interviewed and is asked whether she would like to understand how Albanian kids live. She answers no and is asked why she doesn't care to know. Her rather heartbreaking answer is a simple "Because they're Albanian". The film does offer hope, though (and perhaps a bit too much rhapsodic reverence to Sesame Street itself), and the final montage of children from all over the world watching their versions of the show with the title tune being played on sitar and tabla is truly beautiful.

Murder Inc. (1960 - Bob Balaban, Stuart Rosenberg) - It wasn't until just now as I started writing this that I discovered that Peter Falk got nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role here as a hired killer. It makes perfect sense since my feelings toward this movie are totally based around him - when he's on screen things are good; when he's off screen things are less good. Its Black and White photography has that shadowy Noir feel to it (even though it was released just outside what is typically considered the main period for Noirs) and it doesn't shy away from some of the darker moments of its plot (which is apparently based on a set of real crimes). The story is a bit more of a straight crime drama, though, and doesn't fare as well when it focuses on the kingpin of the syndicate and a young couple that gets pulled in over their heads. Falk disappears for a part of the middle section, but when he's around for the opening and closing portions, he makes things crackle. He's affable and engaging - until he needs to exude his control. His flipped switch change to a quick and brutal thug is totally believable. Bonus: a wonderful performance by Sarah Vaughan - my goodness that lady had a voice...