Don't forget, to err is human- -to forgive- -divine.
Nightmare Alley is directed by Edmund Goulding and adapted to screenplay by Jules Furthman from William Lindsay Gresham's novel. It stars Tyrone Power, Coleen Gray, Joan Blondell, Helen Walker, Taylor Holmes and Mike Mazurki. Music is by Cyril J. Mockridge and cinematography by Lee Garmes.
The rise and fall of Carnival Barker, Stanton Carlisleâ¦â¦..
Picture opens with Cyril Mockridge's ominous music, sprinkled with carny strains, it's a portent of what is to come. The characters of this particular travelling carnival then enter the fray, boxed in by Lee Garmes' shadowy photography. Mood is set at dark, not even the sight of a handsome Tyrone Power can shift the feeling that there is bleakness coming our way. Thankfully, that is the case.
Due to a legal dispute, Nightmare Alley was out of the mainstream circulation for over fifty years. A crime that robbed a whole generation of film noir lovers the chance to sample this excellent picture. Power had himself purchased the rights to Gresham's novel, determined to expand his range and break free of his typecasting as a MatinÃ©e Idol, Power wanted to play bad and got his wish. In the process giving arguably his finest career performance as Stanton Carlisle, a small time hustler who gleefully casts away human feelings to rise to the top as part of a spiritualist/mind reading act. But this is film noir, and around the corner are people just as unscrupulous as he is.
Have I ever mentioned God in this racket?
Very talky for the most part, it's the backdrops to the story that serve the narrative so well. Be it the carnival and the assortment of characters that inhabit it, or the up market club where Stanton and his wife, Molly (Gray), use psychological trickery on the affluent members of society, there's a disquiet, a sadness even, to proceedings, with Goulding and Furthman also casting an acerbic eye on social institutions and religious fervour. The latter of which provoked complaints from religious orders. There's barely a good or level headed human being to be found for the whole running time, picture is full of phonies and con-artists, gullibles and straw clutchers, beasts and alcoholics, it's no wonder the suits at the PCA got all twitchy! This is a bleak world view, and had it finished two minutes earlier, then we would be talking about one of the finest of all film noir endings. Sadly 20th Century Fox chief Darryl Zanuck had Goulding tag on a coda to get past the PCA. Not a film killer, no sir, but a disappointment for sure.
Lilith: A female demon of the nightâ¦.
The team assembled for the production is of a high quality. Power and Goulding may be out of place in the genre of film noir, but they both come out with much credit. The former is thoroughly absorbing and the latter knits it together without fuss; letting the actors fully form Furthman's (To Have and Have Not/The Big Sleep) seductively crisp screenplay, while Garmes (Scarface/Detective Story) brings the chiaroscuro, which makes a nice devilish bedfellow for Mockridge's (Road House) music. Benefiting most from Goulding's direction is Helen Walker (Murder in the Music Hall/Call Northside 777) as Lilith Ritter, an excellent portrayal of the icy cold psychiatrist who forms an intriguing axis between the three women in Stanton's life. Both Gray (Kiss of Death/Kansas City Confidential) and Blondell (Cry Havoc) earn their money as polar opposites jostling for Stanton's attentions, and Ian Keith gives a heart tugging performance as alcoholic Pete Krumbein, a critical character that spins the protagonist into a vortex of smug charlatanism-cum-self loathing.
Now available on DVD with a lovely transfer, this is worthy of a delve for the film noir dwellers. 9/10
She's no good, but she's good for me!
The Man Who Cheated Himself is directed by Felix E. Feist and written by Seton I. Miller and Phillip MacDonald. It stars Lee J. Cobb, Jane Wyatt, John Dall and Lisa Howard. Music is by Louis Forbes and cinematography by Russell Harlan.
Ed Cullen (Cobb) is a cop who is having an affair with wealthy Lois Frazer (Wyatt). When Lois, in a fit of panic shoots dead her husband, it cause Cullen no end of grief. You see, he was there as well, a witness to the crime...
Don't forget to change your will.
This is a film noir entry that contains most of the elements that form that brand of film making. Something of an under seen - and undervalued - piece, it manages to rise above a few minor itches to play out as potent. Cullen (Cobb excellent) gets spun into a vortex of self inflicted trouble on account of his eye for a dame, essayed by a cast against type Wyatt. Both are unfaithful, she's unreliable and he's quick to break his own laws with dishonesty and a corruptible soul.
Things spice up when Cullen's younger brother, Andy (Dall), himself a police officer, joins his brother in investigating the "now" mysterious murder case. So we have a family crisis brewing as the younger Cullen tries to crack the case, all while his elder brother tries to throw him off the scent of his own complicity. Wonderful, because like a few other great noirs (Scandal Sheet, The Big Clock et al) we have a protagonist effectively investigating himself. And with the brothers being polar opposites in life values, it keeps things simmering nicely in the intrigue pot.
The dialogue is often clippy and the police procedural aspects are finely played with believable strokes. Close calls come and go as the detective work lurches from almost solved and closed to "hang on a minute something smells fishy here" , while tricky collusion's smile like a Cheshire cat. The great Russell Harlan (Gun Crazy/Riot In Cell Block 11) continually keeps things moody with shadows and low lights, whilst simultaneously bringing to life the splendid San Francisco locations. None more so than for the finale filmed out at a derelict and decrepit Fort Point, a perfect setting for noir if ever there was one (Hitchcock and Boorman thought so too!)
Wyatt is just about convincing enough as a femme fatale, but you can't help but ponder what one of the true noir actresses could have done with the role. While you can't get away from the fact that really both Cullen and Frazer simply had to front up for a self defence case at the beginning and there would have been no hassle. But as weak as that aspect is, there wouldn't have been this noir tale to tell, all of which is helmed with careful and knowing hands by Feist (Tomorrow is Another Day). 7.5/10
Money isn't dirty. Just people.
Pushover is directed by Richard Quine and adapted to screenplay by Roy Huggins from stories written by Bill S. Ballinger and Thomas Walsh. It stars Fred MacMurray, Phillip Carey, Kim Novak, Dorothy Malone and E. G. Marshall. Music is scored by Arthur Morton and cinematography by Lester White.
Straight cop Paul Sheridan (MacMurray) is on the trail of the loot stolen in a bank robbery where a guard was shot and killed. He is tasked with getting to know Lona McLane (Novak), the girlfriend of the chief suspect in the robbery. But once contact is made, and surveillance set up over the road from her apartment complex, Sheridan begins to fall in love and lust with the sultry femme.
Comparisons with the superior Double Indemnity are fair enough, but really there is enough here, and considerable differences too, for the film to rightfully be judged on its own merits. Also of note to point out is that one or two critics have questioned if Pushover is actually a film noir piece? Bizarre! Given that character motives, destinies and thematics of plot are quintessential film noir.
A good but weary guy is emotionally vulnerable and finds his life spun into a vortex of lust, greed and murder. Yet the femme fatale responsible, is not a rank and file manipulator, she too has big issues to deal with, a trophy girlfriend to a crook, she coarsely resents this fact. The cop who never smiles and the girl who has forgotten how too, is there hope there? Do they need the money that has weaved them together? What does that old devil called fate have in store for them? Classic noir traits do pulse from the plot. True, the trajectory the pic takes had been a well trodden formula in noir by the mid fifties, where noir as a strong force was on the wane, but this holds up very well.
It isn't just a piece solely relying on two characters either, there's the concurrent tale of Sheridan's voyeuristic partner Rik McAllister (Carey), who has caught the eye of Lona's next door neighbour, Ann Stewart (Malone). Both these characters operate in a different world to the other two, yet the question remains if a relationship can be born out from such shady beginnings? The presentation of relationships here is delightfully perverse. The visual style wrung out by Quine (Drive a Crooked Road) and White (5 Against the House) is most assuredly noir, with 99% of the film set at night, with prominent shadows, damp streets lit by bulbous lamps and roof top scenes decorated sparsely by jutting aerials. The L.A. backdrop a moody observer to the unwrapping of damaged human goods.
Cast are very good, all working well for their reliable director. Novak sizzles in what was her first credited starring role, she perfectly embodies a gal that someone like Paul Sheridan could lose his soul for. MacMurray is suitably weary, his lived in face telling of a life lacking in genuine moments of pleasure. Carey, square jawed, tall and handsome, he is the perfect foil to MacMurray's woe. Malone offers the potential ray of light trying to break out in this dark part of America, while Marshall as tough Lieutenant Eckstrom and Allen Nourse as a copper riding the noir train to sadness, score favourably too.
It opens with a daylight bank robbery and closes in true noir style on a cold and wet night time street. Pushover, deserving to be viewed as one of the more interesting 1950s film noirs. 8/10
Wyatt is just about convincing enough as a femme fatale
The Denning Desperation.
Mr. Denning Drives North is directed by Anthony Kimmins and adapted to screenplay from his own novel by Alec Coppel. It stars John Mills, Phyliss Calvert, Eileen Moore, Sam Wannamaker and Herbert Lom. Music is by Benjamin Frankel and cinematography by John Wilcox.
A splendid collage of murder mystery, noir and thriller - with a slice of Hitchcockian black humour thrown in for good measure, Kimmins' film deserves to be better known. Plot finds Mills as the Mr. Denning of the title, who after accidentally killing his what he believes to be his daughter's unscrupulous boyfriend, dumps the body and then finds himself in a whirl of stricken conscience and panic.
To say more would be to spoil the fun for there are plenty of interesting roads on which the story travels, but it's safe to say the investigation of the missing body is gripping and has a delicious slice of ironic fate about it. Cast are excellent, particularly Mills, with the leads boosted by a roll call of British greats in supporting roles. Frankel provides a very lively musical score and Wilcox's photography has the requisite tonal accompaniments for the unfolding plot. Hats off also to Kimmins, who keeps a tight hold on things to let the drama flow naturally without histrionics.
From a nifty expressionistic opening to a very cheeky and fulfilling finale, this very much is one for murder mystery, noir, thriller fans to seek out. 7.5/10