May 2008


Year: 1947

Director: Edward Dmytryck

Cast: Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Gloria Grahame

Crossfire starts with a fight seen only in shadows on the wall. A man is killed but you don’t know who, and you don’t know who the murderer is. Crossfire is filmed as a fairly standard murder mystery, someone is murdered and the wrong person is blamed. As the investigation continues the real killer is eventually identified and caught. Seems pretty standard, right? As the story unfolds you will see that the real story here is one of bigotry and religious intolerance. A topic that was never attempted before (Gentleman’s Agreement was released later the same year).

Captain Finlay, (Robert Young) is investigating the murder of Joseph Samuels (Sam Levene) a Jew who met up with the wrong people. The suspects are soldiers just returned from the war. Among them are Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan and George Cooper. As the story unfolds with each soldier telling his version of the story it slowly becomes clear as to who the killer is. But that is not the point as you will know by now.

The film was done on a low budget because no one felt there was an audience for this kind of picture. In the end, the film not only made money but was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, (Edward Dmytryk), Best Supporting Actor (Robert Ryan) and Best Supporting Actress (Gloria Grahame).

Dmytryk has said that he used the film noir style because it was cheap and they had no budget, and noir required less lighting. True story or not, the use of low lighting, dark streets, cheap hotels and shadows created a noir classic.

Robert Young holds his own amongst some heavyweight company, but its Robert Ryan who provides a classic performance as the sadistic bigot Montgomery. Ryan, of course would go on to play a long assorted list of vicious characters in his career. Interesting enough Robert Mitchum is given a supporting role in this film even though by now he was a star. Crossfire was produced by RKO Pictures who Mitchum was under contract to and probably was forced to do the film, even if the role was not the lead. Gloria Grahame is on screen for only six to eight minutes but gives a tremendous performance as a dance hall girl, who spends time with Mitchell (George Cooper) the soldier who is at first incorrectly identified as the killer. From what I have read, Grahame, who has an abusive husband on screen, was going through a similar situation in real life and that may have led to some added authenticity that otherwise might have been missing.
Either way she is fantastic as usual. In the short, that accompanies the film on the DVD, it’s mentioned that Dmytryk used different lens when filming Robert Ryan. In the beginning, he used a standard 50mm lens showing Ryan’s character as normal. Later on he used a 40mm and still later, a 35mm and finally a 25mm on Ryan so he could reflect the distorted craziness of Ryan’s character, Montgomery. Crossfire is a film not to be missed.

By John Greco

Year: 1950

Director: Otto Preminger

Cast: Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Karl Malden, Gary Merrill

Detective Mark Dixon (Dana Andrews) is a cop loaded with demons. He hates criminals because his father had been one. Dixon is a brutal cop who does not have to follow the rules. A predecessor to Dirty Harry, Dixon sees the law as too soft on criminals.

Set in New York, the film is a dark look at Dixon’s obsessive pursuit of gangster Tommy Scalise, a former associate of his father. Preminger portrays Dixon as a loner, haunted by the past without a moral compass. While in pursuit of Scalise, Dixon accidently kills Ken Paine (Craig Stevens) and covers it up causing Paine’s former father in law to be arrested for the crime. He begins a relationship with Morgan (Gene Tierney), a fashion model and Paine’s ex-wife which will eventually will make Dixon confess to his crime.

Preminger, like Fritz Lang, was a student of German Expressionism which begat Film Noir. From the mid 1940’s to the early 1950’s Preminger produced a series of noir classics starting with Laura, Fallen Angel, Whirlpool, Angel Face and Where the Sidewalk Ends. Working with cinematographer Joseph LaShelle in Where the Sidewalks End, they created a claustrophobic bleak seedy post world war two vision of 1950’s America.

Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney who both starred in Preminger’s Laura some six years earlier are solid in their roles. Andrews plays Dixon as a tight lipped, full of rage, ready to explode detective whose only outlet is to take it out on the gangster scum controlling the grimy streets. Tierney is also very good as Morgan showing off a kind gentle nature almost the opposite of everyone else in the film. The cast also includes Gary Merrill, as Scalise, Karl Malden as Detective Lt. Thomas and Neville Brand as one of Scalise’s hood. The only false note is the somewhat happy ending that truly breaks the mood. Otherwise, this is one of the darkest grittiest film noirs you’ll ever see.

By John Greco


There’s an intriguing little tease over at the Fox Classics site. In the Coming Soon to DVD section, all the way at the bottom there’s simply a link that says For Christmas 2008, which brings you to this page…

http://foxclassics.com/comingsoon2.php

Definitely an interesting tease, obviously pointing to the release of Borzage’s Seventh Heaven on DVD. But it seems pretty strange that they’d make such a mysterious, and big deal over one movie.

But… there are rumors. Rumors that have pretty much been confirmed. For Christmas this year, Fox will be releasing a massive Frank Borzage/FW Murnau box set. Yes, that’s right. Not only will there be lost of Borzage on DVD, but we also get some Murnau thrown in there, too.

It looks like the films on the set will be Seventh Heaven, Street Angel, Lucky Star, Lazybones, The River, Liliom, They Had to See Paris, and Song o’ My Heart from Borzage and City Girl, Sunrise, and Four Devils from Murnau. It’s also looking like it will have some pretty amazing special features.

Well….I know what I’m getting from my parents for Christmas.

Year: 1934

Director: Paul Sloane

Cast: Franchot Tone, Karen Morley, May Robson, Jack LaRue, Nat Pendleton, Gladys George

Benny (Tone) is returning to his mother after spending time in prison. While he was gone, his mother (Robson) took in their neighbor, Bertha (Morley), whose mother had died. Benny promises Bertha and his mother that his days of crime are behind him and he wants to go straight. But his old friends (LaRue and Pendleton) and his old flame (George) want him to come back into their business.

Straight is the Way is a short and sweet B-picture that’s just a good watch. It’s a very basic film, not outstanding in any way, but not terrible in any way either. The characters in the film are Jewish, and it’s interesting to see a movie about the mob with Jewish characters. The film does have an odd structure. There’s not much of a flow to the story, not much of climax, but it does have a certain pace to it and it’s an enjoyable story.

Tone gives a really solid performance. Not one of his best, but he’s charismatic and it’s fun to see him play a character who’s a little morally ambiguous. Sometimes it’s hard to see where his motivations are coming from, until the love story between Benny and Bertha really starts to blossom. The romance is the strongest aspect of the film. Morley and Tone are a really good pair. Morley is the perfect good girl to Gladys George’s bad girl, and Tone’s growing love for her is interesting to watch as he believes he’s not good enough for her.

And I have to mention the supporting performances from Jack LaRue and Nat Pendleton. LaRue was one of the slimiest actors of the 1930s, and he does his usual good job of playing the bad guy here. And Pendleton is so much fun, as always. Charming, kind of adorable, and funny. He always gives a movie a special kick.

Straight Is the Way certainly isn’t a great movie, but for a 1930s B-picture, it’s a fun way to spend an hour, and the unusual structure is somewhat refreshing.

By Katie Richardson

Essential Pre-Code Films

Man’s Castle

Midnight Mary

Employees’ Entrance

Life Begins

Heroes For Sale

When people today think of Loretta Young, they usually think of the good Christian girl who starring in wholesome films like The Bishop’s Wife. But Loretta Young had been acting in films since the 1920s, and was actually one of the most active actresses of the pre-code era. She showed her fantastic range time and time again during the era, playing a wide variety of roles, from the good girl (Platinum Blond, Heroes for Sale) to the sexy bad girls (Midnight Mary, Born to Bad) to the girls in between (Employees’ Entrance, Life Begins).

Her angel face certainly allowed for her to play those good girl roles, but as with most pre-code films, morality wasn’t black and white, and those good girls weren’t always quite so good, just like the bad girls weren’t always quite so bad. She was a sweet girl getting ready to have a baby in Life Begins – but she was in prison for killing her boss. She was the seductive girlfriend of a gangster in Midnight Mary, but she was really just a victim of unfortunate circumstance.

And anybody who argues that good girl Young simply couldn’t be convincing as a bad girl have to watch Midnight Mary. It’s an extremely sexy performance, and Young pulls off the characters conflicted morality and cynical spirit with complete ease and talent. And then there’s the scene where she whispers naughty things into Ricardo Cortez’s ear. Yeah… an angel she was not.

That extended into her personal life as well. She wasn’t quite the pious soul she wanted everyone to think she was, as evidenced by her many affairs with her leading men, and the illegitimate child she had with Clark Gable.

Loretta Young was a much more fascinating actress that most people give her credit for.

By Katie Richardson

Year: 1954

Director: Fritz Lang

Starring: Glen Ford, Gloria Grahame, Broderick Crawford

Sometimes I wonder as I watch an old movie how they got past the censors of the day. Human Desire is one of those movies. This is one of the most sexually charged, gritty and explicit films from the 1950s that I have seen in a long time.

The plot follows a young train engineer who has just recently returned from the military. This engineer, played by Glenn Ford, returns to his old job and while catching up with friends finds one of his prior colleagues has done very well for himself financially and is now married to a much younger woman named Vicki Buckley (played by Gloria Grahame). He soon starts to discover that there is something suspicious going on between them and as he starts to uncover more and more he also becomes more and more interested in his old friend’s wife. Soon, the family he rents a room from and lives with, including a young daughter who has matured into a woman while he was away, start to notice his absence night after night as well as many phone calls between him and Vicki Buckley.

All the actors in this film did a fantastic job portraying their parts. Gloria Grahame and Broderick Crawford especially stand out as the newly married couple. Gloria Grahame who I recently saw in In a Lonely Place with Humphrey Bogart appears to be a real chameleon and a very accomplished actress. Her performance is fantastic. She straddles the line of sympathetic victim and ominous temptress perfectly always leaving the audience somewhat off balance, but completely riveted at the same time.

Her husband, played by Broderick Crawford is also perfect for his part. His character is gruff and intimidating but also jealous and insecure which must have been a difficult blend of emotions to characterize.

This movie was also very interesting in how it gave a fresh take on the femme fatale as well as its exploration of male-female relationships.

Visually speaking this is a very enjoyable movie to watch as it masterfully sets the mood through the cinematography, including the use of light and dark. Certain frames are so dark one can hardly make out anything until a perfectly timed splash of light illuminates the frame and furthers the story.

This is a great character driven story about the darkest of human desires.

By Greg Dickson

Year: 1932

Director: Nick Grinde

Starring:Barbara Stanwyck, Regis Toomey, Zasu Pitts, Lucien Littlefield, Clara Blandick, Oscar Apfel

Kitty (Stanwyck) is an orphaned waitress who goes to live with her aunt in a conservative town when her father dies. She earns a certain reputation when she flirts with the male customers. She falls in love with David (Toomey), the wealthy son of an oppressive and snobbish mother who will stop at nothing to separate the young lovers.

Stanwyck played a lot of these good bad girls in pre-code film. She had a line much later in her career in The Lady Eve – “The best ones aren’t as good as you probably think they are, and the bad ones aren’t as bad. Not nearly as bad.” – that seemed to sum up most of her pre-code characters. The girls who have reputations that don’t quite match who they really are. Stanwyck was really fantastic with these kinds of  roles. She managed to be both soft and feisty at the same time. Her outbursts weren’t simply indignant, whey were almost embarrassed, and filled with hurt. Her performance in Shopworn may be like others from her that we’ve seen before, but that doesn’t make it any less good.

Overall, Shopworn is just a well structured, well told pre-code romance. It’s nothing jaw dropping or ground breaking – it’s nearly identical to many other films of this type – but it’s still a solid pre-code treat. Stanwyck has strong chemistry with her leading man that makes their romance believable in all of its stages, from the young and idealistic to the older and cynical. It’s a through-the-years love story, and th performance develop convincingly.

There is one thing about Shopworn that makes it stand out from others of its type. The judgmental rich parent may be a stock character in romances like this, David’s mother is a true terror. One of the most detestable characters I’ve ever seen in a film. Definitely in the running for worst mother ever. If there was anything in this film that brought about passion in me, it was this character, because I hated her so much.

A brilliant pre-code this is bot, but it is a very solid romantic melodrama that uses the conventions of these types of films in and interesting way. And Stanwyck, as always, keeps things fresh.

By Katie Richardson

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