Year: 1950

Director: Anthony Mann

Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Walter Huston, Wendell Corey, Gilbert Roland

Yes, my #1 favorite Stanwyck role is Vance Jeffords in The Furies. The great Walter Huston delivers yet another memorable performance as well, which is appropriate since it’s his final one on film. Babs plays a babe here who has more balls than the men in her life. She’s tough as nails, reliable as a calendar, and loyal to the people she loves. Her dream is to take over her father’s vast cattle empire. She wants her birthright more than anything — even marriage. There’s a great scene where she rides out to warn Rip Darrow that he’s no longer welcome on her property. He doesn’t budge a muscle out of defiance, so she pulls a gun out and shoots a hole in his shirt just above the shoulder. Ms. Jerrods is not one for idle chit chat. One of the most iconic movie sequences is Stanwyck’s character throwing a pair of scissors @ her future mother-in-law. I immediately thought of coffee and Gloria Grahame, realizing that Mann’s scene came first. This is easily Mann’s best western and I love the Stewart films as much as anyone. There is a parallel to Joan Crawford’s character in Johnny Guitar, but nobody plays a strong, agressive female better than Babs.

Year: 1950

Director: Rudolph Mate

Cast: William Holden, Nancy Olson, Barry Fitzgerald, Jan Sterling

“Union Station,” an early police procedural, holds your interest throughout due to a tight story and a nice performance by William Holden. Made in 1950, and starring Holden and Nancy Olsen, who starred together the same year in Billy Wilder’s classic “Sunset Boulevard.” The cast also includes Barry Fitzgerald as Inspector Donnelly, a crotchety Irish cop, a role that Fitzgerald has made a career out of. Also in the cast are Lyle Bettger as the head kidnapper and Jan Sterling in a small role as his girlfriend.

Union Station police officer Lt. William Calhoun is told by a young woman, Joyce Willecombe (Olson) that she believes two men who were on her train may criminals planning to do something. She saw one of them carrying a gun. It turns out that the daughter of her boss, a blind girl, has been kidnapped, and the kidnappers have picked Union Station for the exchange. Calhoun (Holden) and Inspector Donnelly (Fitzgerald) spend the rest of the film battling the clock to identify and capture the kidnappers before they kill the girl.

The film was directed by Rudolph Mate who also made “D.O.A.” that same year. Mate’s career was mediocre though he made a couple of decent Westerns, “Branded” and “The Violent Men,” both with Glenn Ford. “Union Station” is a tough police thriller, especially if you are considering the year it was made. Halfway, through the film the police capture one of the kidnappers and in an attempt to get him to talk; he is smacked around, threaten with physical harm, bullied and almost thrown on to the tracks of an oncoming train. These cops would have been in good company with Harry Callahan. Notable in the cast is Lyle Bettger who plays Joe Beacom, a borderline psycho, who is the brains behind the kidnapping scheme. The final scenes in the belly of the Station are a visual treat. The script, though a bit unbelievable due to too many coincidences, still keeps you going. Written by Sydney Boehm whose credits include “Side Street,” “Violent Saturday,” “Rouge Cop” and Fritz Lang’s “The Big Heat.”

1950 was a breakout year for Holden who had been in films since the late 1930’s but really came into his own with two Billy Wilder pictures, the previously mentioned “Sunset Boulevard” and his Academy Award winning performance in Wilder’s “Stalag 17.” Nancy Olson was also nominated for her role in “Sunset Boulevard” and would go on to make four films with Holden as her leading man. While Olson has continued acting into the late 1990’s her career took second place during her marriage to lyricist Alan Jay Learner in the 1950’s and never recovered.

I always have had a special affection for train movies. Films like this, “Union Depot,” “The 39 Steps,” “Strangers on a Train,” “Night Train to Munich” have always fascinated me, as do movies with a newspaper theme. “Union Station” has never been released on video so you need to keep a lookout for it on TCM.

Year: 1950

Director: RIchard Fleischer

Cast: Charles McGraw, William Talman, Adele Rogers

Director Richard Fleischer had a paranoid career as a moviemaker. There was the Richard Fleischer who made all those overblown big studio special effect abominations like “Dr. Doolittle,” “Amityville 3_D,” “The Jazz Singer,” and “Fantastic Voyage.” Then there was the Richard Fleischer who made some of the tightest nifty crime thrillers ever like “The Boston Strangler,” “10 Rillington Street,” “Follow Me, Quietly,” “The Narrow Margin,” “The Clay Pigeon” and “Armored Car Robbery.” Fleischer was no auteur but did a solid craftsman like job. Over the course of his career his output was always erratic and in his later years films like “The Don is Dead” was generally poorly received and of deteriorating quality.

“Armored Car Robbery” is a sharp little “B” thriller that starts at a fast pace and does not let up. Dave Purvis (William Talman) is the brains behind an armored car heist that goes wrong. The plan is to rob an armored truck in front of Wrigley Field in Los Angles however; things go wrong when the cops arrive quicker than anticipated. Bullets fly and the chase to capture the criminals is on. Charles McGraw stars as Lt. Jim Cordell who loses his partner in the shoot-out and is stopping at nothing to get the killers. Purvis and his gang of three escape but one them Benny McBride (Douglas Fowley) is wounded. Benny needs the money to support his stripper wife, Yvonne (Adele Jergens) and her expensive taste. Unknown to Benny, Purvis and Yvonne are sleeping together and planning to get rid him in the process. Things continue to go wrong for Purvis and his gang, “Ace” Foster (Gene Evans) takes off, and Al Mapes (Steve Brodie) is captured by Cordell and squeals on Purvis who up until then was the only unknown to the police of the four men involved.

Charles McGraw, the man with the gravel voice, is perfect as the tough weary and determined Lt. Jim Cordell, a precursor to his role in Fleischer’s film noir gem “The Narrow Margin” a few years later. McGraw was a fixture in crime films including “Border Incident,” “T-Men,” “The Killers” and the previously mentioned “The Narrow Margin.” William Tatam makes a terrific sleazy criminal as Dave Purvis, the mastermind of the botched robbery who’s overly precautious personality makes him continually changes his address and cuts all the labels from his clothes. Talman became better known later on in TV for his role as District Attorney Hamilton Burger who always lost his case in “Perry Mason.” Adele Jergens strikes the right cord as Yvonne the sluttish money hungry stripper wife. Jergens career lasted through 1956, though mostly in small roles and some T.V.

“Armored Car Robbery” is a nice little heist film, one of the first, in what would soon become a sub-genre of the crime film. A stripped down forerunner of later heist films such as “The Asphalt Jungle,” “The Killing,” and more recently “The Bank Job”. You get some nice views of 1950’s L.A. with much of the filming on location on the streets of Los Angeles including minor league ballpark, Wrigley Field. This contributes to the gritty and documentary feel of the film. It makes you wonder why so many films today cannot accomplish in two and a half hours, what they do here in less than 70 minutes.

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

Year: 1950

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich, Michael Wilding, Richard Todd, Alistair Sim

Stage Fright is in many ways exactly what you would expect from Alfred Hitchcock. It is a brilliant premise mixed with suspenseful twists and turns.

The story follows a young theater student as she attempts to assist the man she loves in clearing his name after he is suspected of murder. She bends over backwards for him, utilizing her unrefined acting skills to go undercover in hopes to uncover the truth.

Considering the potential for tension built in to the plot of Stage Fright I thought Hitchcock fell somewhat short. For him this ends up being mediocre compared to some of his films. Lucky for viewers, mediocre for Hitchcock is quite good compared to so many other filmmakers that have worked throughout the decades the medium has been in existence.

The middle of the film drags a bit but is somewhat redeemed by a very engaging opening act and a killer ending (no pun intended)!

Hitchcock manages to not only tell a tale of suspense and danger, but also include a bizarre love story and a number of very memorable characters.

This includes Alistair Sim who plays the father of the young actress. He is loving and devoted, yet willing to aid his young daughter in this dangerous quest for truth. One wonders if his lack of hesitance in consenting to and consorting with his daughter’s dangerous antics stems from a vicarious pleasure he receives from the potential danger she faces, not to mention a desire to see his daughter happy and an eagerness to resort to behavior that is frowned upon by established authority. He is a very convincing nonconformist who is enjoyable to watch.

This doesn’t have anything to do with the quality of the film but as you watch pay attention to Michael Wilding who plays a young detective involved in the murder case who I think has a stunning resemblance to the actor, Alan Cumming. I can’t help but wonder if I am alone in seeing a similiarity between the two.

Jane Wyman is adorable in this role and plays her role remarkably well. The innocence portrayed by Jane Wyman deserves a lot of credit for the level of suspense this film is able to pull off. The audience can’t help but be especially concerned for her welfare due to her naivety.

I also think Marlene Dietrich deserves some credit for creating a very despise-able yet simultaneously enticing character that adds to the impact of the movie. She personifies the sexiness of a woman that is slowly beginning to advance in years but is still confident in regards to the sensuality her presence exudes. After all she was 49 when this movie was released, not exactly a spring chicken!

One aspect this film utilizes masterfully is the power of character perspective, especially in the use of flashbacks. Those familiar with the film will understand what I am saying, those who are not will have to take the time to watch it!

This is a solid film that is worth seeing, but at the same time it is somewhat forgettable. Hitchcock doesn’t live up to his genius in this film but still creates a very engaging plot with some delightfully engaging characters.

By Greg Dickson

Year: 1950

Director: Joseph H. Lewis

Starring: Peggy Cummins and John Dall

“Everything’s going so fast. It’s all in such high gear.”

Perhaps this statement by Bart Tare in Gun Crazy is the best description for the feel of this film. Bart Tare is the main character in this lightning fast tale of self destruction. Played by John Dall, Bart Tare is a young man recently back from serving in the military who finds himself involved with a cute-as-a-button young sharpshooter who leads him down a dark path.

This movie which apparently was once called Deadly is the Female (perhaps a better title for the film) features one of the most memorable femme fatales in film history. This woman is psychotic and blood-thirsty yet her greedy and homicidal tendencies are packaged in such an innocent exterior that you can’t help but assume that in Bart Tare’s shoes you would fall for her too. Part of what makes her fascinating is the fact that unlike some femme fatales who seem calculating in their destruction of the leading man, she seems more motivated by greed, a lust for excitement and the pleasure seeking nature of youth. Her name is Annie Laurie Star and she is played exceptionally well by Peggy Cummins. I was especially impressed by her childish mood swings and the physical manifestations of her deadly angst. She has a set of mannerisms that I think demonstrate great acting skill on the part of Peggy Cummins.

Besides her performance and the overall plot one of the aspects of this film that really stood out to me was the cinematography. I believe this movie would be a great source for countless lectures on the technical and artistic aspects of film-making such as camera placement, framing, lighting, and editing. The use of camera placement and framing to convey thematic elements of the story alone is masterful and awe-inspiring. The best example of this being the scene where Annie Laurie Star and Bart Tare first meet at one of her sharpshooting demonstrations. As she enters the stage she is firing her guns and when she spots Bart Tare in the audience she points her gun right at his face and pulls the trigger. Sure, she apparently is only shooting blanks, but the symbolism of that shot in unmistakable as we continue through the movie only to see his naive obsession with her result in dangerous situation after dangerous situation. This is one of the most visually interesting films I have seen in a long time and a significant highlight to this movie for me was the visual style of the film.

This movie is flawed, but for the most part it is very well done. My only real complaints were some sub-par acting at times and some borderline melodramatic moments. A few plot points in the film seem a little contrived as well, but for the most part it is a simple movie depicting the downfall of yet another fool who allows himself to be lead down a very destructive path by a beautiful, yet very dangerous woman.

By Greg Dickson