Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Hot Spot (1990)

The Hot Spot: The Drifter Caught Between Two Women

“Yes, indeed. I’ve found my level, and I’m living it.”

Based on the novel, Hell Hath No Fury by Charles Williams, the stylish erotically charged neo noir film The Hot Spot, is directed by Dennis Hopper. This tale of a drifter caught in a web of adultery, blackmail, double cross and murder is quintessential noir updated with more than a dash of sex. The Drifter is an archetypal figure in noir, but The Hot Spot also gives us two fascinating female characters to fill the polar opposite saintly and femme fatale roles. Placing the drifter Madox in between these two women, The Hot Spot is a complex story of a man torn between making good and bad choices through his relationships.

On a blisteringly hot day, with no clues about the drifter’s past, where he came from or where he is headed, laconic Harry Madox (Don Johnson) arrives in a small Texas town. This is the sort of town where the local sheriff patiently watches the newcomer with a predatory glance, the neighbors spy on one another with binoculars, and the entire population turns out to gawk at a fire at the local hamburger shack. Madox is just passing through. He stops for gas, pays with a $100 bill and ambles over to the Yellow Rose bar for a beer. While other customers ogle the topless exotic dancers swinging on poles, Madox seems oblivious to all the perfect female flesh on display. If Madox shows a measurable emotion when glancing at the male customers, it’s boredom with a slight nod to the fact these men are suckers.

But Madox is not impervious to female charm. Stepping out of the bar, he glimpses a willowy brunette walking her dog. Madox stops in his tracks, and then instinctively he follows the brunette and lands on Harshaw Motors, a used car lot. Without skipping a beat, he slickly waylays a customer who’s reluctant to buy a car. Undercutting Gulick (Charles Martin Smith), a salesman who’s too guileless to see that Madox is serious competition, Madox sells a car, padding his sales pitch with blatant lies.

Madox’s performance impresses the used car lot owner, blustery middle-aged cowboy, George Harshaw (Jerry Hardin), and Madox is offered a job as the new salesman. With a job at Harshaw Motors and a room in the town’s motel, things seem to be looking up for Madox—not bad for a drifter’s first day in town….

Camera shots scan the used cars in the lot as the sun beats down mercilessly, and while nothing moves in the heat, there’s a sense that tempers and passions are simmering under the sun’s merciless rays. Some shots show blurry waves of heat rising from the road, and even the scenes shot in the relatively cool lush water spots convey a tranquility that barely masks an underlying sense of heat and illicit passion.

With a tense restlessness held tightly in check, Madox defines his employment at Harshaw Motors, refusing some tasks and preempting his boss’s lunch hour. Harshaw, who proves to be a very bad judge of character, incorrectly interprets Madox’s refusal to obey as a lack of ambition. Madox’s sarcastic reply reveals that he couldn’t care less about the job or Harshaw’s opinion of him:

“Yeah, well I’ve got ambition. See I figure if I stick around selling jalopies for another 30 or 40 years, someone will give me a testimonial and a forty dollar watch.”

Madox’s motto is “in this life, you’ve got to take what you want. Damn sure can’t stand around and wait for someone to give it to you.” So it comes as no surprise when Madox starts scoping out the bank with an eye to making a big score, and with a sophisticated modus operandi it’s clear that Madox is a seasoned pro. Madox concocts a simple plan to rob the bank, and the plan works well, but it’s in Madox’s personal life, where things go horribly wrong.

To Madox, “life’s just been a succession of jams over floozies of one kind or another.” And true to character, he lands in a real mess. The brunette he spotted on his first day in town turns out to be fellow employee Gloria (Jennifer Connelly), a nineteen-year-old shy, sweet virginal beauty who happens to be the target of blackmail from local scumbag, Sutton (William Sadler). When Madox discovers that Gloria is hiding something, his first instinct is to trade that newfound knowledge for sexual favours, and when that doesn’t work, he feels slightly ashamed and backs off. Seeing Gloria as a damsel-in-distress, Madox finds himself trying to protect her from the slimy Sutton.

While Madox gently courts Gloria through a series of chaste trysts, he simultaneously dives into a sexually explosive relationship with Harshaw’s insatiable luscious, blonde wife, Dolly (Virginia Madsen). Madox, who’s alternately repelled and amused by Dolly, acknowledges “my batting average for staying out of trouble when it’s baited with this much tramp. An even zero.”

In some ways, The Hot Spot’s formula may seem all too familiar—something we’ve seen before. But the moral complexities and the intricacies of character in this neo noir create a vastly superior film that could so easily be overlooked, and in some ways The Hot Spot craftily encourages the viewer to miss its subtle, buried moral ambiguities. A great deal of the film rests on Don Johnson, and he’s surprisingly effective as the drifter Madox—a man who’s given a fresh start, but who goes right back to the same old behaviors. Perhaps best known for Miami Vice, the role of the opportunistic Madox fits Johnson well. Fate leads him to Harshaw Motors, and then character takes over, creating an explosive—for want of a better word—‘ love’ triangle between Madox, Gloria and Dolly.

The most fascinating aspect of The Hot Spot is Madox’s relationship with these two very different women. The film emphasizes the physical differences between the two female characters, and there are certainly plenty of contrasts between Gloria’s ephemeral beauty and Dolly’s red-hot nympho act. Gloria dresses in light colours and delicate fabrics, and her scenes are cool, clear and full of light. Dolly, on the other hand, is placed in steamy situations, dressing in hot pinks and reds, writhing on her silver satin sheets in her bordello-inspired bedroom, or laying on her back in the rear seat of a car. While the film emphasizes these physical differences, fascinating behaviours and decisions trail through this tawdry tale. Gloria represents the ‘good woman’ and the lure of domesticity, but as the story develops, it’s possible that Gloria has a few wiles of her own. Whether or not these wiles are based in naiveté or simple lack-of-practice, well that’s a decision I leave to the viewer. While we should not be too shocked when Dolly swings her legs open for Madox’s view, Gloria also tries that trick too. Dolly’s conversations with Madox are pumped with landmines of sexual innuendo, but then again Gloria also drops sexual hints to Madox. Whereas Dolly’s sexual antics are up front, transparent, and all too obvious, Gloria isn’t above teasing either. Sutton, a man who uses women to get what he wants, realizes that Gloria, who has some dirty secrets of her own, has Madox “all stirred up,” an idea he finds hilarious.

Madox idolizes Gloria and envisions an idealistic future that he longs for on some level, but it’s built on an old cliché that man can be redeemed by the love of a ‘good woman.’ Many men would see Dolly as a fantasy woman—the scarlet temptress who promises and delivers a roller coaster ride of wild sexual variation. But Madox’s fantasy woman is the virginal, serene Gloria, and symbolic scenes frequently place Gloria protectively, and unattainably behind glass while Madox is on the outside looking in.

A frequent theme in noir is the idea of the man corrupted by a femme fatale into committing egregious acts that are unimaginable in normal circumstances. Consider Cora Smith in The Postman Always Rings Twice or Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity. Murder rears its head in The Hot Spot, and it’s expected that Dolly would suggest murder to Madox. Does Madox draw a line at murder? The answer to that question is a resounding no. Madox is perfectly capable of murder, but the prize must be worth it. While to Madox, Dolly isn’t worth killing for, Gloria is. Ironically, the bitter truth is that it’s the ‘good’ woman who provokes Madox to murder—not the hot-blooded hussy who uses every trick in the book to manipulate Madox into her murderous schemes. But in spite of the film’s emphasis on the manipulation of men by sexuality, in the end it’s Dolly’s wily intelligence and not her rampant sexual appetite that allows her to shape her own destiny. Sex is one of Dolly’s weapons, but she knows and understands Madox better than he knows himself, and this, ultimately is what makes The Hot Spot a fascinating, steamy neo noir that resonates long after the credits roll.

Written by Guy Savage

Friday, January 18, 2008

D.O.A. (1950)

Starring Edmond O'Brien (Frank Bigelow), Pamela Britton (Paula), Neville Brand (Chester). Directed by Rudolph Maté

Incredulous, exhausted, and reeling from his shockingly nightmarish medical prognosis, Frank Bigelow rests against a corner newsstand (prominently displaying issues of 'LIFE') and gazes up at a sun whose nurturing rays seem to have turned toxic and cruelly disorienting. The viewer half-expects our doomed protagonist to address the heavens with an echo of his opening line, "I'd like to see the man in charge.."- but no higher power is evidenced in 'D.O.A.', in which the apathetic and the duplicitous far outnumber the righteous, and a nondescript everyman can morph into a violent, fearless equalizer.

An accountant from the small, symbolically named Ca. town of 'Banning', Bigelow has been surreptitiously slipped slow-acting luminous poison while nightclubbing in rollicking San Francisco. There to sow wild oats while delaying his future with Paula, the doting secretary/girlfriend he's left at home, Bigelow has been marked for death by an assemblage of shady types whose illegal dealings he has unknowingly - and only tangentially - taken part in. Following two darkly over-the-top hospital scenes in which the worst is twice confirmed, Bigelow - who just hours before had decided on returning home to settle down - makes a desperate, irrational dash down a bustling 'Frisco thoroughfare in an electrifying, vividly metaphorical sequence. Prompting uneasy laughter, it's a genre zenith.

Shuffling off this mortal coil while in the tender arms of his girl (or a physician's care) appears to be entirely out of the question for Frank. If he's going down, by god, he's taking somebody with him - so he assumes the unlikely role of dogged gumshoe, and following a thin lead penetrates a network of scornful dames, urbane foreigners, and one chillingly sadistic henchman (Brand, in a most unsettling turn) - all in the name of solving his own time-released murder. With poison and rage surging through his failing being, Bigelow criss-crosses cities - bursting onto scenes to interrogate suspects, before learning the awful truth and confronting his killer. Seconds after making his byzantine story official at L.A.'s Hall of Justice, a pain-racked Bigelow succumbs. The matter closed, and their involvement needless, the taciturn detectives stamp his file 'dead on arrival'.

Uniquely and perversely entertaining, 'D.O.A.' holds a special place in the dark hearts of noirheads. As deliriously eccentric a genre entry as one is likely to find, it has aged remarkably well, and holds up some six decades later. Existential melodrama for the drive-in set, the film's bracing comedic-chaotic style often belies it's ghastly message, but never at the expense of it's key genre elements;
  1. the 'black cloud' flashback structure;
  2. middle class ennui;
  3. urban paranoia;
  4. hard-boiled detective intrigue; and
  5. a romance doomed.

Influenced by a 1930s German thriller from genre icon Robert Siodmak, 'D.O.A.'s existential bent and underlying dread become apparent as early as the opening credits , when Bigelow is brusquely thumbed down an endless, shadowy hallway towards Homicide Division by a preoccupied cop. Throughout the film we are presented officers who are literally and figuratively distant. They are outside Bigelow's orbit, too disinterested to be relevant. When Bigelow concludes his story for them at film's end, a detective in the background can be spotted napping.

While the Bigelow character writhes in the eye of his personal storm, director Maté; cinematographer Ernest Laszlo; and editor Arthur Nadel (in his 20s during production), see to it that the viewer experiences a smattering of his phantasmagoric torment. Pronounced shifts in tone and jarring environment changes - along with some breathtaking camerawork, and Dimitri Tiomkin's overwrought score - wreak psychosomatic havoc. During the sequence in which Frank and his fellow travelers enjoy themselves at the waterfront nightspot 'The Fisherman', the filmmakers immerse us in the smoky den of iniquity, where with Be-Bop blasting, liquor flowing, and all manner of sin acting as distractions, the most grievous of acts goes virtually unnoticed.

Hats off to O'Brien, who nails every note in the avant-garde symphony he's asked to perform. From the tender moments nuzzling Paula before his fateful trip; the comedic rubbernecking during his exiting hotel stay; and the high-pitched denials shouted at tact-challenged doctors, to the scenes featuring out-of-character manhandling and hissing of hard-boiled dialogue - our accidental hero's out-of-shape, guy-next-door familiarity keeps us in his corner.

An offbeat, exhilarating, and ultimately very moving exercise in experimental noir (wolf-whistles, anyone?) 'D.O.A.' is an unforgettable cinematic experience.

Written by Dave

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Killers (1946)

Editor's note: This week's Film Noir of the Week is from film noir historian Bill Hare. Bill previous Noir of the Week on John Huston is not to be missed. He has written a number of books on film including Early Film Noir: Greed, Lust and Murder Hollywood Style.

Two Dynamic Newcomers Light up Screen

By Bill Hare

Picture a conversation involving producer Mark Hellinger talking in the Universal Commissary over lunch with a tried and true professional we will call Mr. Conventional Wisdom. The conversation proceeds as follows:

Hellinger: I acquired the rights to Ernest Hemingway’s short story “The Killers” and I’ll be doing a film on it.

Mr. Conventional Wisdom: Great move, Mark! Big name writer! Great PR right off the bat. So you’ve got a big name leading man to match, right? Got it cast?

Hellinger: Actually I’ve got a newcomer. Broad-shouldered young guy just out of the service. He just did a play on Broadway. Closed right away but it wasn’t his fault.

Mr. Conventional Wisdom: What? You’re kidding me, right?

Hellinger: No, not at all.

Mr. Conventional Wisdom: Not a good idea. Not a good idea at all. I figure, though, that you’ve got a big name leading lady opposite him. That’ll kind of balance things out. So you got a leading lady lined up?

Hellinger: Oh yes. Definitely.

Mr. Conventional Wisdom: Who is she?

Hellinger: Actually she’s a newcomer too.

Mr. Conventional Wisdom: What? You out of your mind, Mark? Two newcomers in the leads? Tell me you’re kidding!

Hellinger may well have had more than one conversation of the aforementioned variety when he revealed his casting choices in one of the most perfectly executed films in the history of the industry. The words that separate the conventional types who are prevented from reaching the gigantic heights that a Mark Hellinger scaled are “creative imagination,” the ability to catch those sparks. Those of creative skill recognize star power while those of lesser skill almost invariably miss.

Manhattan Giant

Mark Hellinger was one of those colorful show business figures called a legend in his own time. A leading New York City columnist, he reportedly had a regular reading audience of 18 million. A drama critic as well as a columnist, a Broadway theater would be ultimately named after him. The perpetual man about town lived the part all the way to his marital choice, with his wife a beautiful former showgirl.

Hellinger’s shrewd eye took him to his native Manhattan bastion as his attention riveted on a broad-shouldered Army USO man who made his living as an acrobat and had appeared in a Broadway play in which he attracted attention, despite its early closure. “A Sound of Hunting” played the Lyceum Theater for two weeks, but the star’s raw magnetism impressed film scouts. A fellow member of the cast, character performer Sam Levene, knew just the person to handle this dynamic East Harlem hunk.

Harold Hecht would not only represent superstar Burt Lancaster; he would become a partner with him in the highly successful independent production company of Hecht-Hill-Lancaster. The team would achieve history by becoming the first independent production unit to secure an Academy Award for “Best Film” with the 1955 release “Marty” starring Ernest Borgnine, who garnered a “Best Actor” Oscar.

Hellinger had first sought burly leading man Wayne Morris, who had performed in various films as a professional fighter, with his most notable role in this genre being the 1937 Warner Brothers release “Kid Galahad” also starring Edward G. Robinson. Since the male lead of “The Killers” Ole Anderson is a former professional fighter Morris was an understandable choice of interest, but Hellinger looked elsewhere after investigating the size of the loan out cost Warner Brothers demanded for his services.

Lancaster filled the bill as a physical type for the tragic male figure of Hemingway’s short story while his superb dramatic instincts filled in the rest of the necessary equation for the role. Ole Anderson was ultimately a big lost kid vulnerably exposed to be devoured by the right woman.

Part Two of the Dynamic Equation

So a shrewd and confident Mark Hellinger defied conventional wisdom once by signing a newcomer in Burt Lancaster to play an important key dramatic role in a major Universal Pictures presentation. So why did he not at least, as conventional wisdom assuredly dictated, hedge his bet by casting a box office tested female lead?

Kitty Collins, the ruthless femme fatale, was the kind of woman who could literally reduce poor Ole Anderson to a panting hunk willing to do anything to achieve the kind of all-encompassing love he desired but would never be able to attain.

Creative instinct is the hallmark of great filmmaking. Hellinger possessed a great eye for talent with much experience from his Broadway theatrical days. He knew female animal magnetism when he saw it and also knew supreme beauty. Therefore, newcomer or not, when he saw a screen test of a young actress fresh from North Carolina named Ava Gardner, Hellinger knew he had found Kitty Collins the ruthless temptress.

Raw, combustible energy is the grist of cinematic drama. One of the best kinds, so familiar in the film noir genre, is silent energy. One of the premier scenes in Hollywood annals involving that kind of silent energy, that explosive chemistry, occurs when Burt Lancaster, after his character Ole Anderson’s final and losing ring battle, is invited to a party and becomes mesmerized by the sultry singer sitting at a piano.

Once that Lancaster observes Gardner his attention is so strongly fixed on her that he forgets everything and everyone else, including the fact that he is with his regular girlfriend, played by Virginia Christine. Christine’s response is to switch her order from a soft drink to hard liquor, knowing that her boyfriend has fallen hard for another woman.

The initial meeting between Lancaster and Gardner is comparable for raw, electrifying, and silent sensuality to the initial meeting of John Garfield and Lana Turner in a noir film also released in 1946, “The Postman Always Rings Twice.”

In addition to securing a devastating team in Lancaster and Gardner, Hellinger, in tapping German émigré Robert Siodmak as director, had a skilled craftsman with valuable film noir experience prior to directing “The Killers.” Siodmak, who had escaped the wrath of Hitler along with his screenwriting brother Curt, had registered impressively just two years earlier in directing a bona fide noir classic.

Introducing “Phantom Lady”

Siodmak’s earlier foray into the film noir realm came with “Phantom Lady,” in which a loving secretary seeks to save her boss, with whom she falls deeply in love, from a date in Sing Sing’s electric chair. Brunette beauty Ella Raines typified the wholesome girl next door, and in “Phantom Lady” she works overtime in a battle against the clock to find a lady wearing a large distinctive hat, played by Fay Helm, who is boss Alan Curtis’ lone alibi after his wife has been found strangled.

Curtis, an engineer, believes that Franchot Tone is his best friend, but the bizarre genius architect has a dark side and has attempted to set up Curtis. When Raines seeks to play sleuth by extracting information from professional drummer Elisha Cook Jr., who seeks to seduce her, she ends up inadvertently costing Cook his life.

The mystery is kept very much in play throughout, with detective Thomas Gomez, who initially arrested Curtis for murder, becoming a convert as to Curtis’ innocence and assisting Raines in her efforts.

The mystery element is explored with devastatingly brilliant results in “The Killers” as well with the object in this case being the money confiscated in the robbery of a hat factory with Lancaster victimized by the beauty of Gardner along with the cleverness of mob boss Albert Dekker.

Both “Phantom Lady” and “The Killers” were adaptations of works by celebrated American authors. In the latter case, as mentioned, the author was Ernest Hemingway while Cornell Woolrich, whose “Rear Window” was brilliantly adapted by the team of director Alfred Hitchcock and scenarist John Michael Hayes, wrote the original story and Bernard Schoenfeld adapted it to the screen.

The issue confronting Anthony Veiller in adapting Hemingway’s short story is one of “Where do we go from here?” when so many details have been left out. The Hemingway short story, frequently read by college literature students for its brisk, clean prose and snappy dialogue, is completed largely in one scene.

Veiller, who approached this challenge shortly after spending the war writing episodes of Frank Capra’s “Why We Fight” documentary series, later adapted the play “State of the Union” (1948) to the screen for Capra. He also performed heavy duty for another directing legend, John Huston, in penning “Moulin Rouge” (1952) and adapting Tennessee Williams’ play “Night of the Iguana” (1964) while doing non-credited work on “Beat the Devil” (1957).

The veteran screenwriter shrewdly left the first scene set in the diner of a small New Jersey town basically as Hemingway wrote it. He did the same with the scene in which Nick Adams, Hemingway’s short story alter ego, darts over to the rooming house where the former fighter lives and warns him that his life is in danger.

Two superb character performers who would later became famous leading men of television, Charles McGraw and William Conrad, play vicious hit men with sarcastic and acerbic verbal demeanors. As they wait in vain for Lancaster to come there for dinner so they can hopefully dispose of him, they ridicule the diner’s proprietor for his evening special that they sardonically and repeatedly refer to as “the big dinner.”

The scene in the small room rented by Lancaster in which he lies on his bed wearing trousers and undershirt, reveals a man who will run no more and has exiled himself to the fates. They will surely and promptly emerge in the forms of McGraw and Conrad. Young Phil Brown as Nick Adams stares at the doomed ex-boxer with helpless resignation, knowing that the sad and tired victim will soon be dead and has lost the faith or the will to resist what he deems an inevitable fate.

Part Two and Creating a Story

Since the Hemingway short story ended with Nick Adams delivering a warning to a former boxer pursued by the mob, it was up to Anthony Veiller to create a devastating part two to the story, filling in the blanks by flashback as to how the hapless Ole Anderson attained his ultimate fate of being gunned down by a team of ruthless mob hit men.

Veiller chose to open the second and longer part of the story through the eyes and ears of a curious insurance investigator wondering why a quiet, unobtrusive man working as a gas station attendant in a small New Jersey town would attract the attention of presumably big city mobsters and become a murder victim.

Playing the role of the investigator was Edmond O’Brien. His determined manner and pursuit of the truth was reminiscent of O’Brien in a film noir classic released three years later, D.O.A. In that instance O’Brien had been given a slow acting but lethal dose of luminous toxic poison. O’Brien spent the final day of his life tracking down his own killer.

O’Brien’s quest for truth and justice in “The Killers” takes him to Philadelphia. He then finds a retired Philadelphia detective who assists him in his pursuit. Playing the boyhood friend of Lancaster who ends up on the other side of the law is Lancaster’s New York acting pal who steered him to Harold Hecht.

Sam Levene not only was a boyhood Philadelphia friend of Lancaster’s; he ended up marrying his former girlfriend, Virginia Christine. At times Levene as a seasoned police officer sounds a lot like Trevor Howard warning Joseph Cotten in “The Third Man” (1949) to be careful in his vigilant pursuit of justice against the efforts of professional criminals adept at meting out instant death.

A Memorable Cast of Criminals

Veiller not only gives us an excellent mystery in which investigator O’Brien with the aid of Levene seeks to unravel what happened to the missing money stolen in the robbery of a hat factory; he presents a fascinating array of criminal types who battle one another in a race for the missing booty.

Veteran comedian and character actor Vince Barnett emerges as the film’s Greek chorus. As Lancaster’s cell mate, he entertains him by staring out the window of their cell as he discusses star formations and provides astronomy lessons.

While Lancaster listened to Barnett while they were prison mates, he failed to respond to his words of wisdom when he warned him to get away from Gardner. The wily Barnett declared that Gardner was poison for him. He also warned Lancaster not to become involved in any criminal enterprise run by Albert Dekker.

Jack Lambert displays a ruthless hunger in seeking to acquire the missing money. On one occasion he almost bumps off O’Brien after wresting a gun away from him. O’Brien is spared by the arrival of the police.

Jeff Corey was well known not only as a brilliant character performer, but as one of Hollywood’s best known drama coaches, numbering Jack Nicholson among his students. Corey is provided with one of the film’s most difficult acting challenges, which he performs with consummate gusto.

We observe and listen to a squirming, heavily perspiring, dying Corey mixing fact and hallucination after being shot by Lambert. O’Brien and Levene listen intently as the dying Corey reveals details of the hat factory job and other important facts along with mutterings.

The Strange Case of Albert Dekker

Albert Dekker and the devastating Ava Gardner form a fascinating crime team. Dekker has risen to the level of crime boss who gives orders to the likes of Lancaster, Lambert and Corey due to his intelligence. That shrewdness ultimately enables him to become a leading businessman and prominent figure in his community, but meanwhile O’Brien and Levene look into his past while Lambert and Corey are on the prowl for money they believe is owed to them.

Dekker starred in the 1940 science fiction-horror cult classic “Dr. Cyclops” and portrayed the brilliant but ultimately mad scientist in the 1955 film noir classic “Kiss Me Deadly.” His own life ended in a manner as mysteriously fascinating as any role he played on screen in his long career.

Dekker moved from Hollywood political activist to candidate for office and served his Hollywood district in the California State Assembly, courageous fighting for liberal causes and battling McCarthyism during the fifties.

He was found dead in his Hollywood apartment at 1731 N. Normandie, just north of Hollywood Boulevard, on May 5, 1968. Dekker was discovered in the bathroom hanging by the end of a rope, which was tied to the shower curtain rod. His hands were bound with a pair of handcuffs. Two hypodermic needles were stuck in his body.

Obscenities were scribbled all over the corpse, leading police to wonder at one point if Dekker had been killed in the midst of rough sex. Police originally listed his grotesque death as a suicide. Several days later the L.A. County Coroner’s Office ruled his death to be “accidental.” The conclusion was accompanied by a brief statement, “We have no information that Mr. Dekker planned to take his own life.”

The same area where Dekker met a bizarre death was the scene of two other grisly homicides. In 1960 a landlady was strangled by one of her tenants after they had returned from the Hunley Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. The film they had just seen was Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.”

During the seventies Vaughan Greenwood, the notorious “Skid Row Slasher,” after moving his murder spree from downtown Los Angeles claimed his last victim at an apartment in the same area by slashing his throat.

Forget the Remake

Universal Pictures continued to hold the rights to “The Killers” and remade the film almost two decades later. The 1964 release is as forgettable as its predecessor is unforgettable.

A trivia anecdote attaches to the 1964 release of “The Killers.” It marked the final film appearance of Ronald Reagan prior to running for governor of California two years later. Some critics have speculated that Reagan’s performance in the role previously enacted by Albert Dekker might have hastened his ensuing career change.

Monday, January 07, 2008

1984 (1956)

Posted by HJ

I read the book back in the late 1950s just before entering my teens, and was really impressed! The one item that has stuck with me throughout the years was "Newspeak," where words were limited, and seemed to be expressed in terms of a positive connotation. Therefore,instead of "terrible," one would say "double plus un-good."

But I must rate the 1956 version of the movie as at least "plus good." Its Noirness is debatable, although the very concept of 1984 as such a tightly-controlled society is quite Noirish.

I'm not going to use a lot of verbiage in explaining the film itself, other than to say that Edmond O'Brien was a very competent Winston Smith and Jan Sterling was convincing as his illicit girlfriend Julia. The obligatory weasel was well-portrayed by Donald Pleasence.

If you're looking for a colorful flick, this ain't it! The drabness of Winston Smith's existence both on and off the job is profound. And his realization that the Ministry of Truth is propounding nothing but a constantly-shifting pack of lies and revisionist history in support of whatever Big Brother's current needs demand is well-handled, IMO.

If I may digress somewhat here, you can find at least SOME elements of 1984 in real life now, depending on your political leanings.

The monitoring of people's lives by the government is somewhat of a fact nowadays, though not in quite such a malevolent way as in the movie.

The revisionist history (which I really despise!) is also a fact of life in our lives today, though employed more in a political propaganda way than a governmental way.

And the drab lives are lived every day in Third World countries by most of their citizens, as drab lives always have been and will probably continue to be for millennia to come......

This is a novel (and movie) that flirts with conventions of Film Noir while not actually being a Noir, IMO. That said, to me it's very well worth a watch!

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