Showing posts with label Brian Donlevy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brian Donlevy. Show all posts

Saturday, September 22, 2007

A Cry in the Night (1956)

"A CRY IN THE NIGHT" - Film versus Novel

Posted by HJ

Owen Clark (Richard Anderson) and a lovely teen-aged Liz Taggart (Natalie Wood) are parked in Lover's Lane when Anderson is startled by the sound of a "peeping Tom." He tries to chase the intruder and is slugged with a lunch bucket by the intruder, leaving Liz free to be abducted!

Her captor is portrayed by Raymond Burr, who would become suave and handsome Perry Mason just a year later. His character is Harold Loftus, a 32-year-old mentally handicapped and socially retarded man with a clinging and overbearing mother, and is understandably attracted to the lovely Liz Taggart, whose father is a tough cop named Dan Taggart (Edmond O'Brien).

Captain Ed Bates (Brian Donlevy), the commander of the night shift at the police station, is pressured by Taggart to find his missing daughter after the dazed Owen Clark is found by a patrol car inspecting Lovers Lane. Owen Clark is initially thought to be just a drunk after an attempt by another couple in Lovers Lane to revive him with some booze leaves him smelling like a distillery, but the police Doctor (Peter Hansen) realizes that Clark is just concussed and that Clark's car and girlfriend are both missing.

In my opinion the most impressive character in this movie is Raymond Burr's Harold Loftus. To me the character is a mixture of Lenny ("Of Mice and Men") and Bo Svenson's 1973 made-for-TV "sympathetic" Frankenstein monster characterization. Loftus is genuinely frightening violent psycho who can switch from one personality to the other at the drop of a hat. Raymond Burr's dramatic ability and large expressive eyes make him a well-chosen actor to portray Harold Loftus. He's just a big somewhat retarded guy whose contacts with women have been limited by his possessive and overbearing mother, and any attraction he has felt to women nearer his own age has resulted either in his rejection and embarrassment by the women or browbeating by Mom Loftus.

O'Brien and Donlevy both do a fine job with their roles, but make no mistake: This was Raymond Burr's movie! Natalie Wood (age 18 when this movie was made, I believe) shows promise of the fine actress she would become, but she's primarily there to furnish her beauty and appeal, of which there is plenty!

I recently bought and read the novel by Whit Masterson from which this movie was made. The relationship between the two is substantial, but there are a lot of significant differences.

In the book, Loftus is a married man with a whiny and unattractive wife, and his mother doesn't figure much in the plot. And rather than the somewhat retarded "Mama's boy" of the movie, Loftus is a frustrated would-be rapist who really hasn't thought out his capture of the girl and subsequent activities very well. His short-term planning is frustrated by unexpected events.

The Liz Taggart character, who tries to "handle" the "retarded" Loftus in the movie spends almost all of the book unconscious and figures very little other than as a lust object for the would-be rapist Loftus. And her boyfriend Owen Clark in the book wants very much to participate in the rescue of Liz, but is despised and kept out of the action by Dan Taggart.

So, basically the outline of the novel is retained by the movie but the specifics are altered quite a bit to make maximum use of the emerging star Raymond Burr and the beautiful and very promising Natalie Wood.

In my opinion, a very worthwhile movie, but also an interesting novel. Both are worth a visit!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Kiss of Death (1947)

Posted by Mappin & Webb Ltd.

Dir. Henry Hathaway

As our film begins a narrator informs us over the opening shots of a bustling Manhattan that, “Christmas eve in New York a happy time for some people; the lucky ones. Last minute shopping, presents for the kids, hurry home to light the tree and fill the stockings… for the lucky ones. Others aren’t so lucky.” Here we are introduced to Nick Bianco (Victor Mature) a former jail-bird, trying to fly the straight and narrow. After a year of his prison record impeding his efforts to get a legit job, we see Nick and a few cohorts enter a jeweler’s office and rob them because, “this is how Nick goes Christmas shopping for his kids.” Nick gets caught at the end of this tense scene where he is seconds away from eluding the police who have been tipped off to the burglary. As he is about to escape their grasp, into the streets of New York, when a cop shoots him in the leg, dropping him to the ground and ensuring his Christmas will be spent at the graybar hotel. The narrator informs us that this event mirrors the fate of Nick’s father who died twenty years earlier with a policeman’s bullet in his back. He was escaping from a robbery he just committed when young Nick witnessed his father’s death and sadly enough it was one of his earliest memories. When the violins die down Nick is looking at plenty jail time but he has a way out.

Assistant D.A. Louis D’Angelo (Brian Donlevy) is a family man who tells Nick that if he sings about the failed heist, he can get out of serving time in the big cage. But Bianco is no canary and refuses to talk even when D’Angelo tries to push his guilt buttons about his two young daughters growing up without their dad. The Assistant D.A. believes that Nick is a good guy at heart and tries to give him a way to avoid incarceration. We see Nick’s wheels turn at the prospect and persuasion put forth by D’Angelo, but Nick is old school and decides to do his time with his mouth shut.

Three years into doing his bit in the joint, Nick finds out that his wife has killed herself by sticking her head in a gas oven because of financial worries and her drinking too much. Upon hearing the news Nick wants to get out and take care of his kids who have landed in an orphanage. In prison he gets a visit from Nettie (Coleen Gray) a young woman who used to take care of his daughters and quit and moved away before Nick’s wife treated her melon like a bundt cake. Nettie and Nick have a connection and he asks her to keep tabs on his daughters.

Beside himself with guilt and concern for his daughters, Nick decides to cut a deal with D’Angelo and give up his crew. Unfortunately this is where Nick must cross paths again with Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark). Tommy and Nick had met before when Nick was being sentenced and they wound up in the same cell for little while. Tommy expressed to Nick his surprise at being behind bars noting, “Imagine me in here. Big man like me gettin’ picked up just for shoving a guy’s ears off his head. Traffic ticket stuff.” With that statement we understand Tommy’s idea of a moving violation differs drastically from yours and mine. Tommy Udo proves it later when he has to silence a potential informer and ends up lashing the stoolie’s mother to her wheelchair with an electrical cord and proceeds to push her tumbling down a flight of stairs. Cementing his dark disposition Udo gives his legendary creepy cackle at the sight of his maternal manhandling.

Under the guidance of D’Angelo, Nick purposely bumps into and pretends to be pals with Udo to get some dirt on him for the Assistant D.A. The plan works and the D.A.’s office is taking Tommy to trial for murder, Nick testifies against him and everything seems rosy. Nick and Nettie have gotten married, he has a regular job and a new identity. His daughters are finally out of the orphanage, living with the newlyweds and happily improving their roller-skating skills on a daily basis. The picture can’t get any more perfect until the frame they try to hang on Tommy Udo doesn’t take and his slick shyster manages to get Tommy acquitted of the charges he faced. Now Nick has the psychopath Tommy Udo gunning for him and his family. While he wants to help Nick, the assistant D.A. can only wait for Tommy to violate his parole in order to get him off the streets. That may be too little too late for Nick, Nettie and the girls with a lunatic like Udo looking for payback. Nick sends Nettie and the girls packing to the country and decides to take care of Tommy Udo himself. At this point the cat and mouse game between Nick and Tommy plays out with both parolees having to tread carefully under the watchful eye of D’Angelo.

This movie is entertaining overall but not much else in terms of the film as a whole. I don’t feel like director Henry Hathaway covered any unique ground or brought anything original to the table with this picture. He had already incorporated filming in actual locations and quasi-documentary style with his previous work The House on 92nd Street and would do the same (with more effectiveness) a year after Kiss of Death with Call Northside 777.” The movie looks fine and there is some nice editing in several key scenes such as the opening heist, Udo’s wheelchair pushing scene and the ending that nicely bolster the tension. The script is solid but lacks some flair or panache leaving it seeming a little flat in places. While there are some great lines, I honestly expected more from writers Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer who between them have written such gems as “Notorious” “Spellbound” “His Girl Friday” “Mutiny on the Bounty” “The Thing from Another World” and “Oceans Eleven” just to name a few (Even more impressive is Hecht’s uncredited contributions to many scripts over several decades. Check out his imdb page and be in awe). All that being said, the performances of Mature and Widmark are the elements that make this movie stand out from the pack.

Victor Mature is truly effective in his role as Nick Bianco as he can balance a believable hood with a genuine guy who is motivated by his kids to straighten up from his crooked ways. It could have been played very sappy (especially in the scenes with the saccharine sweet little girls) but Mature nicely acts out the role and not the dramatic story. The result is a performance that elicits just the right mix of sympathy and compassion for his character. His wistful eyes also seal the deal when necessary too. Perfect casting and acting combined for the crucial role of our protagonist Nick.

If I had to choose one reason to recommend watching this film it’s definitely the screen debut of Richard Widmark as Tommy Udo. His performance is outstanding, as he doesn’t so much give you the creeps as he force-feeds them to you. Udo is a perfect storm of menace, sadist and sociopath. Widmark commands every scene he’s in with such a forceful presence and performance that as the film continues, you find yourself just waiting for him to appear. He also gets some classic lines such as telling a cop fishing for info that he wouldn’t give him “the skin off a grape.” Without Victor Mature’s understated performance Widmark’s Udo may have lost some of his effectiveness by seeming too over the top or out of place contrasted by a less convincing Nick Bianco. The two portrayals, however, balance each other perfectly and create a solid foundation of tension and excitement for this otherwise moderate noir.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Impact (1949)

Posted by Dave G

Brian Donlevy is happily married San Francisco automobile mogul Walter Williams, and Helen Walker his apparently devoted wife Irene. They live happily ever after. Oh, if only things were that simple …

There’s one slight problem: dear Irene is sick of her hubby. She schemes with her secret lover to have him bumped off during a long car journey, but the plan goes awry. Walter takes a tyre-iron to the head and tumbles into a ditch, but secret lover fella is panicked by a passing truck and gets himself killed in a car wreck while fleeing the scene. Walter, evidently possessed of a steel-plated skull, wakes up later with a headache and a little case of amnesia.

Stumbling upon a small Idaho town, Walter’s luck soon changes. He bumps into garage owner Marsha Peters (Ella Raines) who, impressed by Mr Amnesiac’s skills as an auto mechanic, offers him a job. Back in San Francisco, meanwhile, Charles Coburn’s crusty old detective Quincy is investigating that flaming wreck on the highway - and assumes that the body is that of Walter Williams.

With Walter and Marsha beginning to fall for each other, newspaper reports of his “death” jog Walter’s memory, as Det. Quincy’s continuing investigations lead him to suspect Irene of her husband’s murder. Will Walter extract revenge by letting her be convicted? Or will Marsha persuade him to do the right thing and return to San Francisco? For any first time viewers reading, I’ll leave you to find out - Impact has a few more twists left before the end …

OK, Impact is nobody’s idea of a classic, but it’s a highly enjoyable sort of diet-noir, with more than enough points of interest to warrant a look. The plot is an irresistibly outrageous series of coincidences, a melting pot of almost every noir staple you could want: a femme fatale, attempted murder, amnesia victim, police investigations, false accusations, reluctant witnesses. Then there’s the cast: Brian Donlevy is no Bogart, but he does a solid job in the lead; Helen Walker is in her element as the callous, duplicitous wife; a mischievous Charles Coburn is reliable support as the police detective; and of course there’s Ella Raines as the world’s cutest grease monkey - they sure don’t look like her at my local Kwik-Fit.

The film isn’t 100% noir: it doesn’t possess enough of the look, with too much of the action set away from the big city, in broad daylight. The ending is also atypically upbeat (not that I mind a happy ending once in a while). That said, the film has some nice location work in the City by the Bay, and boasts a few great noir sequences, notably the atmospheric murder attempt on Walter Williams while changing a flat tyre on a dark, deserted highway.

Impact is out there on a decent quality DVD from Image. I wouldn’t try and claim it as a knockout noir, but for an engaging diversion you could do far worse.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Big Combo (1955)

Posted by Karen

My pick for this week's NOTW is The Big Combo, one of my favorite - and most watched - noirs. Of all my favorites, it has more fascinating and memorable characters than almost any other. The heart of the film centers on a triangle between Mr. Brown, a hood played with venomous glee by Richard Conte, his weak-willed society girlfriend, Susan Lowell (Jean Wallace), and Leonard Diamond (Wallace’s then-husband Cornel Wilde), a police detective who is driven both by his obsession for Susan and his determination to bring Mr. Brown to justice. Ultimately, Diamond gets his man and the girl, but it is the characters, rather than the plot, that make this film so unforgettable.

We start with Conte’s Brown - a vicious, conscienceless, unflappable mobster whose power and demeanor are hinted at in the film’s first few minutes. Brown’s girl, Susan, is seen running through the bowels of a boxing arena, chased by two of Brown’s henchmen. When they catch her, they insist on returning her to Brown, who is watching the match above. “Mr. Brown is mad already,” one of the hoods tells her. “We lost you for two minutes.” Brown himself illustrates his persona in a lengthy speech that ends in his pronouncement that “first is first and second is nobody.” He not only holds a lofty opinion of himself, but a low view of most others. In one encounter with Diamond, he declines to address the cop directly, instead telling an underling, “Joe, the man has reason to hate me. His salary is $96.50 a week. The busboys in my hotels make better money than that.” And, later, he contemptuously browbeats his second-in-command: “Go to bed. Stay there. You been sick, understand - sick. And if they take you to police headquarters, shoot yourself in the head. It’ll make everything a lot simpler.” The second-in-command that Brown addresses is Joe McClure (Brian Donlevy), an aging mobster with a hearing impediment who was once Brown’s boss. Now, McClure is the “Rodney Dangerfield” of the outfit - he garners respect neither from Brown nor from Brown’s other underlings, Fanty (Lee Van Cleef) and Mingo (Earl Holliman) - in one scene, McClure objects when Fanty charges him a fee for the privilege of working Diamond over. “Didn’t Mr. Brown pay you?” McClure asks. And Fanty replies, “You’re not Mr. Brown. For Mr. Brown, I’d snatch a judge from Superior Court for a chocolate soda.”

Diamond and Susan Lowell are only slightly less fascinating than Brown and his band of miscreants. We learn early on that Diamond is in love with Susan, that he spent money out of his own meager salary to trail her around the country for six months - yet, we find soon after that she isn’t even aware of his existence. We also discover that, despite his seemingly upstanding, beyond-reproach countenance, he has an on-again, off-again relationship with a showgirl who winds up getting murdered in Diamond’s apartment in a case of mistaken identity. “I treated her like a pair of gloves,” Diamond tearfully admits after her body is discovered. “When I was cold, I called her up.” As for Susan, her beauty belies a lack of self-esteem and direction, and she is sexually drawn to Brown despite his possessiveness and sadistic treatment. She is obviously miserable and, like his other underlings, even calls him “Mr. Brown” - yet, she has been with him for four years.

Small but equally memorable characters included Brown’s long-estranged wife, Alicia (played by Helen Walker who here, after years of alcohol abuse, looked far older than her 35 years); Bettini (Ted deCorsia), a shipman who is able to tie Brown to his wife’s disappearance and who resignedly expects to be killed for the knowledge; and Nils Dreyer (John Hoyt), a hard-boiled antiques dealer who coolly refuses to reveal to Diamond his connection with Mr. Brown (“Because I have lunch with him, that is not a crime,” Dreyer says with amusement. “I have lunch with anybody - I’m democratic. I’ll even have lunch with you. Ha ha.”)

Aside from its fascinating characters, The Big Combo features shadowy cinematography by John Alton, a great melancholy jazzy score by David Raksin, and direction from Joseph Lewis, who also helmed such noir gems as Gun Crazy and My Name is Julia Ross. It’s a must-see - and see it over and over again.