Showing posts with label Broderick Crawford. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Broderick Crawford. Show all posts

Monday, April 14, 2008

Human Desire (1954)

Posted by JeffMarkam

Though Jean Renoir’s The Human Beast has become the more well known and well respected film, Fritz Lang’s American remake Human Desire is an equally provocative film of fate, passion, and suspense. It lacks the ‘human beast’ of the protagonist of Jean Gabin, now in the form of your average joe of Glenn Ford. Lang instead shifts focus on the twisted relationships between Broderick Crawford and Gloria Grahame.

The story has changed to lower working class New Jersey railroad workers. Glenn Ford plays engineer Jeff Warren, a returning Korean war vet who looks forward to a peaceful life at home. Meanwhile, fellow worker Carl Buckley (Broderick Crawford) has been fired due to his violent behavior. He begs his wife Vicki (Gloria Grahame) to talk with a higher up, Owens, whom she once knew as a child to get his job back, but when he finds about her affair with this man, it ends up in murder on a train. It is on this night that both Jeff’s and the Buckley’s lives become bound together as Vicki must distract Jeff in order for her husband to escape the scene of the crime. From that point on, Jeff gets involved in a rough passionate affair with Vicki, whose mind is set on the murder of Carl, who holds incriminating evidence against her on the murder. Lying her way through the seduction, Jeff finally wises up, and unknowingly leaves Vicki to her death at the train.

Though Jeff may be the weakest character of the trio, he takes us back to the disillusioned vets of WWII who cannot adjust to the homefront once again. Though he at first feels optimistic to return to a domestic life and possibly a romance with his best friend’s daughter Ellen (Kathleen Case), the excitement he left behind Vicki brings back into his life through their torrid affair. Ellen, introduced as a buxom brunette, gets plainer and plainer throughout the movie as he gets deeper into the affair with Vicki. The 50’s domestic life just can’t keep up with the excitement.

Gloria Grahame’s performance here is a hit and miss, but remains one of her most memorable roles. Her theatrics are a little too much in certain scenes, especially as she tries to tell Jeff of the murder and the abuse Carl has put her through, but during the scenes with Crawford we can see a deeply sexually frustrated woman who has found herself trapped into a marriage with a man who keeps her as a prized trophy rather than a wife.

Completing the deadly trio is Broderick Crawford, playing a fuse that could snap at any given moment. He brings over the uncontrollable rage of Jean Gabin from the original and gives a menacing performance. He prostitutes his wife to get what he wants, and yet is too stupid to realize she has a big sexual appetite.

Lang fully explores the entire space of the train. The cramped corridors look have become a labyrinth with no way out and compartments have become places of entrapment that lead the characters to their own doomed fate. The loud noise of the train makes two murders go unnoticed, and at one point leaves Jeff alone with his thoughts of the affair, unable to speak to anyone during his daily route.

Burnett Guffey brings out Lang’s deep shadows and expressionistic images on to screen, he would also lense other classic noirs such as The Reckless Moment, My Name is Julia Ross, and In a Lonely Place, and would later win an Oscar for Bonnie and Clyde. Daniele Amfitheatrof provides a menacing score, one of noir’s best, a harder edged version of something of Miklós Rózsa.

It’s hard to garner up respect when Human Desire has to live up to Émile Zola’s source material, Jean Renoir’s original, AND the first Lang-Ford-Grahame pairing of The Big Heat. But this is still a Fritz Lang film, plenty of doom, grittiness, and pure noir abound. Human Desire brings together the gritty realism of The Big Heat and Fury and the German Expressionism of M and Scarlet Street. It is certainly the master’s most underrated and undervalued picture because of what it has to live up to.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Scandal Sheet (1952)

Posted by Steve-O

The story behind the creation of the 1952 newspaper-noir Scandal Sheet (1952) is almost as interesting as the film itself.

Sam Fuller - a newspaper crime writer who became a screen writer because he heard that the money was good - took a break from Hollywood and wrote the novel The Dark Page.This book was to be less like his previous light-weight pulp novels. Writers write about what they know and Fuller put his experience as a beat crime reporter on the pages of what turned out to be one hell of a crime novel. Before he could get the novel published the former crime reporter, novelist and screenwriter went off to serve in the Army. While serving with the Big Red One, he received great news from his mother. A publisher was interested in buying the rights to the first draft of the book. Then a few years later, while still fighting overseas, he found out that none other than Howard Hawks wanted to make the book into a movie. Hawks bought the rights to the film for $15,000. Fuller's mother sent Sam 1,000 dollars to her soldier son who used it to throw a party for his horribly depleted unit during a brief break from the front lines.

The good news today is the book is finally back in print. Kingly Books has done a fantastic job with the reprint of a novel that had previously been hard to come by. The new print of the 1944 book clearly is a labor of love for the publishers and editors. Fuller's story about shady newspaper men is as dark and gritty today as it was then and should be gobbled up by hard-boiled readers. The opening of the new reprint, written by film director Wim Wenders, and the well-researched afterward by Damien Love, tells some great stories about cigar-chomping Fuller and Howard Hawks plans for the book.

According to Wenders and Love, Hawks at one time considered using Humphrey Bogart in the lead for the film. Later he even though of Cary Grant as the editor of the Comet. It's even speculated that a teaming of Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart would be the perfect fit. The latter would seem to be an easy sell. You can close your eyes and almost see the movie play out in your head. Robinson as the crusty editor - not unlike his role in Unholy Partners (1941) - with Bogart playing the fast-talking beat reporter. No doubt someone like Ann Sheridan or Lauren Bacall could have played the female lead.

Unfortunately, the film was never made by Hawks. Instead he sold the rights, for six times what he paid for them, to Columbia Pictures.

Scandal Sheet (1952)
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Columbia made the film - stripped down and not nearly as glossy as a Hawks film - and called it Scandal Sheet. Broderick Crawford was cast in the lead role. Though not the star Fuller imagined would play the part of the newspaper editor, Crawford absolutely nails the part so completely that it's hard to imagine why the film makers would have wanted anyone else for the role.

The film was directed by Phil Karlson. During his long career Karlson made some damned entertaining junk including Ben and Walking Tall in the 70s. But for a brief time in the 1950s he put out some of the grittiest film noir. Scandal Sheet, Kansas City Confidential, 99 River Street and The Phenix City Story all had their flaws but today they stand up and are considered some of the best from the classic film noir period.

As always, as does all these Noir of the Week articles, spoilers follow.

Scandal Sheet tells the story of newspaper editor Mark Chapman. He's the head of a tabloid-style newspaper in New York city. His goal is simple - keep increasing the circulation by any means possible. The headlines on the paper are great. Instead of the Britney and O.J. headlines in today's N.Y. tabloids, it runs equally sleazy stories about the “Gorilla Man killer” and teenage sex scandals.

The paper runs a “lonelyhearts” ball - matching up pathetic loners from all over the U.S. so Chapman can again get the city talking about his lurid headlines. He even offers a prize to the couple that gets married the night of the ball - a bed with a built-in TV! The singles are sad and the movie, like Fuller's book, makes fun of them for being so gullible and stupid. Unfortunately, every time Chapman does something sleazy like this he's lectured by female reporter Julie Allison (Donna Reed).

(I assume the filmmakers both wanted a female lead and someone to be the conscience in the film. I could have lived without her in the movie. Anyone watching the film would know what Chapman was doing is wrong. Having it spelled out to us by Reed is just annoying.)

Something unexpected happens at the ball. Chapman runs into his wife... a woman he abandoned over twenty years ago. He even changed his identity to get away from the woman. Her existence could ruin his very public and successful career. Chapman quickly shuffles the middle-aged woman (Rosemary DeCamp who was equally dissed in Nora Prentiss) out of the ball and back to her little apartment. After a nasty argument, he shoves her and she hits her head on a pipe and dies. Chapman, now realizing he's in even deeper trouble puts the woman in the bath tub and tries to make it look like a drowning. After cleaning up he gets away without being seen.

Unfortunately, he's trained his young crime reporter too well. The next day, while everyone else thinks that the nameless woman is a nobody who accidentally drowned in a bathroom accident, Steve McCleary (played with some real spark by John Derek) figures out she was part of the Lonelyhearts ball and, with sidekick Harry Morgan at his side, finds out that she was indeed murdered. McCleary sells the story to Chapman who has no choice but publish his reporter's crime piece. Chapman must now keep his cool. While the story of the murdered woman becomes front page news every day he must do all he can do to keep McCleary from finding out that he was the killer. (think of Double Indemnity in reverse - with Robinson being the killer and Fred MacMurray out to find him.)

Scandal Sheet follows the book nicely but doesn't capture Fuller's rat-tat-tat newspaper writing style. Also, Fuller begins the novel with the killing - a newspaper writer never buries the lead. The movie takes a while to get there. The story is softened (in the novel editor Mark Chapman is a bigamist and he doesn't kill his first wife accidentally. He beats her to death) but still remains faithful to the book. I can't help thinking what it would have been like if Fuller directed it however. As good as the movie is, I imagine his version of the film would look more gritty - like the scenes between Richard Widmark and Thelma Ritter in Pickup on South Street.

But with all that said (and, yes, the novel is always better) this is a great little newspaper noir with two excellent performances by Crawford and Derek. The film was lensed by Oscar-winning cinematographer Burnett Guffey who was no stranger to film noir: he shot The Sniper, Nightfall, Night Editor, The Reckless Moment and In a Lonely Place among many others. The film is not out on video but was recently aired on Turner Classic Movies in all it's venetian-blind-shadow glory.

Editor's note: Other newspaper noir worth check out include the fantastic Ace in the Hole and The Big Clock.

Monday, December 04, 2006

All the Kings Men (1949)

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Posted by Ox

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

So wrote Lord Acton in a letter in 1887, and that might be a good capsule description of this excellent movie which garnered several Academy awards and many nominations in 1950. I've never read Robert Penn Warren's novel,but intend to do so after watching the movie.

It has to be sort of a borderline Noir, although Spencer Selby's bookplaces it in the Noir canon. The style of the movie is sort of semi-documentary, with the story being told mostly through the eyes of Jack Burden (John Ireland), a newspaperman who became a "true believer" in Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford) when he was a poor but honest (and ultimately unsuccessful) County Treasurer candidate several years before running for Governor.

The terrible thing is that Willie Stark originally entered politics to do things for his constituency, but too soon found out that compromises had to be made in order to attain elective office. And once having made those compromises, he became more and more corrupt and ruthless, relying on his natural public appeal and a good line of populist BS to keep him in power.

But all this had a price. His "true believers" became repulsed and sickened by the decline in his morals and ethics, and by their own complicity in the deeds which had to be done to keep him in power.

It's a very powerful movie, and has a number of strong and memorable performances. Broderick Crawford won an Oscar and a Golden Globe as Best Leading Actor, and newcomer Mercedes McCambridge also won both as Best Supporting Actress. Robert Rossen won for best picture, and John Ireland was nominated for best Supporting Actor. There were many other nominations besides those listed above.

I recommend this movie very highly to all Noir fans!

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Monday, August 07, 2006

Black Angel (1946)

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Posted by Paul M

Black Angel is a 1946 B-Noir, directed by Roy William Neill and based on a Cornell Woolrich novel. Woolrich apparently disliked the film, and the script veers quite a bit from the novel, save the atmospheric twst ending. While it is not among the very greatest noirs, it comes smack in the middle of the classic 40's cycle and so doesn't present the rehashed feel that some early 50s noirs do, for me anyway. I must say I like the 40's noirs the best, as they are visually more stylish: more shadows, hulking cars, more walk-up tenements. Black Angel is not very stylized in this way, however; cinematographer Paul Ivano does a competent job, and there are several close-ups, especially of Dan Duryea while drunk or hallucinating that are very well done. In my opinion, the payoff of an evening spent watching Black Angel has to be the ensemble cast.

Martin Blair (Dan Duryea) and Catherine Bennett (June Vincent) team up to solve the murder of Martin's ex-wife, Mavis Marlowe (now there's a noir name!) who as our token chanteuse fatale gets one bitchy scene and is then summarily dispatched in the name of plot establishment. It turns out that Catherine's husband, Kirk Bennett (a forgettable-and-downtrodden John Phillips), was having an affair with Mavis and was seen entering her apartment just before her death. Martin, an alcoholic piano player who wants Mavis back...or let's just say, he can't get her out of his mind, also makes an appearance at her building the same night. When the cops haul Kirk off to death row for Mavis' murder, Catherine tracks down Martin, suspecting he knows something, and the countdown is on to find the real killer before our pathetic adulterer Kirk gets the chair.

Martin doesn't remember a thing about the night of Mavis' murder, and his alibi is that he was unconscious in bed, sleeping one off after after getting booted from Mavis' building by the doorman. He agrees to help Catherine track down a brooch he gave to Mavis and which is conspicuously absent from her apartment. They reason that if they find the brooch, they find the killer. Since Mavis was last employed at Rio's, a nightclub run by sleazy Marko (Peter Lorre), they go undercover as a musical pair and get hired to headline at Marko's joint. But as the deathrow deadline approaches, their leads pan out after a surprising confrontation with Marko and then Martin begins to remember what happened during his bender the night Mavis was killed...

The best thing about Black Angel is undoubtedly Dan Duryea. He plays against type as an ill-fated and very sympathetic piano-playing drunk. His flophouse associates all mother him through his drunken stupors. Duryea in 1946 was already well known as an on-screen misogynist due to his sinister turns in Fritz Lang's films The Woman In The Window and Scarlet Street. As Fast Eddie points out in his excellent book Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir,promotional material for the film even emphasized the point that (surprise!) Dan doesn't lay a finger on June Vincent.

Vincent for her part starts out slow and not very interesting but gets better by the minute. You can play this game: watch how her oufits change throughout the film. In the beginning, she's a homely housewife defending her cad husband. She wears a houndstooth two-piece suit through much of the first half of the film that recalls the bad fashion in The Big Sleep that necessitated a Bacall re-shoot. Once the Marko club gig is on, however, she's all ball gowns and silk, and her acting seems to improve as well. The highlight for me: her first confrontation with Peter Lorre, when he invites her to his office, ostensibly to gift her a brooch as reward for the good publicity brought the club by her headline act. Terrified that he might be onto her, and with tears in her eyes matched only by the glitter of her copious jewelry, the scene ends as Lorre's Marko pulls out a bottle of champagne saved just for a "special occasion" and we are left with the lingering suggestion of sex to come.

Other curiosities: Broderick Crawford stars here as Captain Flood, an extremely laid-back police detective who is willing to check up on Catherine and Martin's leads -- but not much, and his dry humor is entertaining. Freddie Steele as Marko's dim-witted thug manager Lucky is hilarious too. The early-to-dead Mavis was played by Constance Dowling, whose real life was more noir than this film: she had a much-publicized relationship with Cesare Pavese, who committed suicide after she dumped him. Her only other noir appearances are in Blind Spot & The Flame. Even director Neill didn't escape noir tragedy, as he died of a heart attack just after finishing this film and retiring to England, just 59 years old.

And finally, here's my four-word film review: "Broach subject, croons June."