Sunday, 24 February 2008

This gun for hire (Frank Tuttle 1942)

Willard Gates: Don't you trust me?
Philip Raven: Who trusts anybody?

Ruthless killer Philip Raven (Alan Ladd) has just finished a “job”. He has got rid of a blackmailer and he is paid with “hot” money. Willard Gates (Laird Cregor), the man who had hired him is involved in a plot to sell poison gas to the nazis. Gates himself, who is also a night club owner, reports Raven to the police.

Raven, escaping from the police, takes a train to L.A. to revenge from Gates. During the journey he meets Ellen Graham (Veronica Lake) a night club artist who is going to perform at Gates’ club. Ellen’s boyfriend (Robert Preston) is a police lieutenant that’s after the killer.

Raven takes Ellen as a hostage and slowly a feeling of sympathy grows between them.
Although they belong to different sides there is a growing complicity between Ellen and Raven. In a way she is a femme fatale who gets involved in the killer's life, but she also redeems him and makes him more humane.

There is an atmosphere of moral ambiguity as the film develops. We progressively see Raven as a victim rather than as a cold-blood killer. He has been an ill-treated, isolated character since his early childhood. Probably that’s why he has a liking for cats: “they don’t need anybody”. He is also highly individualistic:

Ellen Graham: Why don't you go to the police?
Philip Raven: I'm my own police

The film is based on Graham Greene’s novel “A Gun for Sale” and noir style novelist W.R Burnett worked in the script.

We have to highlight J. F. Seitz photography. The dark shots in the gas works and at the freight yard are unforgettable.

Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake’s ambiguous performances are another key point in the film. In fact we are facing one of the classic noir best known couples in their best movie.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Killer’s Kiss (Stanley Kubrick 1955)

Davy Gordon: It's crazy how you can get yourself in a mess sometimes and not even be able to think about it with any sense-and yet not be able to think about anything else. …Anyway, I think that's the way it began for me. Just before my fight with Rodriguez three days ago...

Davy (Jamie Smith) introduces us to the plot of the film (through a typically noir flashback). He is an unsuccessful boxer. He lives in a block of flats and from his window he can often see Irene (Gloria Pace), a dancer in a rundown club.

Her elder boss Vincent Rapallo (Frank Silveira) is in love with her. After being refused by Irene he attacks her but Davy witnesses the scene and rushes to help her neighbour. The couple fall in love and plan to leave the city and move to Seattle but Vincent hasn’t given up he is planning his revenge…

This is Kubrick’s second long movie (though it is just one hour long) and the last one with his own script. It was a low budget film – as Kubrick said: Different people gave me backing for Killer's Kiss, which also lost half of its forty-thousand-dollar budget” and no first line actors could be hired.

The film is not one of the director’s best but it was an important step for the director: “I was cameraman, director, editor, assistant editor, sound effects man -- you name it, I did it. And it was invaluable experience”. The highly contrasted black and white scenes have some striking moments. Kubrick’s imprint can be traced in some sequences – we can mention the final scene with the fighting among the mannequins...

Davy: Anyway, I guess the whole thing was pretty silly... know a girl for two days and fall in love.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

High Sierra (Raoul Walsh, 1941)

Marie: …”just rushing toward death

Marie's remark to Roy defines his doomed character. Gangster Roy Earle is taken out of prison by Big Mac, an old colleague who wants him to participate in a hold-up.

Just out of the prison Earle wants to go to the park to see “if the grass is still green and the trees still grow”. There is a big contrast between country and city in all the film: The country stands for freedom and the purity of man while the city is a symbol of corruption – an idea that will be present in other noir films.

Humphrey Bogart plays the role of Roy Earle – a hardboiled gangster with good feelings (the movie was a turning point in Bogart’s career). In fact we see him as a good-hearted man longing for purity – in nature, in his vision of Velma – the lame girl he helps…

Roy has to take part in a robbery in Tropic springs – then he will be able to return to the simple life he lived as a boy in Indiana. However things go wrong and he ends up chased by the police in the high sierra. His final companions, Marie (Ida Lupino) and Pard – a dog that brings bad luck to his owners - see him die and also become "free" in a dramatic ending.

The film was produced by Mark Hellinger and the script was written by John Huston and William Ripley Burnett. These names would be important in future noir films. In the same way actors like Cornel Wilde (Mendoza) or Barton McLane (Kramer) would appear in other noir movies.

Maybe High Sierra is not strictly a noir film but it was one of the key movies in the transition from gangster pictures to noir movies.