Monday, 3 August 2009

The Reckless Moment (Max Ophuls 1949)

Bea Harper: When you're seventeen today, you know what the score is.

Lucia Harper (Joan Bennet) is a busy mother in this blend of noir and melodramatic movie. She takes care of her middle class family while her husband – who never appears in the film - is away on business. Her teenage daughter Bea (Geraldine Brooks) is seeing Ted Darby (Sheppard Strudwick), an elder man of dubious reputation. Lucia travels to LA to ask him to stop seeing her daughter. He only agrees to do so if he is given a good sum of money, however Bea wants to see him again.

After Ted’s accidental violent death Lucia will handle the situation. In a reckless moment she will get rid of the body in Balboa Harbour. Later she will be the victim of blackmail by Martin Donelly (James Mason) who has the love letters Bea and Ted had exchanged. Lucia tries to face the situation herself, keeping the family away from the whole affair. Martin, who has fallen in love with her, is impressed by her efforts to protect her daughter and he is willing to stop the pressure on her, however, his boss named Nagle (Roy Roberts) doesn’t agree…

A remarkable performance by Joan Bennet, in a mature and maternal role, far from the femme fatale she was in some of her Lang movies.

Martin: She's lucky to have a mother like you.
Lucia Harper: Everyone has a mother like me. You probably had one, too.

Lucia Harper: You don't know how a family can surround you at times.
Martin: Do you never get away from your family?
Lucia Harper: No.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Touch of evil (Orson Welles 1958)

Mike Vargas: This isn't the real Mexico. You know that. All border towns bring out the worst in a country.

In a memorable 3 minute shot we see how Mike Vargas’ (Charlton Heston) honeymoon in a Mexican border town is interrupted by an explosion that kills several people.
Vargas terminates his honeymoon and takes up the investigation, so does American policeman Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles). Soon it becomes evident that their methods and personalities are completely different.
Things become more complicated when Vargas’ American bride Susie (Janet Leigh) is kidnapped by Joe Grandi (Akim Tamiroff), the head of an underground drug family.

Quinlan’s presence dominates the movie: he fabricates evidence to frame his suspects. His intuition (his game leg) is usually right but he achieves his goals through abuse of power and other illegal means.

Vargas exposes Quinlan’s methods and there is no way out for the has-been cop. He wants to take refuge at Tanya’s (Marlene Dietrich) brothel and the sound of the pianola but his better days have passed:

Quinlan: Come on, read my future for me.
Tanya: You haven't got any.
Quinlan: What do you mean?
Tanya: Your future is all used up.

Tanya will pronounce the epitaph for the massive, vile, yet intuitive Quinlan:

Schwartz: Well, Hank was a great detective all right.
: And a lousy cop.
Schwartz: Is that all you have to say for him?
Tanya: He was some kind of a man... What does it matter what you say about people?
Schwartz: Goodbye Tanya.
Tanya: AdiĆ³s.

For some critics this film is also the epitaph for the classic noir era…

Saturday, 6 June 2009

The Public Enemy (William Wellman, 1931)

Mike Powers: Do you think I care if there was just beer in that keg? I know what's in it. I know what you've been doing all this time, how you got those clothes and those new cars… You murderers! There's not only beer in that jug. There's beer and blood - blood of men!

James Cagney and Jean Harlow star in this cornerstone gangster film which will influence the whole genre.
Tom Powers (James Cagney) and his brother Mike (Donald Cook) follow different ways from an early age. Mike, who will serve the country in the First World War, will have a daytime job and follow his studies in the evenings. Tom and his friend Matt Doyle (Edward Woods) are two young teenagers who are stepping into criminal life stealing small items. As they are getting into adulthood they become bootleggers in the prohibition era.
Their reckless life brings them wealth, fun and women as Kitty (Mae Clarke) or Gwen Allen (Jean Harlow). However Tom is getting tougher – in a famous scene he squeezes a grapefruit into Kitty’s face – and he is going the hard way. He has become an evil hoodlum who even executes a horse in revenge.
The bootlegging business turns into gangster war with Tom falling wounded in the gutter. It seems the suitable end of the film – which would be similar to other endings in later noir movies as in He ran all the way.
However Tom is taken to hospital and later he will “come back” home, an impressing scene with a following moral message…

Tom (stumbling wounded under the rain): I ain't so tough

Sunday, 1 March 2009

White Heat (Raoul Walsh 1949)

Ma Jarrett: Top of the world son!

Cody Jarrett (James Cagney), a leader of a gang of robbers aims to the top of the world.
He is not an ordinary gangster, we see him as a tough, wild character but also as a vulnerable, psychologically unstable man: he has strong headaches and he is strongly attached to his “Ma” (Margaret Wycherly) who is also part of the gang and as ruthless as a gangster can be.
Cody’s femme fatale wife Verna (Virgina Mayo) is not faithful to him and she has eye for gang member Big Ed. Jarrett lives in a tough world in which few people can be trusted:

Cody Jarrett: You know something, Verna, if I turn my back long enough for Big Ed to put a hole in it, there'd be a hole in it.

After being giving himself up by the police for some minor crime – an alibi for a violent armed robbery - he manages to direct his gang while he is in prison.
In jail he is befriended by Hank Fallon (Edmond O’Brien) – an undercover policeman who has taken the identity of Vic Pardo. Both plan a big heist and Hank will take the role of Ma Jarrett as Cody’s moral and mental support.
Eventually Cody will discover Fallon’s real identity but it will be too late, he will be heading towards his ending.

Cody Jarrett: A copper, a copper, how do you like that boys? A copper and his name is Fallon. And we went for it, I went for it. Treated him like a kid brother. And I was gonna split fifty-fifty with a copper!

Cody trapped in an oil refinery plant has no way to escape… This seems the epic closing chapter to Cagney’s gangster movies of the 30s

Cody Jarrett: Made it, Ma! Top of the world!

Philip Evans: Cody Jarrett...
Hank Fallon: He finally got to the top of the world... and it blew right up in his face.