Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Angel Face (Otto Preminger, 1952)

Frank: Well, hello! You do get around fast, don’t you?
Diane: I’ve parked my broomstick outside

Frank: Beer Harry! And what do witches drink?

Diane: Just coffee

War veteran Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) has met Diane Tremayne (Jean Simmons) for the second time.

Earlier that night Frank had driven an ambulance to a wealthy mansion to find Diane’s stepmother, Mrs Catherine Tremayne (Barbara O’Neil), almost dead in her bedroom. Her husband - a famous writer called Charles Tremayne (Herbert Marshall) – had just come in time to save her from dying asphyxiated. It seems there was a problem with the gas but the lady thinks maybe someone wanted to kill her for her money.

When Frank was leaving the house he met Diane for the first time. She was playing a sad piano piece and they felt an immediate attraction for each other.

Frank breaks up his relationship with nurse Mary Wilton (Mona Freeman) and Diane convinces her family to hire him as the family chauffeur. From this moment on Frank will be trapped and manipulated by Diane. He thinks he may help her to fulfil his dream of having his own garage. However her angel face hides a troubled and obsessed femme fatale…

Angel face is a first class noir movie with suspenseful direction by Preminger, excellent performances by Mitchum and Simmons and a haunting piano song

Catherine: Where are the keys?
Diane: “In the car” (she sits at the piano and plays a sad melody…)

Friday, 16 July 2010

The Roaring Twenties (Raoul Walsh, 1939)

Narrator: Today, while the earth shakes beneath the heels of marching troops, while a great portion of the world trembles before the threats of acquisitive power-mad men, we of America have little time to remember an astounding era in our own recent history. An era which will grow more and more incredible with each passing generation until someday people will say it never could have happened at all.

The movie - based on a story by Mark Hellinger and brilliantly directed by Raoul Walsh - opens in this documentary style which will portrait two important decades of American history.
War veteran Eddie Bartlett (James Cagney) finds difficulties when he returns home: he has no job, the prohibition era has started and soldiers are no longer heroes:

Fletcher's Garage Mechanic: (After the war Eddie is asking to get his old job back) That guy thinks he's gonna' get my job just because he's got a uniform on. He used to work here.
Fletcher's Garage Mechanic: Yeah, those monkeys are gonna' find out what a picnic they had on Uncle Sam's dough while we stayed home and WORKED!

After some frustrated attempts to get a job he enters the bootlegging business almost by chance and he meets speakeasy hostess Panama Smith (Gladys George) and former war colleague, the ruthless George Halley (Humphrey Bogart).
The film portrays the rise of Eddie in the prohibition and jazz age (in the soundtrack we can hear many songs of that time as My Melancholy Baby, It had to be you or Bye bye Blackbird).
Eddie is not portrayed as an evil gangster but as a character caught between the need to survive and a good natured heart: He helps Jean (Priscilla Lane) though she will never love him: They live in different worlds and in fact she will take some advantage of his good will…

As other gangsters Eddie Barlett was also bound to fall: After 1929 things changed deeply in the Depression era, the prohibition was over and the gangster world had changed…

Panama: It's over for all of us: you, me, and George. Eddie, something new is happening, something you don't understand.

The words of Panama echo the ending of an era, the ending of gangster movies, the ending of characters like Eddie – killed on the steps in front of a church:

Panama Smith: He's dead.
Cop: Well, who is this guy?
Panama Smith: This is Eddie Bartlett.
Cop: Well, how're you hooked up with him?
Panama Smith: I could never figure it out.
Cop: What was his business?
Panama Smith: He used to be a big shot.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Cornered (Edward Dmytryk, 1945)

Laurence Gerard: I have a job to do, my wife is dead!

Former prisoner of war Canadian pilot Laurence Gerard (Dick Powell) finds out that his French wife was murdered by Vichy collaborator Marcel Jarnac (Luther Adler).

Jarnac is reported to be dead but after finding the cover of a dossier about the criminal, Gerard is convinced he is still alive. After following the collaborationist’s trail to Switzerland he learns that Jarnac’s widow is living in Buenos Aires.

Once in Argentina Gerard meets several people: Incza (Walter Slezak), Mrs Camargo (Nina Vale), Mr Santana (Morris Carnovsky)… but in a world of half-truths, deception and shadowy characters he doesn’t know who to trust.

The film was made one year after the same team (blacklisted Edward Dmytryk, Adrian Scott and Jon Paxton together with Dick Powell) had filmed Murder my Sweet. Both films share an atmosphere of moral decay. The photography of this post-war noir movie is dark and full of shadows… a metaphor for the hidden faces of evil and fascism…

Jarnac: “How many times must I tell you that our chief aim for the next five years, for the next twenty years if necessary, is complete and absolute obscurity?”