Noirvember 2023 - Rate the last noir you watched


I haven't seen the remake of Nightmare Alley, but I did skim some of the reviews on IMDB and it seemed like people were saying visually it looked great, but was too long and not a well focused story. Does that sound about right?
Looking back, I don't think the recent version should have been made. Here is some commentary:

Nightmare Alley(2021)

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Rooney Mara, Richard Jenkins, Ron Perlman, David Strathairn.
Director: Guillermo del Toro; Screenplay: del Toro and Kim Morgan; DP: Dan Laustsen; Score: Nathan Johnson.

Going in, many know the basic premise from the 1947 film starring Tyrone Power, or from the 1946 novel by William Lindsay Gresham on which both films are based: A down-on-his-luck wanderer comes upon a carnival, where his fascination with the life style and its offer of employment eventually leads him to apprentice with a mentalist act. Although he is disgusted by a “geek” sideshow, where a crazed booze addled individual bites the heads of live chickens, he decides to stay on and learn the secret code of the clairvoyant act.

When he accidentally causes the death of the washed up mentalist in the duo, he and its female assistant decide to leave the carny in order to stage their own mentalist nightclub act that becomes very popular. During that time the protagonist meets up with a psychologist, which leads to their partnership in scamming wealthy society members out of large sums of money. The mentalist act devolves into psychic conjuring sessions which are eventually foiled, and the fate of all the participants start to unravel.

Although beautifully staged, photographed, and well acted, there are two chief deficits in the production. First was the miscasting of Bradley Cooper in the role of Stanton Carlisle. Referred to in the story as “the kid”, Cooper, at aged 46 was too old for the part. He also is not very capable of portraying a villainous cad, or one consumed by money that Tyrone Power did in the original. Leonardo DiCaprio was initially chosen and was in negotiation for the character before he dropped out. A better choice for the role of Cooper could have been Christian Bale, although both DiCaprio and Bale are likewise too old. There are any number of up and coming stars who would have better fit the bill.

Second, during the mid 1940s the public of that time was able to believe the notion of an individual who was crazed and debased enough by alcoholism to the point where he could degenerate into a carnival bestial “geek” who would bite the heads off of live chickens. And further, that a person could become an alcoholic capable of that slide simply by heavy drinking. This is not the case with audiences of the 21st Century. The novel and the ‘46 film were contemporary dramas. The 2021 film is a period piece. Because we’re asked to view those anachronistic notions with contemporary sensibilities, it creates a dichotomy that makes it difficult to believe the film.

The acting was of a high level that one would expect from such a dream cast. Stand outs were Willem Dafoe as the carnival boss, Toni Collette as Zeena, the partner in the
traditional mentalist act, and Richard Jenkins as the wealthy tycoon mark, Ezra Grindle. Rooney Mara struck me as the embodiment of a 1940s lass. And Collete as Zeena was convincing as a grizzled carny. Blanchett as the psychologist was a little like a cadaver with heavy makeup, but her role was partly dependent on Carlisle’s believable allure for her, which simply was not convincingly demonstrated by Cooper.

Unfortunately there was no chemistry between Cooper and anyof the three female leads. So we’re not convinced by the initial Carlisle/Zeena sexual attraction. Nor do we understand the basis of the love generated between Carlisle and the carny played by Mara, to the point where she is eagerto leave the
carnival with Carlisle. Likewise it’s a strain to believe the relationship that quickly develops between Carlisle and the psychologist.

The cinematography was very captivating. However it’s interesting to note that the ‘46 film created the noir mood with lighting and camera angles, whereas the new film relied too much upon CGI to create the film’s dark patina. In fact there was too much use of CGI. The flames in the prologue as well as some of the special effects seemed a little transparent.

Del Toro’s direction was a good effort, but will probably not be ranked among his finest. Reportedly when he and Cooper met, there occurred not only a meeting of the minds, but rather an artistic marriage. From that point on the film was destined to be the product of that relationship-- I think to its detriment. Del Toro’s screenplay was actually a little more faithful to the book than was the ‘46 version, although both treatmentsof the picture madesome significant departures. The current film’s long running time enabled delving into more aspects of the novel, but it also created a slow paceto the script which detracted from the story’s punch. Of the two, I prefer the ‘46 version. It was more compact and impressive.

Both version’s ending lines were similar, but neither existed inthe novel. To me the actual final statementin the novel was much more on target, but the screenwriters could not resist using alarger than life show boat line.
WARNING: spoilers below
The ‘46 version: “Mister, I was madefor it”. The 2021 version: “Mister, I was bornfor it”. The actual quote, “Of course, it's only temporary – just until we get a real geek" is far more fateful and fitting.

Doc’s rating: 6/10

Well written review Doc. I'm not sure if I will watch the remake of Nightmare Alley. I guess I wasn't very enthused about it when I first heard it was being made. I'm not big on classic remakes in general. Well maybe someday who knows I'll catch it.

The Harder They Fall (1956)
Mark Robson

Bogart's last movie and it's a good one. This is a semi-biographical film about a heavy weight champion who can't actually fight well. His owner/promoter stages 'thrown' matches where the other boxer takes a dive. This is done without the knowledge of the champion who thinks he's so strong that he can knock men out with one blow. If you're into boxing history there are two boxers who play characters in the movie and their life stories follows what we see on screen.

But even if you're not interested in boxing history, this is still a fine movie about what use to be the sleazy underbelly of boxing. Bogart is fine here and so is Rod Steiger.

The Big Clock (1948)

I found it kinda lack luster, though it was interesting I never bought into the characters and their plight. Maybe it's just me but it almost felt like noir-lite as if the tone of the movie and the actors was a light comedy/drama. I know Charles Laughton and Ray Milland are capable of great things but here both actors seemed to be delivering their lines without much belief behind their words. Just didn't work for me but not a bad movie to watch.

Oh man, really dug Laughton in Big Clock. Bummer dude.
I know! I'm a big fan of both actors and expected to really like their performances. Did you know that the director John Farrow was Mia Farrow's father? And that he was married to the actress who played Ray Milland's wife, Maureen O'Sullivan....who had been Jane in the early Tarzan movies. I just learned that after watching the movie, I always read the IMDB trivia for the movie I'd watched.

I know! I'm a big fan of both actors and expected to really like their performances. Did you know that the director John Farrow was Mia Farrow's father? And that he was married to the actress who played Ray Milland's wife, Maureen O'Sullivan....who had been Jane in the early Tarzan movies. I just learned that after watching the movie, I always read the IMDB trivia for the movie I'd watched.
I had no idea. I guess I knew she came from a show business family. I don’t know, my memory sucks.

I had no idea. I guess I knew she came from a show business family. I don’t know, my memory sucks.
Mine too I wouldn't have known any of that....But my wife is super smart and thought during the movie that the director might be Mia's dad...Oh my favorite performance was Elsa Lanchester who...get ready for this... was married to Charles Laughton at the time of the movie.

Born To Be Bad:

Ray is so great. Maybe my favorite classic Hollywood director after a few of these watches during Noir times. Great lead performance by Fontaine here. I like that the movie has a subtlety to it that we probably wouldn’t see if this was made today. Today it would become Fatal Attraction or something similar. A little more character development would have put this one in the upper echelon for me. I also thought the ending was a bit rushed. As is, I will settle for a another great Ray watch and new favorite female performance.

Oh also, Born To Be Bad isn’t Noir. How long into the countdown before we all get sick of that comment?
Ha, you got that right's going to be the new catch phrase during the countdown.

Born To Be Bad, gosh that was on my watch list but I haven't got to it so far...but I will. It's one that I haven't seen. Sounds good.

Street of Chance (1942)

I stumbled upon this fairly unknown early noir from reading the play bill of the Noir City film festival in Seattle (Feb. 16-22, 2024). The picture was new to me, starring the unlikely pairing of Burgess Meredith, Claire Trevor, and an early unusual role for Sheldon Leonard on the right side of the law for a change. Director Jack Hively and DP Theodor Sparkuhl were not particularly known for noir, but their combination produced a creditable picture for Paramount.

Two things caught my attention. This may be the first “amnesia noir”-- the earliest use of the amnesia trope in noir. It was also one of Claire Trevor’s characters that she played something other than a hard boiled or “bad girl” role.

Frank Thompson (Meredith) is hit on the head during a construction collapse while walking along a city street. When he comes to, he is slowly presented with an identity that he does not recall. During his quest to find out his previous life, he re-unites with an old girlfriend (Trevor). Their association unveils a murder which Thompson is thought to have committed, and ultimately they discover the real culprit.

Outside of the novel “amnesia noir” story, the chief recommendation is Burgess’ acting. Some of the dialogue for both he and Trevor is a little stiff, but he is able to be convincing. By 1942 Burgess had years of heralded Broadway stage work behind him, so his talent helped to save this otherwise medium weight script. The story itself had plenty of cred, based upon the story The Black Curtain by legendary crime writer Cornell Woolrich. Woolrich had more noir films based on his novels and stories than has anyone else’s.

The film is available on YouTube. It’s definitely worth watch, if for nothing else but historical significance.

Doc’s rating: 6/10

Glad you guys are still posting noir reviews here I was hoping to get the 1st post up to 200 reviews by Feb 25th, probably not going to happen but we have 165 noir reviews so far! Maybe we can hit 175 and that's a lot!

I've not heard of Street of Chance (1942) but the plot sounds interesting. I'll watch that one too one of these days.

This Gun For Hire (1942)

Fun movie, not perfect but an enjoyable watch none the less. The opening scenes must have shocked the hell out of the audiences back in 1942...those contract killing scenes are violent, cold blooded violence. I doubt audiences had seen anything like that before. I've never been a fan of Alan Ladd but this is my favorite performance of his and I think he's real good here. However I am a fan of Veronica Lake and Miss Lake is on the beam. Even her musical number that she does in the nightclub of the bad guy is a treat to watch. So was the bad guy, Laird Cregar, really a strong performance. It's a pity he died so young, he's a real talent. Oddly Robert Preston who owns The Music Man was rather milquetoast in his role as a cop and boyfriend of Veronica Lake. I liked this well enough that I'm going to watch the other Ladd, Lake noir pairings.