Noirvember 2021

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THUNDER ON THE HILL is a Douglas Sirk noir. It focuses on a nun (Claudette Colbert) trying to exonerate a murderer (Ann Blyth) that is being held in her convent due to a storm. Itís a fairly elegant and brisk mystery with strong personalities and performances shining through. It wonít set anyoneís world on fire but itís straightforward, quality filmmaking in that classic Hollywood way.

Plus, how many flicks feature a sleuth that wears a habit and looks like Cleopatra? Not nearly enough!



THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS

Iíve wanted to see this for some time and was not disappointed. Well, there was the mildest of disappointment in this when I realized Van Heflin was the lead character and not Kirk Douglas but he won me over in this film (something he failed to do in Black Widow, as I feel heís best as a supporting character).

Itís an expansive, complex and very well accomplished noir through and through. The characters are more complex and dynamic than average and while those familiar with the genre can likely predict the end, the nuances of execution make it quite affecting.

A strong recommendation



MKS mentioned the sequel to Mystery Road on Twitter a while back and Iíve never heard of either of those movies. So I watched Mystery Road last night and it wasnít bad. Slow burn neo noir Australian thriller. Hugo Weaving and a young Samara Weaving are hanging around in it. Looking forward to the sequel.



MKS mentioned the sequel to Mystery Road on Twitter a while back and Iíve never heard of either of those movies. So I watched Mystery Road last night and it wasnít bad. Slow burn neo noir Australian thriller. Hugo Weaving and a young Samara Weaving are hanging around in it. Looking forward to the sequel.
Big fan of the racial dynamics and how it subtly (occasionally not so subtly) addresses the history of Aboriginal abuse in Australia. The casting of a mixed race lead was such a brilliant choice and adds so much tension to what couldíve been a fairly standard neo-noir.

Plus, the climax is just aces.

The sequel is lesser but not by much.



And here's part two in my mini-series on the evolution of the Femme Fatale in Film Noir:

The Femme Fatale In The Interim: Becoming A Cliche



However, while the Fatale served as a way for Hollywood to write "strong" female characters (bleh, I feel dirty just typing that) back in the day, there were still some undeniable downsides to her typical portrayal. For one, the potentially gender-progressive undertones of the archetype were undermined by the overt negativity of the overall characterizations, as such sexy, assertive women were almost always portrayed as antagonists, with their sexuality being so transparently manipulative, some of them might as well of had Venus Fly Traps for privates, as their deceitful, murderous impulses inevitably landed them and the men they ensnared in a jail cell if they were lucky, or an early grave if they weren't.

As a result, rather than being portrayed in any sort of positive light, the Fatale's boldness as a character was inevitably connected with her fundamental immortality, and, even with the plausible deniability of the Hays Code demanding that all "immoral" behavior had to be explicitly punished onscreen, it's still telling of the patriarchial values of Classical-era Hollywood that such bold women were constantly portrayed as evil, as opposed to say, Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, whose assertive nature was an indication of his role as the hero, at least, as much of a hero as Noir protagonists could be (speaking of Humphrey, it's also telling that when Nicholas Ray's In A Lonely Place did a gender-flipped version of the Femme Fatale, it also afforded him a deep, contradictory depth of character that so many of his female counterparts in the genre had been denied).

Therefore, while the Fatale initially challenged gender expectations with her unmatronly behavior, she still ultimately reinforced those norms in the end, as a reflection of the anxiety that World War II's creation of a nation of "Rosie The Riveters", and its potential upending of traditional gender roles, brought with it (ignoring the fact that it was obviously still men who were engaged in the vast majority of frontline combat in that conflict). As a result, the dark fates the Fatale was inevitably punished with serving as implicit messages for both the men and women watching the films, cautioning the former not to become involved with such bold women in the first place, while also warning the latter not to break society's unwritten rules for women as well.

And, despite the occasional attempt to subvert the expectations of the archetype (such as Vivian's moral turn halfway through The Big Sleep), the most depth that many of these characters were afforded was to be initially portrayed as good or trustworthy, before the inevitable revelation of their "rotten" moral natures, a kind of twist that may have been shocking at first, but became increasingly predictable as the genre went on. This had the effect of placing Fatales onto a simplistic moral binary of being either "good" or "evil" overall, which further denied them a deeper depth, and made a lot of them feel more like plot devices than three-dimensional characters. And so, as a result, by the time Noir's Classical period had ended with the 50's, a characterization that was once refreshing in its defiance of societal norms had, by virtue of sheer repetition, begun to seem like a fairly stale cliche of a mostly dead genre, one that was in need of some serious shaking up. Fortunately, just such a change was on its way...



Blind Alley: an hour and 9 mins that feels like an enjoyable tv episode stretched to fit the length. Itís small in scope, virtually all taking place within the confines of a home occupied by an escaped convict and his interactions with his captives, namely a psychologist that helps him uncover the meaning behind his dreams. The dreams and flashbacks are well handled and it ends very strongly. Decent.

The Hit: A small scale masterpiece thatís both neo noir and road film. The cast is entirely aces, with Stamp, Hurt and Roth delivering performances that could go toe to toe with the best of their careers. Rife with existential angst, dark humor, harsh violence and a general stoicism, this scratched the itch almost too well. Off to pick up the Criterion Blu I didnít know existed.




Slightly Scarlet (1956)

Now this was quit a different noir: technicolor obviously and starring two of Hollywood's leading redheads...Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl.
They're sisters...and little sister played by Arlene just got out of prison for shoplifting and writing bad checks. Yeah, this is the 1950s when shoplifters actually went to jail. The rub is something is amiss with Arlene Dahl's character and she might need psychiatric care, not more jail time. John Payne is a very ambiguous character who works for a crooked mayor but is ready to jump ship if it suits him. The entire movie leaves the finer points up to the viewer and I liked that about a film. Nothing here is spoonfeed or overly cliched. It's quit a different type of noir. Good film.

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Slightly Scarlet (1956)

Now this was quit a different noir: technicolor obviously and starring two of Hollywood's leading redheads...Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl.
They're sisters...and little sister played by Arlene just got out of prison for shoplifting and writing bad checks. Yeah, this is the 1950s when shoplifters actually went to jail. The rub is something is amiss with Arlene Dahl's character and she might need psychiatric care, not more jail time. John Payne is a very ambiguous character who works for a crooked mayor but is ready to jump ship if it suits him. The entire movie leaves the finer points up to the viewer and I liked that about a film. Nothing here is spoonfeed or overly cliched. It's quit a different type of noir. Good film.

Been a long time since I've seen this one. Due for a re-watch. It's hard to go too wrong on a story by James M. Cain (Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice), and cinematography by the great John Alton!




Been a long time since I've seen this one. Due for a re-watch. It's hard to go too wrong on a story by James M. Cain (Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice), and cinematography by the great John Alton!
Wow, you've seen a lot of these noirs. I hadn't even heard of Slightly Scarlet before I watched it. It was different that's for sure and kind of hard to classify.

I've seen two more noirs in the last couple days that I need to write up. One was a fairly well known classic, the other was an obscure noir but contained two very disturbing scenes. I'll put those up later tonight.






A Kiss Before Dying (1956)


See those two screenshots? When I was looking for a copy of this movie, every link that I looked at had a blurry, cropped print. Only I didn't know it was cropped as I imaged this movie must be the common 4:3 ratio. Luckily I clicked on just one more link and not only did I find a really sharp & beautiful copy but it was also wide screen too...and did that make the difference!

Let me say the film looks great thanks to the 2.55:1 aspect ratio and mainly thanks to the director Gerd Oswald who knew how to fill that wide screen with life! Not always an easy task to fill these really wide formats with enough visual information to move the story and not detract. Gerd Oswald is mainly known for directing 14 episodes of the original Outer Limits and 2 episodes of the original Star Trek. But A Kiss Before Dying is another very worthy directorial credit to his name.

Robert Wagner was creepy effective as an arrogant, self absorbed psychopath hell bent on becoming rich. I've seen Wagner in other early movies and in a live performance on a 1950s TV show and he did have that overly cocky, arrogant personality going on...and so he was the perfect choice here.

A young Joann Woodward is the poor girl he gets pregnant. Reportedly she didn't like her performance or the movie, but I thought she was great as the spineless victim who just believes to hard that her boyfriend is a saint...which he sure ain't.

I'm a big fan of Virginia Leith and she was nicely featured in this film as the other woman and older sister.

There were two scenes in this movie that I found hard to watch due to the horrific tension of knowing what was about to happen to the poor helpless victims...

Not really a noir per say, more like a modern murder thriller.



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Wow, you've seen a lot of these noirs. I hadn't even heard of Slightly Scarlet before I watched it. It was different that's for sure and kind of hard to classify.

I've seen two more noirs in the last couple days that I need to write up. One was a fairly well known classic, the other was an obscure noir but contained two very disturbing scenes. I'll put those up later tonight.
Yeah, I've always loved black & white movies, most especially noirs of the classic era. I was born during the early noir era, but I really don't recall seeing that many of them in the early '50s. As a kid I went to Westerns, early monster movies, etc. But when all night movie programs started up in the later '60s we watched a ton of them, when living both in NYC and in L.A. Living in Hollywood provided a special meaning to those films. That continued pretty frequently up to the mid '70s. So the pattern continued sporadically ever since.

When I still had TCM, I was delighted and fascinated with Eddie Muller's Noir Alley on Saturday nights. Then when I joined up with this website it re-upped my interest even more. I still try to watch them, especially the ones that have been re-discovered or newly found and released. My wife is not crazy about them, so I don't watch as many as I'd like.

There's a few guys on the site who are noir fans: you, MKS, Whit, and several others. Well, you know, because you've helmed noir countdowns.

I look at noirs not so much the way I look at contemporary films, but more as a specific art form, like as in painting-- there are many eras: Baroque, Realism, Impressionism, Cubism, etc. To me, classic noir is a movement that can be studied and enjoyed simply on the merits of its inherent style and characteristics, not to mention the thousands of people and studios involved.



Yeah, I've always loved black & white movies, most especially noirs of the classic era. I was born during the early noir era, but I really don't recall seeing that many of them in the early '50s. As a kid I went to Westerns, early monster movies, etc. But when all night movie programs started up in the later '60s we watched a ton of them, when living both in NYC and in L.A. Living in Hollywood provided a special meaning to those films. That continued pretty frequently up to the mid '70s. So the pattern continued sporadically ever since.

When I still had TCM, I was delighted and fascinated with Eddie Muller's Noir Alley on Saturday nights. Then when I joined up with this website it re-upped my interest even more. I still try to watch them, especially the ones that have been re-discovered or newly found and released. My wife is not crazy about them, so I don't watch as many as I'd like.

There's a few guys on the site who are noir fans: you, MKS, Whit, and several others. Well, you know, because you've helmed noir countdowns.

I look at noirs not so much the way I look at contemporary films, but more as a specific art form, like as in painting-- there are many eras: Baroque, Realism, Impressionism, Cubism, etc. To me, classic noir is a movement that can be studied and enjoyed simply on the merits of its inherent style and characteristics, not to mention the thousands of people and studios involved.
I have to admit that after watching a number of technicolor noirs for Noirvember I too think of film noir as being at its best when it's shot in black and white. There's something satisfying about the lack of color in a serious drama, the lack of visual stimulation allows shape and textures to dominate. Maybe that's why color noirs don't feel like 'true' noir to me. My wife isn't crazy about noirs either but she's liked the color ones we've seen recently, as they tend to be more melodrama than noirs. Though we've watched a few b&w noirs this month and she's like them too.

I've always lived out in the sticks (the country) so maybe that's why I'm fascinated by seeing the back alleys of the big city...hmm that sounds like a good title for a noir I of course have my favorite noir actors that I like seeing and certain actresses that I love seeing! I just discovered a 'new' noir actresses this month. Must see more of her films



The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

I watched this classic noir based on ThatDarnMKS review of it...I just want to say ditto to what he wrote about it. I agree it had characters and storylines that were more complex than the average noir. It was dynamic in how the lives of the characters were interwoven...and random fate had set their destinies on a dark path that would eventually converge.

To me it felt a bit like Citizen Kane with it's underlying character motives which then drives the narrative forward. It was a smartly made movie, look good too. When I seen it was a 2 hour runtime I knew it was an 'A list' movie that the studio had put effort into and featured one of the top stars Barbara Stanwyck.

Within in the last couple weeks I've seen Van Heflin in Black Window and Lizabeth Scott in Desert Fury...and both were adequate in those roles but here in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers they really get a chance to shine as actors. I must watch more Lizabeth Scott



The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

I watched this classic noir based on ThatDarnMKS review of it...I just want to say ditto to what he wrote about it. I agree it had characters and storylines that were more complex than the average noir. It was dynamic in how the lives of the characters were interwoven...and random fate had set their destinies on a dark path that would eventually converge.

To me it felt a bit like Citizen Kane with it's underlying character motives which then drives the narrative forward. It was a smartly made movie, look good too. When I seen it was a 2 hour runtime I knew it was an 'A list' movie that the studio had put effort into and featured one of the top stars Barbara Stanwyck.

Within in the last couple weeks I've seen Van Heflin in Black Window and Lizabeth Scott in Desert Fury...and both were adequate in those roles but here in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers they really get a chance to shine as actors. I must watch more Lizabeth Scott
Yes, I think that "Ivers" is a great picture, and one of the greatest noirs. Barbara Stanwyck is arguably the best femme fatale in all of noir.

I too like the script. Robert Rossen also not only wrote All the King's Men (1949), but he wrote one of my all time favorite films, The Hustler (1961). He was a New York toughie all the way.



I must watch more Lizabeth Scott
Same! A good one is The Company She Keeps (1951), also starring Jane Greer. One to look out for if you haven't seen it already.



Yes, I think that "Ivers" is a great picture, and one of the greatest noirs. Barbara Stanwyck is arguably the best femme fatale in all of noir.

I too like the script. Robert Rossen also not only wrote All the King's Men (1949), but he wrote one of my all time favorite films, The Hustler (1961). He was a New York toughie all the way.
I've seen both those movie, both are darn good. The Hustler has a lot of emotionally powerful undercurrents running through it...I'm convinced it's not really about pool at all Which reminds me I need to see more Piper Laurie.

Same! A good one is The Company She Keeps (1951), also starring Jane Greer. One to look out for if you haven't seen it already.
Thanks! I'm going to watch that before the month is up. Jane Greer was great in the Mitchum film Out of the Past, which I reviewed here



Thief

A nigh unparalleled debut film that pitch perfectly captures the neon drenched nightscapes of Chicago. Caanís titular thief character Frank is his best role as it uses his capacity for rage that made Sonny so iconic in The Godfather, but also allows Caan to explore vulnerabilities, insecurities and trauma lurking beneath his tough guy persona.

Mann took the grit and glamorous photography of Miami Vice and pushed the narrative into realms plumbed by Dassin and Melville to create a deftly constructed and unique depiction of the craft behind thievery. This is the Genesis of the ďneonĒ noir and while many imitate, few manage to touch its heights.

Every time I see this film I love it more and I consider the Criterion release an essential purchase.



Thief

A nigh unparalleled debut film that pitch perfectly captures the neon drenched nightscapes of Chicago. Caanís titular thief character Frank is his best role as it uses his capacity for rage that made Sonny so iconic in The Godfather, but also allows Caan to explore vulnerabilities, insecurities and trauma lurking beneath his tough guy persona.

Mann took the grit and glamorous photography of Miami Vice and pushed the narrative into realms plumbed by Dassin and Melville to create a deftly constructed and unique depiction of the craft behind thievery. This is the Genesis of the ďneonĒ noir and while many imitate, few manage to touch its heights.

Every time I see this film I love it more and I consider the Criterion release an essential purchase.
What's better: Movie version Thief or forum poster Thief?



What's better: Movie version Thief or forum poster Thief?
What a ridiculous question. Thief is a quality poster, a kind and compassionate human being, a wonderful podcaster, and someone I consider a friend despite only knowing him through online interactions.

Mannís film by a landslide.



Abandoned: Great dialogue, excellent camera work and a plot that atypically turns tropes on their heads without ever betraying the feel of the genre. Big recommendation!

Sleeping City: Shot on location murder mystery. Striking violence and authenticity, itís occasionally plodding narrative holds it back from true greatness. Would pair nicely with the superior on location, doctor sleuth noir Panic in the Streets

The Brasher Doubloon: A middling adaptation of the High Window. Held back by the weakest depiction of PI Phillip Marlowe and a smoothing of the plotís roughness. It has scenes and shots of merit and itís nice seeing the story enacted but it feels a missed opportunity compared to The Big Sleep, Murder, My Sweet or the Long Goodbye, not to mention Mitchumís remakes of the first two.