BOXING AND NOIR DOUBLE FEATURE: March 1st-The Set-Up from 1949 (Director: Robert Wise, Writers: Art Cohn and Based on a poem by Joseph Moncure March, Stars: Robert Ryan and Audrey Totter, Cinematography: Milton R. Krasner, Runtime: 72 mins)
The Harder They Fall from 1956 (Director: Mark Robson, Writers: Philip Yordan and based on Budd Schulberg’s 1947 novel, Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Rod Steiger and Jan Sterling, Cinematography: Burnett Guffey, Runtime: 109 mins)
Like last year I decided to dedicate March to crime and noir films. I had a blast last year doing it and after a rock February I needed this. I made the decision to start out with two noirs set around a popular sport of its time (not as much now), boxing. Boxing has a history of ties to organize crime so its no wonder boxing continues to be a fixture in mob films. Each center around the fix. The Set Up takes place over one night as Stoker Thompson is telling his suffering wife he’ll turn it all around, beat his opponent in Paradise City Arena (Boxing Wednesdays Wrestling Fridays). What Stoker doesn’t know is his manager and trainer taken money for him to take dive. Worse, they don’t tell him because they believe he will fail and so they can split the money two ways. In The Harder They Fall an out of work sports writer named Eddie agrees to be the press agent for an Argentinean giant who can’t box. The skeezy promoter is going to fix fights. Eddie also begins working as a manager for Toro, and has to navigate making sure they don’t get caught but also his desire to look out for the big man.
Both these films are great but the Set Up is easily my favorite boxing movie of all time. Director Robert Wise, most famous from Westside Story and Sound of Music along with perennial genre classics The Haunting from 1960 and The Day the Earth Stood still delivers a fantastic film that all takes place in the same night. With award winning cinematographer Milton R. Krasner they bring about a beautiful film. Inside the locker room with the boxers and assistants, the arena itself with its spectators, the action in the ring but also Stokers wife trying to keep herself distracted wandering the city. So worried about her husband. Its such a cool looking film with such great pieces. The locker room is a fantastic bit of film with Stoker and others having their conversations and chats. The rookie worried about his first pro fight. The black fighter so confident he will get the job done. Gunboat hoping to turn it all around. Then the fight, unlike any staged boxing fight I ever seen. The action then cutting to the trainers and managers, certain engaged spectators, and of course the man making the fix. Then the build to end which I won’t spoil.
Robert Ryan is great as Stoker. Speaks in low volume, longing looks for his wife, his banter with the men, and his fear when he realizes everything going on. There is not overacting, no big scenery chewing, this is the kind of performance that feels more modern than some for the big stars would deliver of that era. Audrey Totter as the wife, wandering, observing, keeping herself occupied. It works so well that when they come back together at the end its great. Everyone is great. This is such a fantastic cast. This film runs less then 80 minutes and feels so thick with moments. A true blast. An amazing way to kick off March as this was the first film I watched this month.
I was worried Humphrey Bogart would let me down after this. I was wrong. Bogarts last movie may not be his best or one of his best remembered but it is still a fantastic picture. Bogart is doing Bogart through the film, hitting those classic Bogie bits you expect from him. Yet, it feels wonderful alongside Rod Steiger, Jan Sterling and everyone else. When he has his biggest blow up in that third act it was sweet. Going from a guy looking for a new job and good money to being torn up by the business. He knows its bad but to watch them screw over a gentle giant looking to make money for his family, you can see how it twists him up. Steiger is great as the films bad guy, him and Bogie going at it is fantastic. I do wish there was more with Jan Sterling involved because she brought quite a bit of energy holding her own in scenes with Steiger and Bogart.
While stylistically not in Set-Ups class, this is still a very good looking film in its own right. Just that it is lit more like a sports drama and less like a gritty noir. There are still some very cool shots throughout. The fight scenes in this are a different type of action, not as dramatic but effective knowing all the matches are fixed. makes that final boxing sequence even more powerful. Toro, played by Michael Lane, gives a great performance. This was his first role and he came out of professional wrestling. Explains his fantastic size at 6 foot 8.
Two great films to kick of March.
1940s NOIR DOUBLE FEATURE: March 2nd-Bewitched from 1945 (Director/Writer: Arch Oboler, Stars: Phyllis Thaxter and Edmund Gwenn, Cinematography: Charles Salerno Jr., Runtime: 65 mins)
The Dark Mirror from 1946 (Director: Robert Siodmak, Writers: Nunnally Johnson with Story by Vladimir Pozner, Stars: Olivia de Havilland and Lew Ayers, Cinematography: Milton R. Krasner, Runtime: 85 mins)-both crime usb
After an amazing first day to kick off the month and then this hit. Two slow, boring psychological noirs. One about a woman hearing voices which leads her to kill. Then a film about identical twin sisters where one is a killer. Which I believe De Palma did similar in Sisters decades later. I need to rewatch that. Bought it on bluray last year. Anyway, both films are thuds. Such a good day 1 and then such an underwhelming day 2. Oh well, day 3 films looks like a winner.
March 3rd-Violent Saturday from 1955 (Director: Richard Fleischer, Writers: Sydney Boehm and Based in the novel by William L. Heath, Stars: Victor Mature, Richard Egan and Stephen McNally, Cinematography: Charles G. Clarke, Runtime: 90 mins)
After a dull second day into March I rebound this this color noir thriller. Set from Friday through Saturday, it follows bank robbers and some of the the people who will cross their path. There is the Fairchilds, the husband is depressed and drinking. Troubled by his marriage to his wife he loves, but is philandering. Theres the nurse who is admired by both Boyd Fairchild and the bank manager Reeves. There is Boyds associate, Shelly Martin who has a wife and two kids. A librarian who owes the bank money, and outside of town an Amish family.
Not a lot of color noirs of the classic era. Interestingly, Virgina Leith is featured in this one and another. What a weird career. A barely known actress in two well l9ved noirs, leading one of the great bad genre classics, and in an unseen Stanley Kubrick film. Leith plays the nurse and is actually quite quite good in her few scenes with Richard Egans Boyd. As well as her single scene with Margaret Hayes who crushses every scene. The domestic drama there versus Martin family, where Victor Mature and his wife are concerned for his oldest son. Sadly the actress gets little to do but the story around the son is fine. It works around Matures character not going to war and how that effects how young people see those who did not fight. Not deeply looked at but understandable hook.
Mature is very good. Plays a real stand up guy, loving family man. Watching him go from being a good man to being a hero is so good. Such tense scenes including his getting out of being tied and taped. Along with him is Ernest Borgnine, the legend. Dude always good even if I don’t care for the film. I thought the Amish angle was handled pretty well for it. Playing the bad guys we got Lee Marvin, Stephen Nelly and J. Carrol Naish are all doing solid work as the baddies. I do wish Sylvia Sidney got more to do but I am happy to see her.
Stylistically its beautiful. Filmed in beautiful color and capturing such sights. The small town look, the mountains where the copper mines are, to the barn scene. The establishing shots are great. The tracking shot of Matures kidnapping is pretty cool. The action is well paced too. The suddenness of it in the bank and the barn shoot out. The ending has both a happy ending and sad ending. I prefer the sad ending but the scene with Mature and his son is nice.
Really a cool looking noir film with lots of performers nailing it. High marks.
March 4th-Caged from 1950 (Director: John Cromwell, Writers: Virginia Kellogg from the story “Women Without Men” by Kellogg and Bernard C. Schoenfeld, Stars: Eleanor Parker, Agnes Moorehead, Betty Garde, Hope Emerson, and Ellen Corby, Cinematography: Carl E. Guthrie, Runtime: 96 mins)
Its been a few hours since I watched this and my mind is still putting it altogether, but as I wrote on my rare Letterboxd review: God damn. Seriously, every trope I expect from prison films centered around women seems like it came from this. Not that I have watched a lot of women in prison films or shows, but its all here. Pregnant inmate, shady guard, lesbianism (on the low, it was 1950) and discussion about the politics of prison and how much the system screws its prisoners. The film follows the journey of Marie Allen, as played by Eleanor Parker, from her arrival in prison to her release on parole. Convicted as an accessory to her husbands botched robbery that left him dead. She arrives and learns quickly she is pregnant. Once in general population she meets the players. Kitty, played by Betty Garde, who has a grift going with people on the outside shoplifting. There is a lifer played Gertrude Hoffman (thanks IMDB) how crushes two scenes including one against primary antagonist Matron Harper, played by Hope Emerson. Harper expects gifts from the outside if you expect her to treat you better. If not, she’ll treat you like garbage. Marie struggles inside, breaking down both when her mom and step-dad refuse to take in her kid and then being denied parole. Denied because of her young age and the parole board not sure her home life would be good. Things continue to spiral including a new vice queen entering the scene who seems interested in Marie and more BS with Matron Harper.
This film is amazing. Eleanor Parker-best known from Sound of Music, is fantastic in this film. Deserving of that Oscar nomination. From how she starts the film as a scared woman trying her best to survive to the pessimistic woman at the end. This film ends on a fucking downer and Eleanor sells every moment. Her breakdowns are amazing, especially when her mom says she can’t take the kid. The post solitary reaction with the head shaved. The way she sees herself becoming more and more broken down by everything. Then there is Hope Emerson as the bad guy, another Oscar nom. What a bitch. You know exactly the kind of woman she is right off the bat, and is awful through out. You cheer when she gets hers. Also, what a cast. Agnes Moorehead has the hard job of being the idealistic warden. hard because Agnes soars when she gets campy, though she is a good dramatic actress and it shows. She has the most scenes working across from men and total owns those scenes, plays well across both Parker and Emerson, and delivers the stark coda at the end of the film. Betty Garde plays Kitty, the one trying to recruit young Marie, into her gang. A positive performance as the toughen criminal who has a fascinating arc in her own right. Jan Sterling in an early role who plays cute. Its nothing compared to other roles I’m sure, I only seen two other films but really liked her in The Harder They Fall which I caught a few days ago. I really dug Gertrude Hoffman in that first scene where she threatens to kill Matron Harper and dares her to do something, Damn. Such a stacked film.
Now this film is a great looking movie. Its tight, claustrophobic, and a nightmare. Focused mostly inside the specific block watching the women do their thing. There’s a scene early on where all the women stop what their doing to look to the windows at the sound of a train. What is more depressing than that? Marie finding a stray cat and some of the prisoners getting milk and they all just watch the cat drink milk. I mean-it sucks. Then when Harper tries taking the cat and then the riot and then spoiler the cat dies-JESUS! Those are two of the most fantastic scenes ever. The buzzcut section is brutal. The way they build to Harpers murder is amazing. Its entire execution is great. I would have liked them to embrace the underlying queerness more but 1950, its bubbling and insinuated. Especially that scene right before her parole with Vice Queen as played by Lee Patrick. The final ten minutes gave me chills. The only real negative is that it does feel like drags in tiny sections but this one gets high marks. See this film.
March 5th-Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans from 1927 (Director: F. W. Murnau, Writers: Adapted by Carl Mayer from the short story “The Excursion to Tilsit”, from the collection with the same title by Hermann Sudermann, Stars: George O’Brien, Janet Gaynor, and Margaret Livingston, Cinematography: Charles Rosher and Karl Struss, Runtime: 95 mins)
I don’t get into silent movies. I don’t. Not my thing. So I can’t properly review anything. What I can say is the inital set up for this film is wild. The visuals are absolutely stunning in various sections of the film. If I had a better grasp of the style of silent films I’d probably really like this. Also, much better than MASH. Fuck that film.
1950s NOIR DOUBLE FEATURE:March 6th-Woman on the Run from 1950 (Director: Norman Foster, Writers: Alan Campbell, Norman Foster with Ross Hunter, Stars: Ann Sheridan and Dennis O’Keefe, Cinematography: Hal Mohr, Runtime: 77 mins)
Crime Wave from 1954 (Director: Andre DeToth, Writers: Crane Wilbur with Bernard Gordon, Richard Wormser and Based on the story “Criminal’s Mark” by John Hawkins and Ward Hawkins, Stars: Sterling Hayden, Gene Nelson and Phyllis Kirk, Cinematography: Bert Glennon, Runtime: 73 mins)
A pair of 50s noir films. First a film about a wife searching for her husband who is on the run from a killer. He saw a man get killed, cops were pressing him and he got spooked. The wife, Eleanor, teams with a newspaper man named Daniel to track him down. What Eleanor is unaware of is that Daniel is really the killer. Then a film about a man trying to go straight, live his life with his loving wife. Too bad Steve Lacey’s old crew is in town and have pulled a botched caper. He gets dragged into their mess while being pressed and insulted by a tough cop played by noir stalwart Sterling Hayden.
So, in all, both good movies. My copy of Woman on the Run (which I stole online) was not the best version. Definitely not HD and probably some bootleg copy that got ripped onto digital. I am sure if I had a clearer copy I would raise this one a bit. Its a good film. It feels like a lot going on for its tight 77 minutes. Ann Sheridan delivers the goods. She is almost like a chameleon to me because I keep thinking “Is this the first film I seen with her” but no. She is in a few films I’ve watched, all ones I like-one I really like. She always delivers in a new and different ways. She starts off as sort of cold, dismissive but secretly concerned for her husband. Her demeanor shifts more and more as the film runs on. She is clear and a way the best performer in this film. Dennis O’Keefe is very good as Danny Boy, the real bad guy in the film but this is an Ann Sheridan special.
The pacing is interesting with how Ann shows up after we establish the basis of the film. She is playing detective and learning how others view her husband. Very interesting details about him as a sort of artist without direction. There are a lot of small bit players through out and Sheridan works well opposite everyone. While not a bit player, Robert Keith’s inspector is excellent opposite Ann. him picking at their relationship but also the highly questionable tactic of trying to prevent the husband from getting his medication. All to get him to turn himself in. The film finishes up at an amusement park and here is where I really wish I had a clearer copy. Another downside is I wish Ann figured deeper into the finish. Also, always happy to see an old film where someone of color has mroe than two lines and in this one we got a few Chinese performers who deliver more than three lines each. Nice.
Crime Wave is a nice piece. Opens with the botched robbery and we move into the investigation and poor Steve and Ellen. Gene Nelson and Phyllis Kirk have an interesting dynamic as a married couple. Their chemistry is almost subtle. She has this concern and belief in him going straight and he is very tough exterior who cares and doesn’t want to let her down. Sterling Hayden is his most prickish and least varied performance. I mean he is comes in big and stays big but not one of his better performances. He’s still good. I didn’t recognize Charles Bronson, but what a good bad guy asshole performer he is here. The performances vary per person. Some playing to obvious, others not so interesting, and others doing their thing well. Stylistically this one is about standard for a noir. Good looking but nothing too spectacular. Still, its a pretty tense thriller and I enjoyed it because I was invested in Steve and Ellen’s relationship. I wanted them to be happy.
March 7th-Private Property from 1960 (Director/Writer: Leslie Stevens, Stars: Corey Allen, Warren Oates and Kate Manx, Cinematography: Ted McCord, Runtime: 79 mins)
Private Property is a film I was interested in because I appreciate films that grow in acclaim much later in years. This film was not liked when it came, attacked by Catholics and even Jacky O because her and the husband (JFK) hated it. Yet, I was underwhelmed. It was still a fine, solid noir film about two criminals who stalk a beautiful woman. One criminal tells his virgin partner he well set up a lady for him. Its disgusting. The performances are all very good and the film looks nice. Its just, for the reputation, I expected something more grand.