The Prowler (1951)

While greed, adultery and murder are favorite subjects for the Noir genre this Joseph Losey directed effort adds self pity and cruelty into the mix with a sledge hammer as the film nears it’s climax.

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No stranger to the genre is our leading man Van Heflin who stars here as a patrolman called into check out a prowler complaint. The call has been made by what appears to be a lonely woman in the form of Evelyn Keyes. Right from the beginning Heflin is flirting and even doubles back later that night after his shift to make sure she’s alright. From here an adulterous relationship begins as Keyes husband is a local radio personality through the night allowing our mischievous couple plenty of time to get steamy.

Unlike many other Noir titles it’s Heflin who is doing the plotting and not the femme fatale. He’s very calculating in how he handles the relationship between him and Keyes. For Keyes the sex and passion have become a drug and she can’t stay away from Van. “Take me away. He’ll always be between us.” she implores him in reference to her husband.

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This sets up the perfect reason for murder when her husband (who remains off screen other than a voice on the radio) will apparently never let her go. Heflin takes up the initiative and in a perfectly orchestrated killing makes it all look neat and tidy while on the job.

When the death is ruled an accidental homicide, Heflin bides his time before staging the second part of his plan which includes quitting the force and marrying Keyes. It turns out she’s a rather wealthy woman now due to a tried and true plot device of the Noir genre. The life insurance policy.

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Life couldn’t be better. For a short while at least until Keyes becomes pregnant which is bound to foul things up when the math is done on the moment of conception. It’s before the killing and her late husband was sterile.

I’ll stop now as the film needs to be seen and I don’t want to spoil the ending.

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Evelyn Keyes character isn’t a typical one for the women of the genre. She’s more of a victim here as opposed to a Barbara Stanwyck type. She’s always suspecting Heflin but never sure. She’s obviously lonely and sexually frustrated. When Heflin comes calling her fate is sealed.

It’s Van Heflin who is superbly evil here and at the same time wallowing in self pity as his plans unwind towards the ending. Heflin is so good here in a dark role it’s very hard to see him one year later as a caring homesteader in Shane. It’s a major credit to him as an actor to go from one extreme to the other so seamlessly. In my mind Van has always been a rather underrated actor who like many of his era has slipped from the general public’s awareness. Unfortunate. I’ll have to feature more of his titles on here in the future.

This rather cruel Noir was actually credited to one Hugo Butler. That’s an alias for Dalton Trumbo. The film was from the production team of Sam Spiegel and John Huston. Huston was actually married to leading lady Keyes at the time.

One of my favorite directors which I have featured before (here and here) is the credited assistant director on this film from the early part of his career. Mr. Robert Aldrich.

This was released by VCI in a top notch restoration with plenty of extras for the collectors like me.

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Loving Those Movie Star Ads.

How about Dear Boris in the kitchen.

Jerry Lewis with your morning coffee!

Glenn Ford hawking big cars for those who like that sort of thing. You know who you are.

Nobody has the passion of Tony!

The coolness of Coburn.

Did you know that Mrs. Olsen of Folgers fame

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was at one time the Princess Ananka from The Mummy’s Curse?

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Both were played by actress Virginia Christine.

It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad Movie Challenge…….. That Hamilton Woman (1941)

Once again I assign Kristina what I believe to be a solid western to watch and she gives me……. a film I had no idea that I would enjoy as much as I did this Laurence Olivier/Vivien Leigh teaming. This was the third and final pairing from the then married couple. It comes to us from Producer/Director Alexander Korda.

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The Mad Challenge is when Kristina from Speakeasy and myself suggest a film that the other should check out. The one stipulation is that the assigned film is one that the challenged has never seen. Secretly I think Kristina is always trying to get me (a self proclaimed fan of the tough guys of film) reaching for the kleenex box. Something she seems to  accomplish with practically every challenge.

This black and white tale is told in flashback when an aging woman is arrested for theft. Leigh as Lady Hamilton tells her cellmate the story of her youth and rise to fame in England.

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At the age of eighteen Leigh finds herself in Naples expecting a suitor to arrive. When she realizes this is not to be she settles for aging Alan Mowbray who is the ambassador for England to Naples. Mowbray is swept up in her beauty and his love and devotion allows her a life of luxury and wealth.

Leigh is vibrant, full of life and looking for adventure. Adventure is about to arrive in the form of Laurence Olivier. He is playing Lord Horatio Nelson. Leader of the British fleet who is out to stop the threat of Napoleon. He’s come to Naples for help from the local Royalty and when Mowbray cannot make things happen quick enough through channels, Leigh steps in and gets Sir Larry all he requires in record time. His gallantry has caught her eye and he seems interested in return. But the war must go on.

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Moving forward five years, Leigh hasn’t forgotten the impression Olivier made on her and she once again comes to his aid with the necessary provisions his ships need. This time however she realizes how war has taken it’s toll on the man she wants to know better. He has lost an arm and has a badly scarred face with a dead eye. Somehow it only makes her desire grow all the more for this courageous fighter of freedom.

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There will come a time when Olivier with the power of the fleet beneath him will rescue Leigh, Mowbray and all of Naples from the clutches of the French. He’s continually hailed a hero in his homeland but the talk of a relationship with Leigh haunts him. He is summoned back to England.

Enter Lady Nelson played by Gladys Cooper who sees through the set up and how Mowbray meekly steps aside to allow the affair. She’ll have none of it. There will be no divorce.

With Napoleon once again on the rise the film has some timely propaganda lines meant more for rousing England against the tyranny of Hitler than Napoleon of history. Oliver begs the admiralty to listen as he implores them, “You can’t make peace with dictators. You have to destroy them! Wipe them out!”

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With Mowbrays death Leigh and Olivier set up house but when his country calls him to arms once more Leigh lovingly steps aside. “England expects every man to do his duty.” Another slippage of propaganda into the script. Off to war goes Olivier once again in a rousing battle on sea.

It’s all heading to a tearful climax that sees a great line at the fadeout. “There is no then, there is no after.”

At slightly over two hours this moves along very well for a film that can easily be seen as a converted play. Despite plenty of action and warfare, it’s mostly talked about and seen off screen till the finale.

As for our leading lady, her beauty is stunning and while I don’t say this too often I think this film was just begging to be filmed in color. The sets of kings and courts coupled with Leigh would have made for a vibrant color production. In her early scenes she’s prim and proper in public but devilish and playful when out of Mowbray’s sight. There’s a rather surprising line in here as well from Olivier in describing Lady Hamilton that ends with her being an “honor to her sex.” Something one doesn’t here too often in a film of this vintage.

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Despite remaining married until 1960 the couple never made another film together. The two previous titles were Fire Over England and 21 Days. I really should check out more of Olivier’s early efforts. Growing up I only knew him as a rather fragile looking old man in films like Dracula and The Boys From Brazil.

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Perhaps due to the gungho attitude of this English feature it is said to be Winston Churchill’s favorite movie.

Acting as cinematographer for director Korda was Oscar nominated Rudolph Mate who would himself move on to directing features with some success. D.O.A. and The Violent Men come to mind.

So once again I find myself enjoying another title that I probably wouldn’t have put high on my to do list thanks to my video costar Kristina over at Speakeasy. Now don’t forget to check out what I think is one of Robert Taylor’s best performances in a 1956 western with Stewart Granger riding along side. Just click here to be shipped over there.

The Angry Hills (1959)

Anytime you team Robert Mitchum with Stanley Baker under Robert Aldrich’s direction you have a formula for success. Or so it would seem.

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This turns out to be rather unbelievable WW2 espionage film that sees Mitchum as a war journalist who happens to be given a list of names that the Nazi’s want. Enter Stanley Baker as the head man after Mitchum. With Mitchum on the run he is sheltered and finds time for love with Gia Scala. As with most cinematic war time romances, it’s short. While hanging out with Gia he gets involved briefly with the underground led by Kieron Moore that ends badly for both Moore and many men in the Greek town where Mitchum has been hiding.

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Next up for our hero is hooking up with Elizabeth Mueller who is being coerced by Baker to lead “The Mitch” into his grasp. She can’t quite go through with it just yet and Mitch is about to turn the tables on Baker with the help of Sydney Greenstreet. Scratch that! It’s Sebastian Cabot in full Greenstreet mode.

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It’s really unfortunate that a Mitchum – Baker showdown goes to waste in this rather dull film that obviously had script troubles based on what actually made it to the screen. With Aldrich’s association with tough guys throughout his directing career you would think that he and Mitchum would be perfectly matched to deliver a top notch flick. Then again one would think that John Huston and John Wayne would deliver a box office smash. Problem is they gave us The Barbarian and the Geisha.

As much as I am always singing the praise of Robert Mitchum it’s Stanley Baker who has the best role here. Not unusual when the villain’s character is way more interesting than the hero. Not that I mind as I am also a big supporter of Mr. Baker’s work. Here he is slick and menacing without ever really raising his voice and is resigned to the fate that he knows will eventually await him.

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Overall the biggest problem is that the film seems to lose it’s way and never allows Mitchum much action which is what he is supposed to be. A man of action. Even more so when starring in an Aldrich flick. After all here’s a man who by this time had directed Vera Cruz, Apache and Kiss Me Deadly.

Alas, this ones strictly for Mitchum and Baker fans so quite naturally I had to check it out. Just expected a little more.

Stranger On Horseback (1955)

Surprisingly short western at 65 minutes for a Joel McCrea oater from director Jacques Tourneur.

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While no where near the best from either of these two it does offer a slightly different style western from a story by Louis L’Amour.

McCrea rides into a new town as the film opens. Passing by a funeral he is soon greeted by John Carradine who seems to take a shine to anyone with power. McCrea is the circuit judge who is making his rounds and isn’t about to take anything from Carradine that might be looked upon as a bribe. Be it a drink or the best room in the local hotel.

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What he does want to know is why the man being buried was the victim of a gunfight and the reason there hasn’t been a trial to determine if the victim was shot in self defense or was it a murder.

As is the case with many other westerns the killer is the son of  a powerful land baron who owns practically everything in the town. The son is played by Kevin McCarthy and John McIntire stars here as the father. McIntire expects to have a talk with McCrea and settle everything nice and quietly.

McCrea who has more or less made a career out of playing righteous characters will have none of it. He calmly attempts to put McCarthy under arrest and when that doesn’t work a right hook will. This leads us to a low budget Rio Bravo style standoff where McCrea and long time character actor Emile Meyer attempt to stand off McIntire and crew.

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Soon enough McCrea finds a witness who isn’t about to crumble under the pressure and taunting of McCarthy whose character gets just a little more evil as the film progresses. It’s all just a matter of whether or not McCrea can conduct a trial before the films ultra short running time expires.

I can’t say I really liked the outcome of this title and perhaps that’s because it didn’t end like most other titles of the genre. Despite it being about twenty minutes shorter than most genre films it does give us a solid cast surrounding McCrea. Carradine gives us a little ham, McIntire is solid as usual and McCarthy suits his young hot shot role just fine.

Playing the cousin of McCarthy is an actress known as Miroslava. A new name for me and one that sadly died the year this film was released by her own hand at the age of thirty.

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Spotlighting character actors is of course a favorite past time of mine and this one has a great one in McIntire but how about Emile Meyer. One look at him and all I can think of is Ryker.

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The man that Alan Ladd’s Shane rides in to kill along with Jack Palance in the George Steven’s classic. Meyer has a good role this time out who offers strong support when McCrea needs it most. Keep your eyes open as well for another familiar face when Dabbs Greer pops into camera range.

Tourneur had worked previously with McCrea on the superior western Stars In My Crown in 1950 and has many fine titles under his belt including Out of the Past and some of the Val Lewton chillers like Cat People.

Perhaps most surprising of all is the fact that this effort was actually filmed in color. I snagged this one courtesy of a DVD release from VCI.

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The Thrill of Ben Gardner’s Boat

When it comes to movie memories, I love to reminisce. When your a kid you see the ads on television for the new movies playing at the local theaters and just hope that someday you’ll get a chance to see them. I freely admit I am old enough to recall the days of having to wait a few years to see the network debut of these films as the VHS craze was still in the not to distant future.

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Jaws was THE movie every little boy was talking of. Our imaginations were running wild about the movie with the Great White shark that was wreaking havoc on the swimmers and a little boy on a rubber raft. Scenes would filter down to us from listening in to the “older folks” that had gone to see it.

If my timeline is correct my parents had gone to see the film on it’s first run and I wasn’t allowed to tag along. Not sure but I believe my older sister had already seen it as well by the time I got my chance. As usual the older siblings always beat us little ones to the real cool looking movies we longed to see.

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When my day finally came I think the film was in re-release and I might have been about 8 years old. Like many of my fondest memories of seeing a film for the first time it was with my Father. I recall seeing Frankenstein with him on a late show and watching The Dirty Dozen for the first time. The main reason I think he finally took me to see the film was probably my badgering him coupled with my older sister having some girls get together in the upstairs apartment we rented in those days.

Looking back I don’t honestly remember much about the night itself and my first viewing of a film that REALLY is in my top ten favorites if I had to narrow the field. What I recall vividly is the scene when Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss come across the abandoned chewed up boat of the missing Ben Gardner. The scene is claustrophobic and Dreyfuss is going to descend to the murky depths. Scheider doesn’t want him to go and neither do I. My Father who has already seen the film knows what’s coming and while I don’t really know if it’s by design he announces to me that he’s going for a smoke. Off he goes to leave me in a wide eyed state of dread. Assuming you have seen the film you’ll know what happens when the Dreyfuss character starts examining the ships haul below. For a kid who might have been about 8 it’s a shocker!

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Over my shoulder I begin to look for my Father and there he is standing at the back of the theater where one would go to take a puff in those days and let the smoke drift up so that we could all see it in the projector’s light. I am quite sure he got one heck of a kick watching my reaction from afar.

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Years later I pulled the same stunt on my own son when he sat down to watch it with me on DVD. He was probably about the same age as I had been and as the scene approached I excused myself and went off to the kitchen. From there I gazed at him hidden behind a flower pot to see his reaction and sure enough he jumped just as I did years ago only he was all bundled up on the couch.

It’s these type of moments that help fuel my passion for films and sharing them with my own sons. I am sure we all have our favorite memories from childhood that stay with us. Might be a film or the story behind seeing it for the first time.

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Jaws has always stayed with me and just about a year ago when it was re-released nationally for a limited run my sons and I headed right down to the local cinema to experience it like it was meant to be. On a full sized theater screen. We loved it all over again from the terror to the adventure. Robert Shaw’s Indianapolis story which to me like many others is the films highlight and the line, “That’s some bad hat, Harry” which I love to say when I see someone wearing one that seems a little “off”.

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Any fond memories to share of those earliest cinema experiences or this classic itself?

 

Red Skies of Montana (1952)

A solid cast of male stars dominate this 20th Century Fox film with Richard Widmark leading the way.

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The plot line concerns Forest Rangers and the men who stop the fires that Mother Nature sets when dry season and lightning mix. Widmark opens the film as he and a group under his command parachute in to clear a breaker on an out of control fire deep in the Montana bush. Along for the ride is aging Joe Sawyer who happens to have a son back at the base played by Jeffrey Hunter. When the winds cause the fire to flank the men the group are M.I.A.

Head Ranger Richard Boone flies in to the charred remains of the gutted area and to his sadness begins to find remains of the platoon. Shockingly there is one survivor. You got it! Richard Widmark. Problem is he can’t seem to piece together how he’s still alive and the others are not. This doesn’t sit well back at the base where Hunter is positive that Widmark is hiding the truth and somehow ran out on his men leaving Sawyer to die an agonizing death.

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After some R & R, Boone puts Widmark back on active duty which will of course result in a fiery ending. Literally. Widmark and a platoon including Gregory Walcott and Warren Stevens find themselves battling a raging fire. Soon enough Boone sends in some reinforcements including Hunter which will set off more fireworks than the trees themselves.

Widmark finds himself under attack when the going gets rough and the men get jumpy. This could be his chance to redeem his good character in the eyes of his platoon and allow him to unlock the mystery of the films opening tragedy. It seems the flames are about to flank his group once again.

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In case your thinking it, that is indeed an unbilled Charles Bronson putting a wounded Hunter on his back during the fiery climax.

There is a thankless role here for Constance Smith as Widmark’s wife who knits and worries every time he’s called to duty. After all a leading man of Widmark’s stature needs a leading lady.

Richard Widmark was on a good run here of heroic roles as he continued to shake his debut performance in Kiss of Death. Something film history has never really allowed him to do. Hunter had already appeared with Widmark in The Frogmen and would clock in some solid films throughout the  decade including the classic Ford film The Searchers.

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Joesph M. Newman directed the film and like Widmark was on a roll in the early fifties. He worked with various leading men of the day including Ty Power on Pony Soldier. He also was behind the camera for the memorable sci-fi film This Island Earth.

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Long time character actor Joe Sawyer who plays Hunter’s dad was originally born about forty kms from where I am sitting. In Guelph Ontario. Sawyer is one of those “faces”.  He appeared in countless films from The Petrified Forest to The Killing and dozens of titles in between.

This was a film I recall seeing as a kid with my parents growing up. Nice to see it’s out as a MOD title from 20th Century Cinema Archives.

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