Murder, My Sweet (1944, Directed by Edward Dmytryk) English 8

Starring Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley, Otto Kruger, Mike Mazurki, Miles Mander

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Witty. Fast. Hardboiled.

Raymond Chandler’s immortal character, Phillip Marlowe, gets his big-screen debut in this adaptation of Farewell, My Lovely. Marlowe’s played by song and dance man, Dick Powell, who wanted to expand into dramatic fare and did so successfully, thanks to a strong performance here. Two cases collide for Marlowe as he searches for missing gems that were stolen during a payoff he was paid to monitor. This leads him to the wealthy but dysfunctional Grayle family, a sinister “psychic healer,” and a mentally unstable brute named Moose (Mazurki). Murder, My Sweet is an excellent adaptation and an early example of film noir. It has all of the wonderful conventions of the private detective subgenre: femme fatales (in this case two), a small-time case that unravels into a big one, thugs, murder, mystery. I love this stuff. It’s impressive to me the degree of complexity it accomplishes with such few characters and an economy of runtime.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(812)

Blood and Black Lace (1964, Directed by Mario Bava) English 5

Starring Eva Bartok, Cameron Mitchell, Thomas Reiner, Mary Arden, Lea Lander, Arianna Gorini, Dante DiPaolo

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(5-Okay Film)

Gruesome. Skilled. Disjointed.

A killer in a blank mask. A damsel in distress. I’ve seen enough of these films to know that no one is coming to save her. She’ll die. Much of the director, Mario Bava’s, skill lies in how creatively and artfully he kills off his cast (primarily women from what I’ve seen). By the way, that wasn’t just one scene from Blood and Black Lace that I was describing. That’s about six or seven consecutive scenes. That’s the whole movie, and it would become so influential that it spawned dozens of like-minded pictures to the point that these films became their own sub-genre (specific to Italian cinema) known as Giallo films.

  I’ve seen about a dozen now of varying quality and there are certain details that you find in most, if not all of them. Large cast of female characters. This one isn’t true of all Giallo films but it’s true of some of the best I’ve seen (Suspiria, What Have You Done to Solange, Phenomena). You find this a lot in American horror films as well and I don’t think it’s a matter of pure misogyny. I’ve always defended horror films on this matter. I think a woman (or a child) in peril is simply more terrifying than a grown man, and I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. The gratuitous nudity in American horror films is a different matter but I haven’t noticed any of that in the Giallo pictures I’ve seen, although the women characters are always gorgeous, regardless of the setting. Another common characteristic is the whodunnit, killer in a mask aspect of all these movies. It’s a gruesome shift from the friendly, witty whodunnit pictures of classic Hollywood that were entertaining but devoid of any malice or horror. Also, Giallo films all emphasize color. Lush, over-saturated color. Even the ones from the ’60s when most films were still using black and white. They all seem to have the same strengths and weaknesses too. Though they may differ in overall quality, all of these films eschew witty dialogue, character development, plot logic, and believable acting in favor of fluid camera movement, mise en scène, set pieces, lighting, and gore. Mario Bava and Dario Argento are masters of the latter crafts. 

Blood and Black Lace features an ensemble cast of beautiful women and creepy looking men all working at a fashion house in…Italy, I suppose. The top-billed character, played by Eva Bartok, is named Countess Christina Como, but then the rest of the characters are Nicole, Peggy, and Greta so I don’t know. I’ll have to pay more attention to the location next time. In any case, one of the girls is killed, and everyone working there is a suspect. Everyone working there is in danger for that matter. You can’t have a slasher film (which Giallo films ushered in) and have only one victim. The majority of Blood and Black Lace is extended scenes of random female characters (all the characters feel random with the complete disregard for development) being killed off. If there’s a plot, it wasn’t understood by me, and the final act, rather than upping the ante, simmers down to a dull rather unsatisfying conclusion. The dialogue and acting are unsurprisingly asinine, and the previously mentioned, generously deemed ensemble acting is actually just an exercise in episodic horror that amounts to an awfully disjointed whole. What stands out and what’s positive about Blood and Black Lace is the visual elements. The killer’s mask, the elegant camera movement, the command of space. Bava is great and he’s done better than this film. What I appreciate most about Blood and Black Lace is the obvious influence it had on much better pictures. As an early example of the Giallo film, it seemed to spark something deeply appealing.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(794)

The Bedroom Window (1987, Directed by Curtis Hanson) English 6

Starring Steve Guttenberg, Elizabeth McGovern, Isabelle Hupert, Paul Shenar, Brad Greenquist

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(6-Good Film)

Far-fetched. Stylish. Gripping.

      Cops are generally useless in movies like this one. If you have a thriller and the main character isn’t a cop, then most likely the cops are going to be completely unhelpful in the film. They’ll probably accuse the protagonist of something he didn’t do or arrive at the scene too late or get killed by the bad guy despite years of training while the film’s hero (an average male) is able to defeat that same bad guy. The Bedroom Window takes this cliché to an infuriating extent.

Terry Lambert (Guttenberg) leaves an office party early one night to begin an affair with his boss’ wife, Sylvia (Huppert). As their night winds down, Terry steps out of the room for a minute and Sylvia gazes out the window. At that moment, she witnesses the assault and attempted murder of a young woman, Denise (McGovern), by a pale, red-headed figure who then runs off. Not wanting to speak with police and risk having to testify in court where her husband would find out about the affair, Sylvia parts and resolutely decides not to speak of what she witnessed, content enough that the woman she saw was spared. Days later though, another woman is raped and murdered in similar circumstances to the attempt she witnessed. Terry, feeling a sense of civic responsibility, goes to the police and pretends that he witnessed the crime, feeding them information that Sylvia (who agrees with the plan) gives him. Lying to the police is not a great idea, but the way Terry’s life spirals out of control, as a result, is extreme and a little hard to believe. The first problem comes when Terry’s asked to look at a police lineup and pick out the assailant, where he meets Denise. The film, interestingly, loses its way later on, just when it starts to resemble other thrillers we’ve seen before, specifically the classic Hitchcock pictures. Hitchcock loved thrusting ordinary men into extraordinary situations, and the way Terry goes from key witness to lead suspect is very reminiscent of a famous scene in North by Northwest. It’s not that I have an issue with wearing the Hitchcock influence so conspicuously. A number of excellent films have done that: Charade, Blow-Out, Ghost Writer. And Hitchcock, also, wasn’t always interested in perfectly logical plotlines. My problem is that in The Bedroom Window, the rewards don’t always outweigh the frustration caused by maddening character decisions. Doing my best not to spoil anything, there’s one moment where Terry is left holding a freshly stabbed body and flees as the cops approach despite not having any weapon on him. If he had just waited, couldn’t he have just told the police, “how could I have stabbed this person if I don’t have a weapon?” As I said, logic is not paramount.

Aside from the frustration I felt watching the incompetent police in The Bedroom Window, and the silliness of some of its contrivances, the film is a perfectly serviceable thriller. It’s very good at times and its trio of leads (Steve Guttenberg, Isabelle Hupert, Elizabeth McGovern) as odd as it seems on paper, is the one atypical touch of an otherwise familiar thriller.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(777)

The Glass Key (1942, Directed by Stuart Heisler) English 7

Starring Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Brian Donlevy, Joseph Calleia, William Bendix, Bonita Granville

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(7-Very Good Film)

Gripping. Enticing. Cool.

Early adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel featuring Donlevy as Paul Madvig, a big-time crook and political organizer, and Alan Ladd as his right-hand man and best friend, Beaumont. Their small empire runs into trouble when Paul alienates another powerful crook, Nick Varna, at the same time falling in love with a politician’s daughter named Janet (Veronica Lake), who happens to be the sister of a man he’s thought to have killed. It’s up to Beaumont to clean up the mess, and untangle the mystery, as he fights off the growing attraction between himself and his best friend’s girlfriend. Slick noir, with excellent supporting turns from Joseph Calleia and William Bendix. Ladd and Lake are justifiably a classic screen couple. Their smoldering makes the all too neat ending not only passable but completely satisfying.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(773)

The Lost Moment (1947, Directed by Martin Gabel) English 6

Starring Robert Cummings, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead, Joan Lorring, John Archer, Eduardo Ciannelli

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(6-Good Film)

Intriguing. Beguiling. Tame.

Ambitious publisher and privileged young man, Lewis Venable (Cummings), sees the opportunity of a lifetime when he hears about a series of love letters written by famed 19th-century poet Jeffrey Ashton. A professional tip (actually something a little shadier) leads him to an old mansion in Venice owned by the still living Juliana Bordereau (Moorehead), now over one-hundred years-old, who was Ashton’s lover during his time and the recipient of his letters. Venable assumes a fake identity in order to swindle Bordereau out of those letters but finds the house a dark place that holds more secrets than just the letters. There’s the beautiful Tina, Bordereau’s cold but alluring niece, for instance. In the vein of many old gothic chillers, The Lost Moment boasts lovely black and white photography to go with its memorable set pieces. Susan Hayward’s Tina is a fantastic and baffling femme fatale and Agnes Moorehead under heavy makeup is convincing as the ancient hag. I was left disappointed, however, in the main character who shifts too quickly from scoundrel to hero. Rather than go for something truly original and outrageous, the film plays it safe and ends on a pleasant note.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(771)

Veronica Mars (2019, Season 4) English 8

Starring Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Enrico Colantoni, Percy Daggs III, Francis Capra, Clifton Collins Jr., Patton Oswalt, Max Greenfield, Dawnn Lewis, Ryan Hansen, J.K Simmons, Mido Hamada, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Izabela Vidovic

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(8-Exceptional)

Engrossing. Fast-moving. Frustrating.

Veronica is back, 12 years removed from her last appearance on television and 5 years removed from her big-screen come back. Originally starring on the CW, Hulu takes over this season and seems to be a great landing spot. There’s no rust. Season 4 kicks off fast and speeds through to an overall satisfying end. Veronica (Bell) and her dad, Kieth (Colantoni), get wrapped up in a local mystery as someone is killing off the spring-break crowd. Seeing as their city, Neptune, California depends on the spring-break crowd for business, a bit of a Jaws situation occurs where the authorities don’t want to take the proper precautions out of fear for local commerce. It’s an involving case and all of the new characters are welcome additions. Perhaps taking a page out of the phenomenal series, Fargo’s book, Veronica Mars season 4 is a sprawling saga with a lot of interesting characters and strange moments. J.K Simmons, Patton Oswalt, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Izabela Vidovic, and Clifton Collins Jr make strong impressions. Unfortunately, much of the original cast is short-changed. Wallace is barely a part of this season, Mac doesn’t show up at all. Worse for me than that is my memory of Veronica not matching what she’s like in this season. She’s often the least likable character. That turns out not to hurt the show too much. It’s only the very end and I mean the last few scenes that had me scratching my head and apparently many fans up in arms.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(765)

A Night to Remember (1942, Directed by Richard Wallace) English 5

Starring Loretta Young, Brian Aherne, Jeff Donnell, Sidney Toler, William Wright, Gale Sondergaard

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(5-Okay Film)

Amusing. Slight. Forgettable.

A happy couple, the husband, an amateur mystery writer (Aherne), and the wife, a quick-witted beauty (Young), move into a seemingly nice apartment, but the neighbors act strange, and soon a dead body turns up. The two decide to investigate and stumble upon a large blackmailing scheme. Perhaps spurred on by the success of Nick and Nora in the Thin Man series, this mystery film’s best quality is the chemistry between the charming lead couple. The actual mystery has an intriguing premise but isn’t fully developed and lacks suspense.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(763)