Double Indemnity (1944)

Directed by Billy Wilder

Double Indemnity is a 1944 film noir directed by Billy Wilder, co-written by Wilder and Raymond Chandler, and produced by Buddy DeSylva and Joseph Sistrom. The screenplay was based on James M. Cain‘s 1943 novella of the same name, which originally appeared as an eight-part serial in Liberty magazine.

The film stars Fred MacMurray as an insurance salesman, Barbara Stanwyck as a provocative housewife who wishes her husband were dead, and Edward G. Robinsonas a claims adjuster whose job is to find phony claims. The term “double indemnity” refers to a clause in certain life insurance policies that doubles the payout in rare cases when death is caused accidentally, such as while riding a railway.

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Background

James M. Cain based his novella on a 1927 murder perpetrated by a married Queens, New York woman and her lover whose trial he attended while working as a journalist in New York. In that crime, Ruth Snyderpersuaded her boyfriend, Judd Gray, to kill her husband Albert after having him take out a big insurance policy – with a double-indemnity clause.The murderers were quickly identified, arrested and convicted. The front page photo of Snyder’s execution in the electric chair at Sing Sing has been called the most famous newsphoto of the 1920s.

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Double Indemnity began making the rounds in Hollywood shortly after it was published in Liberty magazine in 1935. Cain had already made a name for himself the year before with The Postman Always Rings Twice, a story of murder and passion between a migrant worker and the unhappy wife of a café owner. Cain’s agent sent copies of the novella to all the major studios and within days, MGM, Warner Bros., Paramount, 20th Century-Fox, and Columbia were all competing to buy the rights for $25,000. Then a letter went out from Joseph Breen at the Hays Office, and the studios withdrew their bids as one. In it Breen warned:

The general low tone and sordid flavor of this story makes it, in our judgment, thoroughly unacceptable for screen presentation before mixed audiences in the theater. I am sure you will agree that it is most important…to avoid what the code calls “the hardening of audiences,” especially those who are young and impressionable, to the thought and fact of crime.

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Eight years later Double Indemnity was included in a collection of Cain’s works entitled Three of a Kind. Paramount executive Joseph Sistrom thought the material would be perfect for Wilder and they bought the rights for $15,000. Paramount resubmitted the script to the Hays Office, but the response was nearly identical to the one eight years earlier. Wilder, Paramount executive William Dozier, and Sistrom decided to move forward anyway. They submitted a film treatment crafted by Wilder and his writing partner Charles Brackett, and this time the Hays Office approved the project with only a few objections: the portrayal of the disposal of the body, a proposed gas-chamber execution scene, and the skimpiness of the towel worn by the female lead in her first scene.

Cain forever after maintained that Joseph Breen owed him $10,000 for vetoing the property back in 1935 when he would have received $25,000.

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Casting

Wilder chose a bad wig for Stanwyck to underscore Phyllis’s “sleazy phoniness.

Having the two protagonists mortally wound each other was one of the key factors in gaining Hays Office approval for the script: the Production Code demanded that criminals pay, on screen, for their transgressions. In addition, Double Indemnity broke new cinematic ground on several fronts, one of those being the first time a Hollywood film explicitly explored the means, motives, and opportunity of committing a murder.It would take skillful performers to bring nuance to these treacherous characters, and casting the roles of Walter Neff and Phyllis Dietrichson would be a challenge for Wilder.

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Sistrom and Wilder’s first choice for the role of Phyllis Dietrichson was Barbara Stanwyck. At the time, Stanwyck was not only the highest paid actress in Hollywood, but the highest paid woman in America. (Her eventual co-star MacMurray matched Stanwyck’s prominence at the pay window: in 1943, he was the highest paid actor in Hollywood, and the fourth highest-paid American. Given the nature of the role, Stanwyck was reluctant to take the part, fearing it would have an adverse effect on her career. According to Stanwyck,

I said, “I love the script and I love you, but I am a little afraid after all these years of playing heroines to go into an out-and-out killer.” And Mr. Wilder – and rightly so – looked at me and he said, “Well, are you a mouse or an actress?” And I said, “Well, I hope I’m an actress.” He said, “Then do the part”. And I did and I’m very grateful to him.

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The character of Walter Neff was not only a heel, he was a weak and malleable heel – many Hollywood actors including Alan Ladd, James Cagney, Spencer Tracy, Gregory Peck, and Fredric March passed on it.Wilder even recalls “scraping the bottom of the barrel” and approaching George Raft. Raft was illiterate, so Wilder had to tell him the plot. About halfway through, Raft interrupted him with, “Let’s get to the lapel bit.” “What lapel bit?” a bewildered Wilder replied. “The lapel,” the actor said, annoyed by such stupidity. “You know, when the guy flashes his lapel, you see his badge, you know he’s a detective.” This was his vision of the film, and since it wasn’t part of the story, Raft turned the part down.[24] Wilder finally realized that the part should be played by someone who could not only be a cynic, but a nice guy as well.

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Fred MacMurray was accustomed to playing “happy-go-lucky good guys” in light comedies, and when Wilder first approached him about the Neff role, MacMurray said, “You’re making the mistake of your life!” Playing a serious role required acting, he said, “and I can’t do it.” But Wilder pestered him about it every single day – at home, in the studio commissary, in his dressing room, on the sidewalk – until he simply wore the actor down. MacMurray felt safe about his acquiescence since Paramount, who had him under contract and had carefully crafted his good guy image, would never let him play a “wrong” role. His trust, however, was misplaced: his contract was up for renewal at the time, and ever since his friend and co-star, Carole Lombard, had shrewdly and successfully taught him how to play hardball with the studio bosses, he wasn’t the pliable pushover of old.

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Paramount executives decided to let him play the unsavory role to teach him a lesson. A lesson was indeed taught, but not the one Paramount had in mind.  MacMurray made a great heel and his performance demonstrated new breadths of his acting talent. “I never dreamed it would be the best picture I ever made,” he said.

Edward G. Robinson was also reluctant to sign on for the role of Barton Keyes, but not for the same reasons as MacMurray and Stanwyck. Having been a star since Little Caesar in 1930, this role represented a step downward to the third lead. Robinson would later admit, “At my age, it was time to begin thinking of character roles, to slide into middle and old age with the same grace as that marvelous actor Lewis Stone“. It also helped, as he freely admitted, that he would draw the same salary as the two leads, for fewer shooting days.[22] The notable Broadway actor Tom Powers was invited to Hollywood for the role of Mr. Dietrichson. It was Powers’ first film role since 1917 and his start to a “second film career” with many supporting roles until his death in 1955

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One of the best films noir ever, Double Indemnity communicates with amazing effectiveness the depths of depravity, greed, lust, and betrayal of the seemingly innocent and beautiful.

10/10
Author: Michael DeZubiria (wppispam2013@gmail.com) from Luoyang, China
8 November 2000

This is one of the best films of all time, not necessarily because of its story but because of the acting, direction, cinematography, lighting, and just the way that the story itself was told. At the time the film was released, the idea of revealing who the killer was in the opening scene was virtually unheard of, but it ended up being very effective because it allowed the audience to concentrate more on other elements of the film, which was the goal of Billy Wilder, the director.

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Instead of trying to figure out who the perpetrator was, there is more emphasis on how the crime was pulled off, what mistakes were made during the murder, who betrayed who, how close Barton Keyes (the insurance investigator) was getting to solving the case, and, probably most importantly, what kind of person Walter Neff is and whether or not sympathy should be felt toward him.

Barbara Stanwyck, in one of the most remembered performances of her extensive career, represents (with nearly flawless ease) the cold and ruthless manipulator who has no difficulty in ruining other people’s lives in various ways (including death, if necessary) in order to get what she wants. Known in the film community as the `femme fatale,’ this is someone who uses her sexual prowess, seductiveness, and emotional detachment to drag an unsuspecting person (generally an interested man) into a scheme from which she is expected to benefit heavily and he is most likely headed for destruction. In these types of films, the man often either finds his life in ruins or ends up dead, as is often (but not always) also the case with the fate of the femme fatale.

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Barbara Stanwyck (as Phyllis Dietrichson, the murderous femme fatale in Double Indemnity) and Fred MacMurray (as Walter Neff, her ‘victim’), have amazing chemistry on screen. Their attraction is incredibly well portrayed, and the development of their relationship with each other is so convincing that what happens between them almost seems normal. Besides that, their mutually calculated interaction, although it seems at first like it has been rehearsed endlessly and ultimately brought unconvincingly to the screen, is exactly as it was meant to be, because it represents each character’s intentions, even very subtly foreshadowing their future betrayals against each other. Phyllis has gone through every word she ever says to Walter in her head.

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She has practiced what she wants to say when she brings up the idea of life insurance to Walter in the beginning and she knows what she wants to say whenever they interact with each other because she has been planning for quite some time the prospect of murdering her husband in order to collect his fortune. Walter, conversely, methodically makes amorous advances as though this is something that he does regularly, and then ultimately he also plans out his conversations with Phyllis because he begins to suspect her and is sure to tell her only what he wants her to hear. This seemingly stiff dialogue brilliantly represents Phyllis and Walter’s precise (and sinister) intentions, and it’s quick pace creates a feeling of urgency and restlessness.

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Probably the most fascinating and entertaining actor in the film, Edward G. Robinson, plays Barton Keyes, Walter’s friend and employer at the insurance company where he works. Keyes is a very suspicious man who closely investigates the insurance claims which come into the company, having a striking history of accurately isolating fraudulent claims and throwing them out. His handling of Phyllis’s (and Walter’s, technically) claim and the way that he gets closer and closer to the truth create a great atmosphere of tension and drama.

Double Indemnity is nearly flawless. From the shocking and unexpected beginning to the already known but still surprising end, the audience is held rapt by the excellent performances, the brilliant and imaginative direction, and the flawlessly created atmosphere. This is excellent, excellent filmmaking, and is a classic film that should not be missed.

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Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

Directed by John M. Stahl

Plot

Novelist Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) returns to his remote island home, called Back of the Moon, after two years in prison. His friend and attorney (Ray Collins), narrates how Richard meets beautiful socialite Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney) on a train. She falls in love with him based mainly on his close resemblance to her recently deceased father, to whom she was obsessively attached.

Ellen is previously engaged to an ambitious Boston attorney, Russell Quinton (Vincent Price), who begs her not to marry Richard because of the bad press it would bring to his upcoming political campaign. However, she jilts Russell and marries Richard, who at first is fascinated not only with Ellen’s beauty but her exotic and intense manner. It gradually becomes apparent however that Ellen is pathologically jealous towards any other person and activity that her husband cares about.

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Richard’s younger disabled brother, Danny (Darryl Hickman), whom Richard dearly loves, comes to live with them at their lodge even though Ellen pleads with the doctor to not allow the move. She becomes increasingly irritated by Danny’s presence and the attention he gets from Richard. One day, while she and Danny are out on a rowboat, Danny decides to see how far he can swim. However, Danny’s paralyzed legs weigh him down, and Ellen watches heartlessly as Danny struggles to stay afloat. He drowns in front of her as Ellen registers no reaction on her face. When she hears Richard approaching the lake, she only then begins screaming.

Later, she becomes pregnant, but tells her adoptive sister, Ruth (Jeanne Crain), that she has an active disdain for the “little beast” inside of her. She then deliberately causes the miscarriage of the couple’s unborn son when she throws herself down a flight of stairs. She returns after a few weeks in the hospital and accuses Ruth of being in love with Richard, especially after the dedication of Richard’s new book is to “the gal with the hoe” – a reference to Ruth’s penchant for gardening. Ruth condemns Ellen for causing all the misery that is happening to the family

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Overhearing the conversation, Richard begins to suspect that Ellen is directly responsible for both the death of his brother and his son. He accuses her of letting Danny drown. When Ellen confesses that she did let him drown and would do it again, he leaves her. She decides to poison herself, coldly framing Ruth in jealousy over Ruth’s warm but innocent friendship with her husband.

Posing as a victim, Ellen writes to her ex-fiance (since elected a county district attorney) laying out her claims of murder, which said that Ruth wanted her dead. Ellen conspires with Richard, who is next seen being grilled by Russell, the prosecutor for Ruth’s trial. Ruth is then pressured by Russell into admitting she has always loved Richard. In response, the previous recalcitrant Richard resumes the witness chair and testifies about Ellen’s insane jealousy and her dual confessions to him. Ruth is acquitted, but Richard is sentenced to two years in prison as an accessory to his brother’s death for withholding knowledge of Ellen’s actions from investigators.

With those two years now behind him, Richard is welcomed home to Back of the Moon by a loving embrace from Ruth.

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Color Time Travel – A film that must be experienced on the Big Screen

26 April 2008 | by ted-129 (San Francisco) – See all my reviews

No one can watch this without remembering Gene Tierney’s searing blue eyes, Jeanne Crain’s face of innocence, or Cornel Wilde (lightyears from The Naked Prey) here looking like a photo of Pierre & Gilles come to life. It’s 110 minutes of color-time-travel basking in the surreally saturated Technicolor palette of the mid 40’s.

For those who have been denied the experience of watching the recently restored version with a rapt audience on a big screen as happened April 26, 2008 at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre, I can only hope you’ll contact a film preservation-minded theater in your area.

Though I’ve watched this film on DVD, nothing prepared me for the impact of the big screen. The closeups alone will take your breath away.

Is it melodrama or is it noir?–leave that to Heaven!

Scarlet Street (1945)

Directed by Fritz Lang

Scarlet Street is a 1945 film noir directed by Fritz Lang. Two criminals take advantage of a middle-age painter in order to steal his artwork. The film is based on the French novel La Chienne (“The Bitch”) by Georges de La Fouchardière, that previously had been dramatized on stage by André Mouëzy-Éon, and cinematically as La Chienne (1931) by director Jean Renoir.

The principal actors Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea had earlier appeared together in The Woman in the Window (1944) also directed by Fritz Lang.

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Joan Bennett

It’s 1934. Christopher “Chris” Cross (Edward G. Robinson), a meek amateur painter and cashier for clothing retailer, J.J. Hogarth & Company, is fêted by his employer, honoring him for twenty-five years of dull, repetitive service, from 1909-1934. Hogarth presents him with a watch and kind words, then leaves getting into a car with a beautiful young blonde.

Walking home through Greenwich Village, Chris muses to an associate, “I wonder what it’s like to be loved by a young girl.” He helps Kitty (Joan Bennett), an amoral fast-talking femme fatale, apparently being attacked by a man, stunning the assailant with his umbrella. Chris is unaware that the attacker was Johnny (Dan Duryea), Kitty’s brutish boyfriend, and sees her safely to her apartment building. Out of gratitude and bemusement, she accepts his offer for a cup of coffee at a nearby bar. From Chris’s comments about art, Kitty believes him to be a wealthy painter.

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Soon, Chris becomes enamored of her because he is in a loveless marriage and is tormented by his shrewish wife Adele (Rosalind Ivan), who idealizes her former husband, a policeman who apparently drowned while trying to save a woman. After Chris confesses that he is married, Johnny convinces Kitty to pursue a relationship in order to extort money from Chris. Kitty inveigles him to rent an apartment for her, one that can also be his art studio. To finance an apartment, Chris steals $500 ($8,800 today) in insurance bonds from his wife and later $1000 ($17,700) from his employer.

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Unknown to Chris, Johnny unsuccessfully tries selling some of Chris’s paintings, attracting the interest of art critic David Janeway (Jess Barker). Kitty is maneuvered by Johnny into pretending that she painted them, charming the critic with Chris’s own descriptions of his art, and Janeway promises to represent her. Adele sees her husband’s paintings in the window of a commercial art gallery as the work of “Katherine March” and accuses him of copying her work. Chris confronts Kitty, who claims she sold them because she needed the money. He is so delighted that his paintings are appreciated, albeit only under Kitty’s signature, that he happily lets her become the public face of his art. She becomes a huge commercial success, although Chris never receives any of the money.

Adele’s supposedly dead first husband, Higgins (Charles Kemper), suddenly appears at Chris’s office to extort money from him. He explains he had not drowned but had stolen $2,700 from the purse of the suicide he tried to save. Already suspected as corrupt for taking bribes from speakeasies, he had taken the opportunity to escape his crimes and his wife. Chris lets Higgins into his wife’s room ostensibly so he can get the insurance money from his death but does so when she is asleep in the room, reasoning that his marriage will be invalidated when his wife sees her still-living first husband.

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Believing he can now marry Kitty, he goes to see her, but finds out that Kitty has cheated on him. He later confronts Kitty, but still asks her to marry him; she scorns him for being old and refuses to marry him. Enraged he stabs her to death. The police visit Chris at his job, not for the murder but his earlier embezzlement. Although his boss refuses to press charges, Chris is fired. Johnny is accused of Kitty’s murder.

At the trial, all of the deceptions work against Johnny, despite his attempts to implicate Chris, and Chris denies painting any of the pictures. Johnny is convicted and put to death for Kitty’s murder, Chris goes unpunished, and Kitty is erroneously recognized as a great artist.

Haunted by the murder, Chris attempts to hang himself. Although rescued, he is impoverished with no way of claiming credit for his own paintings and tormented by thoughts of Kitty and Johnny being together for eternity, loving each other.

Reception

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Joan Bennett as Kitty March

Bosley Crowther, The New York Times critic, gave the film a mixed review. He wrote, “But for those who are looking for drama of a firm and incisive sort, Scarlet Street is not likely to furnish a particularly rare experience. Dudley Nichols wrote the story from a French original, in which it might well have had a stinging and grisly vitality. In this presentation, however, it seems a sluggish and manufactured tale, emerging much more from sheer contrivance than from the passions of the characters involved. And the slight twist of tension which tightens around the principal character is lost in the middle of the picture when he is shelved for a dull stretch of plot. In the role of the love-blighted cashier Edward G. Robinson performs monotonously and with little illumination of an adventurous spirit seeking air. And, as the girl whom he loves, Joan Bennett is static and colorless, completely lacking the malevolence that should flash in her evil role. Only Dan Duryea as her boy friend hits a proper and credible stride, making a vicious and serpentine creature out of a cheap, chiseling tinhorn off the streets.”

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A review in Variety magazine included: “Fritz Lang’s production and direction ably project the sordid tale of the romance between a milquetoast character and a gold-digging blonde…Edward G. Robinson is the mild cashier and amateur painter whose love for Joan Bennett leads him to embezzlement, murder and disgrace. Two stars turn in top work to keep the interest high, and Dan Duryea’s portrayal of the crafty and crooked opportunist whom Bennett loves is a standout in furthering the melodrama.”

The film critic at Time gave Scarlet Street a negative review describing the plot as clichéd and with dimwitted, unethical, stock characters.

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Late Expressionism, Early Noir–incredible plot, amazing movie

5 May 2010 | by secondtake (United States) – See all my reviews

Scarlet Street (1945)

It starts slowly, with little bits of intrigue and a lot of empathy for Edward G. Robinson’s character, Chris Cross, a lonely cashier with dreams of being in love. And then he sees a man hitting a young woman on the street, and he rushes to help her. Things start a torturous, complicated, fabulous decline from there. The woman sees how Cross finds her beautiful, but Cross, it turns out, is unhappily married. And petty, selfish cruelty turns to many worse things.

Fritz Lang, the Austrian director now firmly settled into Hollywood, is not known for cheerful movies (he directed M, for one), and this one draws on so much empathy, and heartbreak, and finally downright shock and surprise, it’s breathtaking. Great film-making, beautiful and relentless. The woman, Joan Bennett, comes alive on the screen, duplicitous and raw. Her boyfriend, Dan Duryea, is perfect Duryea, clever and annoying and as usual, coming out less than rosy.

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The cinematographer, Milton Krasner, has so many richly brooding and dramatic films to his credit, it’s almost a given that we will be invisibly swept into every scene (and much of the action takes place in an apartment almost tailor made for great filming, with glass doors, and two levels to look up or down from). The story is key, based on a novel by Georges de La Fouchardière, little known here, but he wrote “La Chienne,” the basis for Jean Renoir’s second film (1931), where the film announces to the audience that it is about, “He, she, and the other guy . . . as usual.” And that describes Scarlet Street just as well, for starters.

 

Lang is credited as one of the key shapers of the film noir style, and that certainly applies visually. It lacks that film noir key of a young man at odds with post-War America, but it does have a man, alone, at odds with the world. Chris Cross is a pathetic creature, far more naive than most of us could ever be, but yet we identify with him because he represents innocence swept up in a world more sinister than we expect. He’s a victim, in a way, but also the cause of his own troubles.

And troubles they are. What a story, what a film. Dark, wrenching, and unpredictable. Very Fritz Lang.

 

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A Brilliant Remake

Author: Zen Bones from USA
3 April 2002

I’ve seen LA CHIENNE, and although most of SCARLET STREET is a remake, the two are entirely different films. LA CHIENNE is virtually a comedy. In fact, it begins with an introduction by puppets (!), so we know we’re not to take the plot very seriously. Renoir’s film is light and fun, and is very interesting to watch for comparisons of ‘moral standards’ between France and Hollywood.

By now, you probably know the story. A sad little man gets involved with a prostitute and her pimp. Hollywood toned down the fact that Robinson and Bennett were involved in a sexual relationship, and the ending of the film had to live up to Hollywood’s standards of ‘morality’. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it yet, but needless to say, the endings between the two films differ in a major way.

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What makes SCARLET STREET so outstanding in my opinion, is that given the repressed nature of the protagonist, the film works better because of the changes. You can better understand the pressures of what living as a human doormat has done to this man, and how coiled up he really is. Edward G. Robinson gives one of the best performances of his career, which is saying a lot! I know, there will always be those who will insist on seeing him as the cigar-chomping tough guy only, and won’t accept him as anything else, but SCARLET STREET showcases his more subtle talents and his enormous range. Joan Bennett is pure charm and snake oil in this, and Dan Duryea out-weasels Richard Widmark in KISS OF DEATH [in fact, I’ll bet good money that the weasel toons in WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT were based on Dan Duryea’s character!]. Hollywood films will always falter in comparison to other country’s films because the industry’s fear of offending audiences always dulls the blade of truth. But, at least during the classic era of Hollywood, the talent usually made up for the story flaws. What do you get when you put Fritz Lang, Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea together? Magic!

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Another compelling masterpiece from Fritz Lang!

8/10
Author: The_Void from Beverley Hills, England
17 November 2004

It is often said of Fritz Lang that his American films aren’t as good as the ones he made in Germany, and judging by the films of his that I’ve seen so far; this analysis is proving itself to be true…but damn, this one isn’t far off. Scarlet Street is simultaneously compelling and unpredictable for it’s duration; Lang truly knows how to plot a film, and that is evident throughout. The story follows a banker and aspiring painter, played to perfection by Edward G. Robinson, who saves a young woman from a purse snatcher one night while on his way home from a party. The two begin talking to each other, and the banker ‘accidentally’ tells the girl that he’s paints pictures and gets a lot of money for doing so (Lang shows us the pitfalls of trying to impress young women by way of lies). However, all was not what it seemed with the purse-snatcher, and he’s actually the young lady’s fiancé; and when he learns that his girlfriend has a man with money after her…. he’s out for all he can get!

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A lot of Lang’s American oeuvre is concentrated on the American justice system and various other crime related things, and this one is no different. Scarlet Street professes that nobody can ever ‘get away with murder’, and the fantastic climax to the movie shows this masterfully; much more so than many other films that have tried to convey the same message have. Scarlet Street is drenched with irony throughout (ironically, it took a non-American to make an ironic American film). This irony ensures that the film stays interesting, as the audience is never able to guess what’s around the corner. There’s nothing worse than a predictable film, and Scarlet Street is certainly anything but. The movie is packed with stand out moments, but non stand out more so than the ending. I’m a big fan of horror films and have seen many; but many of those fail to be as chilling as the ending of Scarlet Street. The atmosphere that Lang creates is incredible, and it ranks one of the most powerful psychological mind games that I’ve ever witnessed on screen. If Fritz Lang set out to put people off murder with this film; I dare say he succeeded. I know I won’t be murdering anyone after watching this!

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Overall; Scarlet Street is another Fritz Lang masterpiece. While not as mind blowing as Metropolis or as powerful as M; Scarlet Street fills a niche all of it’s own. I rate this film as a ‘must see’, and I can almost guarantee that you will not be disappointed after seeing it.

The Woman in the Window (1944)

Directed by Fritz Lang

Plot

After criminology professor Richard Wanley sends his wife and two children off on vacation, he goes to his club to meet friends. Next door, Wanley sees a striking oil portrait of Alice Reed (Joan Bennett) in a storefront window. He and his friends talk about the beautiful painting and its subject. Wanley stays at the club and reads Song of Songs. When he leaves, Wanley stops at the portrait and meets Reed, who is standing near the painting watching people watch it. Reed convinces Wanley to join her for drinks.

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Later, they go to Reed’s home, but an unexpected visit from her rich lover Claude Mazard (Arthur Loft) leads to a fight in which Wanley kills Mazard. Wanley and Reed conspire to cover up the murder, and Wanley disposes Mazard’s body in the country. However, Wanley leaves many clues, and there are a number of witnesses. One of Wanley’s friends from the club, district attorney Frank Lalor (Raymond Massey) has knowledge of the investigation, and Wanley is invited back to the crime scene, as Lalor’s friend, but not as a suspect. As the police gather more evidence, Reed is blackmailed by Heidt (Dan Duryea), a crooked ex-cop who was Mazard’s bodyguard. Reed attempts to poison Heidt with a prescription overdose when he returns the next day, but Heidt is suspicious and takes the money without drinking the drugs. Reed tells Wanley, who overdoses on the remaining prescription medicine.

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Heidt is killed in a shootout immediately after leaving Reed’s home, and police believe Heidt is Mazard’s murderer. Reed races to her home to call Wanley, who is slumped over in his chair. In an impossible match on action, Wanley awakens in his chair at his club, and he realizes the entire adventure was a dream in which employees from the club were main characters in the dream. As he steps out on the street in front of the painting, a woman asks Wanley for a light. He adamantly refuses and runs down the street.

The Woman in the Window is a 1944 film noir directed by Fritz Lang that tells the story of psychology professor Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) who meets and becomes enamored of a young femme fatale.MV5BMTg0MzQzMTUzM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjI3NDQ0MjE@._V1_

Based on J. H. Wallis‘ novel Once Off Guard, the story features two surprise twists at the end. Scriptwriter Nunnally Johnson  founded International Pictures (his own independent production company) after writing successful films such as  The Grapes of Wrath  (1940) and other John Ford films, and chose The Woman in the Windowas its premiere project. Director Fritz Lang substituted the film’s dream ending in place of the originally scripted suicide ending, to conform with the moralistic Production Code  of the time.

The term “film noir” originated as a genre description, in part, because of this movie. The term first was applied to American films in French film magazines in 1946, the year when The Maltese Falcon (1941), Double Indemnity (1944), Laura (1944), Murder, My Sweet (1944), and The Woman in the Window were released in France.

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Film lovers get a window seat to great storytelling.

9/10
Author: finemot from Florida
2 January 2000

It’s hard to tell which element of “The Woman in the Window” (1944) contributes most to its excellence: script, direction, casting, performances, lighting, cinematography, scoring. So, it’s probably safe to say, “All of the above!” “TWITW” introduces us to Assoc. Prof. Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) of Gotham College, who has just seen his wife and two kids (young Robert Blake is “Dickie” Wanley) off for a two week summer vacation. Just prior to entering his men’s club, he is captivated by the portrait of a beautiful woman in the display window of a neighboring storefront.

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His club member friends, District Attorney Frank Lalor (Raymond Massey) and surgeon Dr. Barkstane (Edmond Breon) notice him staring at the portrait and indulge the temporary “bachelor professor” in some good-natured ribbing before the three enter the club for drinks and conversation. As the evenings winds down, the doctor having subscribed some medication for Prof. Wanley who has complained of fatigue, the colleagues leave. Prof. Wanley asks for a 10:30 PM call in the event that he dozes off while reading in his club chair. Upon leaving the club, Wanley again stops at the portrait; and standing behind him is the model, Alice Reed (Joan Bennett), who posed for the artist. She admits that she frequently comes to the spot to check out people’s rections to the painting. The small talk leads the two to an innocent drink at a club followed by a visit to her sumptuous apartment, where she shows Wanley other sketches by the artist.

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The intrusion of an insanely jealous lover leads to struggle, murder (in self-defense) and a quandary: How do two non-merderous strangers go about covering up a murder, disposing of a body (a large one), and manage to trust eachother in the process? The body turns out to be the type of man who warrants headlines. Wanley’s friendship with the D.A. gets him invited on a “field trip” to the spot where the body was found. Here we meet the Chief Inspector, beautifully portrayed by Thomas E. Jackson). Through a series of delightfully handled mishaps, the gentle professor manages to exhibit elements about himself which would conspire to make him a prime suspect had the very prospect not been so ludicrous. A sleazy, but extremely clever blackmailer (Dan Duryea) is introduced. How he becomes involved, we’ll leave unsaid, so as not to spoil some of the film’s outstanding storytelling. The characters are three dimensional. Massey, as the D.A. is both a condescending stuffed-shirt and a caring friend. Jackson, as the Inspector is superbly understated, an affable exterior housing a brilliant mind for detection. Bennett and Duryea are both fine, although some of the dialog between them could easily have been cut to the improvement of the film overall. Robinson is excellent as the unassuming, bright but vulnerable professor. The Nunnally Johnson-Arthur Lange script is right-on, with the noted exceptions. Director Fritz Lang has created a taut, superb suspense tale. “The Woman in the Window” could easily have had either of two endings, one tragically ironic, one concocted to satisfy audiences in search of more delectably amusing resolution. I’ll never tell. This film deserves any healthy debate about its ending every bit as much now, in the year 2000, as it did during its first release in 1944.

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Lifeboat (1944)

Director:

Alfred Hitchcock

In the Atlantic during WWII, a ship and a German U-boat are involved in a battle and both are sunk. The survivors from the ship gather in one of the boats. They are from a variety of backgrounds: an international journalist, a rich businessman, the radio operator, a nurse, a steward, a sailor and an engineer with communist tendencies. Trouble starts when they pull a man out of the water who turns out to be from the U-boat.MV5BMGZiOTQ4Y2UtNzk4Mi00MmUzLWFhYzktNWI5MjI1NmM2ZjFiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjk3NTUyOTc@._V1_

I’d like to be lost at sea with this great cast anyday

16 April 1999 | by Michael Bragg (mbragg@menlocollege.menlo.edu) (Redwood Shores,CA) – See all my reviews

In one of Alfred Hitchcock’s earliest films, six people with different personalities and backgrounds are stranded together in a lifeboat after the passenger-carrying freighter they are on is sunk by a German u-boat in the Mid-Atlantic. The cast includes the fabulous Tallulah Bankhead as a bitchy photo-journalist, Hume Cronyn as kind-hearted man who finds love on the lifeboat, Canada Lee as a kind steward, Walter Slezak as a mysterious German, and John Hodiak who has to dodge Tallulah’s nonstop advances. Hitchcock did this film on one set – the single lifeboat. What’s amazing is that he could keep things interesting for two hours, but he managed to somehow. Bankhead is this movie’s greatest asset. Reportedly, she didn’t wear underwear on the set and constantly kept the crew at attention! This is a great, novel film.

During filming, several crew members noted that Tallulah Bankhead was not wearing underwear. When advised of this situation, Alfred Hitchcock observed, “I don’t know if this is a matter for the costume department, makeup, or hairdressing.”

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At the time that Lifeboat went into production, Alfred Hitchcock was under contract to David O. Selznick. Twentieth Century-Fox obtained the director’s services in exchange for that of several actors and technicians, as well as the rights to three stories that Fox owned. Hitchcock was to direct two films for the studio, but the second was never made, apparently because Fox was unhappy with the length of time taken to finish production on Lifeboat.

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It was Hitchcock who came up with the idea for the film. He approached A.J. Cronin, James Hilton and Ernest Hemingway to help write the script, before giving the project to John Steinbeck, who had previously written the screenplay for the 1941 documentary The Forgotten Village but had not written a fictional story for the screen. It was Steinbeck’s intention to write and publish a novel and sell the rights to the studio, but the story was never published, as his literary agents considered it “inferior”. Steinbeck received $50,000 ($724,000 today) for the rights to his story. Steinbeck was unhappy with the film because it presented what he considered to be “slurs against organized labor” and a “stock comedy Negro” when his story had a “Negro of dignity, purpose and personality”.

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He requested, unsuccessfully, that his name be removed from the credits. When a condensed version of the film story appeared in Collier’s magazine on November 13, 1942, it was credited to Hitchcock and writer Harry Sylvester, with Steinbeck credited with the “original screen story”.[8] Other writers who worked on various drafts of the script include Hitchcock’s wifeAlma Reville, MacKinlay Kantor, Patricia Collinge, Albert Mannheimer and Marian Spitzer. Hitchcock also brought in Ben Hecht to rewrite the ending.

Lifeboat was originally planned to be filmed in Technicolor with an all-male cast, many of whom were going to be unknowns. Canada Lee, who was primarily a stage acto. with only one film credit at the time, was the first actor cast in the film.

Hitchcock planned the camera angles for the film using a miniature lifeboat and figurines. Four lifeboats were used during shooting. Rehearsals took place in one, separate boats were used for close-ups and long shots and another was in the studio’s large-scale tank, where water shots were made. Except for background footage shot by the second unit around Miami, in the Florida Keys and on San Miguel Island in California, the film was shot in the Twentieth Century-Fox studio on Pico Boulevard in what is now Century City.

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Lifeboat was in production from August 3 through November 17, 1943. Illnesses were a constant part of the production from the beginning. Before shooting began, William Bendix replaced actor Murray Alperwhen Alper became ill and after two weeks of shooting, director of photography Arthur Miller was replaced by Glen MacWilliams because of illness. Tallulah Bankhead came down with pneumonia twice during shooting and Mary Anderson became seriously ill during production, causing several days of production time to be lost. Hume Cronyn suffered two cracked ribs and nearly drowned when he was caught under a water-activator making waves for a storm scene. He was saved by a lifeguard. The film is unique among Hitchcock’s American films for having no musical score during the narrative (apart from the singing of the U-boat captain, accompanied by flute); the Fox studio orchestra was only used for the opening and closing credits.

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Cameo

Director Alfred Hitchcock made cameo appearances in most of his films. He once commented to François Truffaut – in Hitchcock/Truffaut (Simon and Schuster, 1967) – that this particular cameo was difficult to achieve, due to the lack of passers-by in the film. While having originally considered posing as a body floating past the lifeboat – which he later considered for his cameo in Frenzy – after his success with weight loss, Hitchcock decided to pose for “before” and “after” photos for an advertisement for a fictional weight-loss drug, “Reduco”, shown in a newspaper which was in the boat. Supposedly, he later received letters from people asking about Reduco, which he used again in Rope, where Hitchcock’s profile and Reduco appear on a red neon sign.The Lifeboat cameo appears 24 minutes into the film.

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Response

While modern critics see the film positively, Lifeboat‘s portrayal of a German character in what was perceived as a positive fashion caused considerable controversy at the time of its release. Influential reviewers and columnists including Dorothy Thompson and Bosley Crowther of the New York Times saw the film as denigrating the American and British characters while glorifying the German. Crowther wrote that “the Nazis, with some cutting here and there, could turn Lifeboat into a whiplash against the ‘decadent democracies.’ And it is questionable whether such a picture, with such a theme, is judicious at this time.” In Truffaut’s 1967 book-length interview Hitchcock/Truffaut, Hitchcock paraphrased Thompson’s criticism as “Dorothy Thompson gave the film ten days to get out of town.”

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Such commentary caused Steinbeck, who had previously been criticized because of his handling of German characters in The Moon Is Down, to publicly disassociate himself from the film, to denounce Hitchcock and Swerling’s treatment of his material, and to request that his name not be used by Fox in connection with the presentation of the film. Crowther responded by detailing the differences between Steinbeck’s novella and the film as released, accusing the film’s creators of “pre-empting” Steinbeck’s “creative authority”.

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Hitchcock responded to the criticism by explaining that the film’s moral was that the Allies needed to stop bickering and work together to win the war, and he defended the portrayal of the German character, saying, “I always respect my villain, build[ing] him into a redoubtable character that will make my hero or thesis more admirable in defeating him or it.” Bankhead backed him up in an interview in which she said that the director “wanted to teach an important lesson. He wanted to say that you can’t trust the enemy… in Lifeboat you see clearly that you can’t trust a Nazi, no matter how nice he seems to be.”

Tallulah Bankhead called the criticism leveled at the film that it was too pro-Axis “moronic”.

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Criticism was also leveled at the script for its portrayal of the African-American character Joe as “too stereotypical.” Actor Canada Lee testified that he had attempted to round out the character by revising dialogue, primarily eliminating repeated “yessir”s and “nossir”s that sounded subservient  and cutting some actions. The overseas section of the Office of War Information‘s Bureau of Motion Pictures reviewed the picture and for these and other racial characterizations recommended that Lifeboat not be distributed overseas. An NAACP critique of the film condemned Lee’s role unequivocally although praising his performance. However the Baltimore Afro-Americans review, while commenting on shortcomings regarding the character, praised both the performance and its role depiction. Historian Rebecca Sklaroff, while writing that Joe’s role was more “tokenistic” than black roles in the wartime films Sahara and Bataan, noted that Joe was also depicted as compassionate, dependable and heroic, the only cast member stepping forward to disarm the second German sailor rescued.

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Critics praised the film’s acting, directing, and cinematography and noted with appreciation the lack of background music once the film proper begins. Still, studio executives, under pressure because of the controversies, decided to give the film a limited release instead of the wide release most of Hitchcock’s films received. Advertising for the film was also reduced, which resulted in the film’s poor box office showing when it was released in 1944.

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Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Director:

Alfred Hitchcock

Storyline

Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Newton is bored with her quiet life at home with her parents and her younger sister. She wishes something exciting would happen and knows exactly what they need: a visit from her sophisticated and much traveled uncle Charlie Oakley, her mother’s younger brother. Imagine her delight when, out of the blue, they receive a telegram from uncle Charlie announcing that he is coming to visit them for awhile. Charlie Oakley creates quite a stir and charms the ladies club as well as the bank president where his brother-in-law works. Young Charlie begins to notice some odd behavior on his part, such as cutting out a story in the local paper about a man who marries and then murders rich widows. When two strangers appear asking questions about him, she begins to imagine the worst about her dearly beloved uncle Charlie.

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Alfred Hitchcock said that part of why he considered this to be his favorite film was that he loved the idea of bringing menace to a small town.

Teresa Wright did not read the script before agreeing to sign on for the film. Alfred Hitchcock described the plot to her in a meeting and she agreed to take on the part immediately.

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Hitchcock’s first masterpiece

7 November 2006 | by faraaj-1 (faraajqureshi2401@gmail.com) (Sydney, Australia) – See all my reviews

Shadow of a Doubt is perhaps Hitchcock’s first real masterpiece – a more mature film than The 39 Steps or Rebecca. It is also incidentally his favorite of his own films. The sleepy town of Santa Rosa is far removed from the very real events of WW-2, events that figured at least a mention if not a central influence on most films of that period. Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Vertigo were also far removed from the realities of the Cold War and the Communist Witch-Hunts of the 50’s.

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Shadow is taut with sexual tension – the incestuous overtones of the mental affinity of niece and uncle Charlie, the lusty infatuations of Charlie’s teenage friend Catherine, and Herb, who just happens to be around the corner where ever we see Charlie. Charlie, the niece, is played by Teresa Wright in one of Hitchcock’s best female performances. She is very warm, innocent and genuinely good-natured – completely unlike Hitch’s usual icy blonds. I have always found Joseph Cotten to be quite inexpressive. He is slightly better than his usual self and is believable in charming and winning over the small town-folk.

This is probably Hitchcock’s only film with a strong human core, coupled with his well-known skills as a master technician. What other director of the era could have revealed the murderer at the start of the film and still maintained tension and a lingering unease throughout. Shadow of a Doubt is a precursor to the menace of Blue Velvet and the sexual tensions of American Beauty – and stays with you much longer than either of them.

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I own the Hitchcock collection (14 films in toto), and while this isn’t my favourite of the bunch (‘Psycho’ is one of my favourite movies of all time, and ‘Birds’ never gets old), I like to watch it every now and again to remind myself what it means to make a “suspense film”, and why Hitchcock was and always will be the master of this craft.

To give away even the slightest story detail would ruin it for new viewers, because it is essential that everyone begin with the wrong impressions of the major characters. This allows Hitch to pull off his famous ‘twists’ throughout the course of the movie, hitting you every now and then with something you simply weren’t expecting.

One of my favourite elements in the movie is the ongoing dialogue between Henry Travers and Hume Cronyn, avid mystery readers who are constantly discussing the best ways to murder each other. Apart from being a bit of comic relief in an otherwise very dark film, it also demonstrates how lightly people think of murder and murderers…until they encounter them face-to-face.

My advice then, if you want to see this movie, is not to learn anything about it beforehand. Going in with no knowledge will increase the movie’s initial impact, and will help you to appreciate why Hitchcock was the ‘Master of Suspense’. This is a taut thriller with no gratuitous violence, foul language, or mature situations.

(Hitch considered it ‘a family film’.)

Enjoy!

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Uncle Hitch

10/10
Author: abelardo64 from United States
23 January 2005

Uncle Charlie did it for me. I mistrusted the uncle thing as a term of endearment ever since. Joseph Cotten is the perfect charming monster. Uncle Charlie’s urbanity becomes his most frightening feature. So plausible. So real. Thornton Wilder was Hitchcock’s partner in crime this time and it shows. The structure is Our Townish, the characters, deliciously rich. Patricia Collinge’s performance is so spot on that you’re longing for more. The scenes between Henry Travers and Hume Cronyn are how I imagine the story meetings between Thornton Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock. Teresa Wright’s eyes tell the whole story from the audience’s point of view, even if the audience is one step ahead of her. Brilliant, because in Joseph Cotten’s eyes we find his need for redemption or are we falling in the trap of this master manipulator? We are torn, just like Teresa Wright. I’ve seen “Shadow of a Doubt” 3 or 4 times but every time you’re forced to take the trip with the same amount of commitment. I’ve been toying with the thought of a remake, I’ve been doing this lately, although I hate the idea of remakes of great movies, this one is one of those that in the right hands could have a real impact. Using Thornton Wilder’s original script as the Bible, Steven Sodebergh could do scrumptious remake for the new millennium. Tim Robbins as uncle Charlie, can you imagine? Natalie Portman as his niece. Joan Cusak and William H Macy as her parents. Wouldn’t you go to see that?

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Citizen Kane (1941).

 The Great Cinema Swindle

Orson Welles1941 film Citizen Kane 

1/10
Author: AphroditeVenus from Sydney, Australia
9 July 2007

I know why you’re reading this. You’re smart, you have great taste, a passion for cinema, and you see CK near the top of every ‘Great Movie’ list ever compiled. So with great anticipation you borrow a DVD copy and sit down for a real treat, and… you can’t get through the first half hour. You fall asleep.

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Surprised, you think, ‘It must be me, maybe I’m tired,’ so a month later, you try again. But you don’t even get as far as before, and wake up drooling out the corner of your mouth as a bloated Orson Welles, with really bad age make-up, groans ‘Rosebud, Rosebud’.

It doesn’t make sense. You’re perplexed. You’ve watched other films on the lists… Casablanca made you stand up and cheer, cry, laugh, feel connected to all humanity. You even adore films on the list that some might consider oblique, like 8 1/2, which you reckon reinvented cinema language, weaving in and out of memory, dreams, psyche, reality, putting the human spirit up on the screen, making you cheer, laugh, and feel connected to all humanity.

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So why does CK leave you so cold? You wonder, ‘What’s wrong with me? Am I stupid or something?’

Your borrowed DVD copy gathers dust (notice how the lender never asks for it back?), taunting your unquiet mind: “You must watch me: I’m the greatest film of all time!” But you shudder at the thought. Life’s too short and, after all, there’s more engaging things to do – like scraping plaque off the dog’s teeth.

Years pass. Finally, you can take it no longer. You think, ‘To be a serious film lover I MUST watch Citizen Kane! Maybe I was too immature before – yes, that must be it!’ So you gird your loins and sit – awake! – through the whole thing. The whole turgid, ponderous, dull, vacuous, plodding, dank catastrophe. It’s even worse than you feared. An emotionally and intellectually empty story. Your average six year old can invent a more complex, engaging tale.

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Genuinely puzzled, you ask people who name it as one of the greatest films of all time why they like it, and with barely concealed superiority that phoneys are wont to adopt, they wax lyrical talk about the haunting mystery of the final words, “Rosebud, rosebud”. You notice there’s no feeling behind what they say. They also talk a great deal about Gregg Toland’s cinematography, with liberal references to “deep focus”, and you appreciate this, you really do, the cinematography was damned fine, best thing about the movie. That shot which started outside the window then tracked back into the room was really cool. But you just don’t believe a movie is made great by cinematography alone.

In all your inquiries, you never once hear the following phrase, spoken from the heart: “God, I love that film”.

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So here you find yourself, reading IMDb comments.

Well, let me tell you this: There’s Nothing Wrong With You! You Are Right! It’s Overrated Flashy Unintelligent Rubbish!

One day, perhaps (one can but dream), the coolest, greatest, most admired film being in the world will point out the bleeding obvious nakedness of this bloated Emperor, and the assorted film critics, film studies teachers, and others who need to be told what to think by an authority figure, shall squirm, and CK shall drop off the lists once and for all.

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Tried it, just can’t take it!

1/10
Author: guy_r from Erie
5 May 2004

I have tried to watch this movie 3 times. Each time I promise myself that I will watch it through to see all the facinating camera angles and light shading. I want to see the last ten minutes of the film and be awed and amazed as I realize that Rosebud is something extraordinary. I want to recognize Mr. Wells’ genius, daring, and inventivness. I want to feel the passion, emptiness, and all the other powerful emotions that the actors and “unique” cinematography portray in this movie.

I have not been able to make it yet. This is the single most boring hard to watch movie that I have ever tried to watch. I can usually watch about any movie at least once, but not this one.

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I don’t need exciting special effects, car chases, shoot outs, or sex scenes to keep me interested. I just need the movie to be interesting. This film is not interesting to me. I love history and I watch many older movies and I appreciate most of them for what they are, and in the time frame that they were made. But this one is just very hard to watch. If you have to have a college professor,(who himself has had to read a book about it to understand it) explain a movie to you so that you can appreciate it, then I’m sorry folks but then it just “ain’t good”.

I have enjoyed thousands of movies, and I have disliked many also, but very few have I never been able to finish watching and this is one of them.

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In a mansion in Xanadu, a vast palatial estate in Florida, the elderly Charles Foster Kane is on his deathbed. Holding a snow globe, he utters a word, “Rosebud”, and dies; the globe slips from his hand and smashes on the floor. A newsreel obituary tells the life story of Kane, an enormously wealthy newspaper publisher. Kane’s death becomes sensational news around the world, and the newsreel’s producer tasks reporter Jerry Thompson with discovering the meaning of “Rosebud”.

Thompson sets out to interview Kane’s friends and associates. He approaches Kane’s second wife, Susan Alexander Kane, now an alcoholic who runs her own nightclub, but she refuses to talk to him. Thompson goes to the private archive of the late banker Walter Parks Thatcher. Through Thatcher’s written memoirs, Thompson learns that Kane’s childhood began in poverty in Colorado.

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In 1871, after a gold mine was discovered on her property, Kane’s mother Mary Kane sends Charles away to live with Thatcher so that he would be properly educated. While Thatcher and Charles’ parents discuss arrangements inside, the young Kane plays happily with a sled in the snow outside his parents’ boarding-house and protests being sent to live with Thatcher.

Years later, after gaining full control over his trust fund at the age of 25, Kane enters the newspaper business and embarks on a career of yellow journalism. He takes control of the New York Inquirer and starts publishing scandalous articles that attack Thatcher’s business interests. After the stock market crash in 1929, Kane is forced to sell controlling interest of his newspaper empire to Thatcher.

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Back in the present, Thompson interviews Kane’s personal business manager, Mr. Bernstein. Bernstein recalls how Kane hired the best journalists available to build theInquirers circulation. Kane rose to power by successfully manipulating public opinion regarding the Spanish–American War and marrying Emily Norton, the niece of a President of the United States.

Thompson interviews Kane’s estranged best friend, Jedediah Leland, in a retirement home. Leland recalls how Kane’s marriage to Emily disintegrates more and more over the years, and he begins an affair with amateur singer Susan Alexander while he is running for Governor of New York. Both his wife and his political opponent discover the affair and the public scandal ends his political career. Kane marries Susan and forces her into a humiliating operatic career for which she has neither the talent nor the ambition.

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Back in the present, Susan now consents to an interview with Thompson, and recalls her failed opera career. Kane finally allows her to abandon her singing career after she attempts suicide, by overdosing on a sedative. After years spent dominated by Kane and living in isolation at Xanadu, Susan leaves Kane. Kane’s butler Raymond recounts that, after Susan leaves him, Kane begins violently destroying the contents of her bedroom. He suddenly calms down when he sees a snow globe and says, “Rosebud.”

Back at Xanadu, Kane’s belongings are being cataloged or discarded. Thompson concludes that he is unable to solve the mystery and that the meaning of Kane’s last word will forever remain an enigma. As the film ends, the camera reveals that “Rosebud” is the trade name of the sled on which the eight-year-old Kane was playing on the day that he was taken from his home in Colorado. Thought to be junk by Xanadu’s staff, the sled is burned in a furnace.

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The Roaring Twenties (1939)

Director:

Raoul Walsh

In this movie, Bogart proves to be the sneering, sadistic gangster…

After nearly a decade of concentrating on the gangster period of the twenties, it appeared that Warner Brothers had decided to make one, final glorified kiss-off to the genre in the spectacularly staged “The Roaring Twenties.”

Director Raoul Walch was an odd choice for what turned out to be a first-rate action film, for Walsh was not normally a crime-film director… The film contained every possible cliché connected with the era…

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Bogart’s portrayal was interesting as we watched him coldly murder an ex-army sergeant who had given him a rough time in the service, and then set put to get rid of Jeffrey Lynn, now a successful lawyer working for the district attorney and intent on crushing Bogart’s empire…

Cagney, whose energy gave him a panerotic sexual magnetism, was evident with his two relationships which both tend to increase our valuation of Cagney as a person as are the two ladies involved: Priscilla Lane, the innocent whom Cagney helps and loves, and the experienced Gladys George who is evidently devoted to him but never expresses her feelings to him…

This basic relationship between Cagney and the two female characters does not take away the great merit of “The Roaring Twenties”—much more it proves the skill of Raoul Walsh and the writers in deploying conventional elements in an effective and meaningful way.

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Three men meet in a foxhole during the waning days of World War I: Eddie Bartlett (James Cagney), George Hally (Humphrey Bogart) and Lloyd Hart (Jeffrey Lynn), and experience trials and tribulations from the Armistice through the passage of the 18th Amendment leading to the Prohibition period of the 1920s and the violence which erupted due to it, all the way through the 1929 stock market crash to its conclusion at the end of 1933, only days after the 21st Amendmentbrought an end to the Prohibition era.

Following World War I, Lloyd Hart starts his law practice, George Hally, a former saloon keeper, becomes a bootlegger, and Eddie Bartlett, a garage mechanic, finds his old job filled. At the suggestion of his friend Danny Green (Frank McHugh), Eddie becomes a cab driver. While unknowingly delivering a package of liquor to Panama Smith (Gladys George), he is arrested. Panama is acquitted and after a short stint in jail, they go into the bootlegging business together. Eddie uses a fleet of cabs to deliver his liquor, and he hires Lloyd as his lawyer to handle his legal issues. He re-meets Jean Sherman (Priscilla Lane), who is now an adult – a girl he formerly corresponded with during the war while she was in high school – working at a nightclub. Eddie gives her a job singing in Henderson’s cabaret, where Panama is hostess. Eddie wants Jean as his wife, but she does not return his affections.

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Eddie and his henchmen hijack a shipload of liquor belonging to fellow bootlegger Nick Brown (Paul Kelly) who had refused to cooperate with him. In charge of the liquor shipment on board is George who proposes to Eddie to bring him in as a partner. Eddie agrees, and back home they tip off the Feds of a liquor shipment of Brown’s that is then confiscated. Eddie, George, and their henchmen raid the Fed’s warehouse stealing the liquor. As they are leaving, George recognizes one of the watchmen as his former sergeant that he disliked and murders him. After learning of the murder, Lloyd quits while being threatened by George. In time, as the bootlegging rackets prosper, Eddie sends Danny to arrange a truce between him and Brown, but Danny’s life-less body is dropped off in front of The Panama Club. Eddie and his henchmen plan a surprise visit to Brown’s establishment, but George, resentful with Eddie’s increasing power, tips off Brown, who sets a trap. A gunfight ensues, and Eddie kills Brown while escaping. Figuring out George’s duplicity, he dissolves their partnership.

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While being in love with Jean, Eddie catches Jean and Lloyd together. Subsequently, after speculating in the stock market, Eddie’s bootlegging empire crumbles in the 1929 crash. He sells his fleet of cabs to George, who mockingly leaves Eddie one to drive, like the cab he drove at the end of the Great War after losing his job at the garage. As by chance one day, Jean steps into Eddie’s cab. Eddie is upset at her for leaving him for Lloyd, so he’s standoffish. Jean invites him back to her house to help Lloyd with a problem that he has with George. Now in the District Attorney’s office, Lloyd has received a death threat from George unless he stops working on the case to convict George as his crimes have caught up to him. Eddie is introduced to their 4 year-old son, but is noncommittal He agrees to be friends with them and leave it at that.

Jean tries a second time to ask Eddie for help. She locates him at a bar with Panama. After appealing to a drunken Eddie, he agrees to go to George’s house. While there, Eddie is mocked again by George for his shabby looks and cannot convince him to lay off Lloyd. This results in a shootout in which Eddie kills George (“Here’s one rap ya’ won’t beat…”) and some of his men, redeeming himself. After running outside, he is shot in the back by another cohort, and collapses on the steps of a nearby church. As the police arrest the remainder of George’s gang, Panama runs to Eddie, and being interviewed by a cop while she cradles Eddie’s lifeless body, she informs the officer, “He used to be a big shot.”

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Production

Gladys George had replaced Ann Sheridan who had replaced Lee Patrick who had replaced Glenda Farrell for the character of Panama Smith.

Anatole Litvak was the original director.

He Used To Be A Big Shot

9/10
Author: theowinthrop from United States
12 October 2005

It is not as centrally dynamic as THE PUBLIC ENEMY nor as Freudian as WHITE HEAT, but THE ROARING TWENTIES is a leading gangster film for Jimmy Cagney as it details the rise and fall of a gangster Eddie Bartlett. The product of World War I and Prohibition, Eddie rises to great power as the head of a gang, always trying to return to legitimate society, and then to fall again due to the Wall Street Crash and the machinations of his right-hand man George Hally (Humphrey Bogart).

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Both men’s characters are far more subtle as studies of success in criminal enterprise than the normal crime bosses of the 1930s. Eddie painstakingly builds up a taxicab corporation to gain legitimacy, as well as his stock acquisitions. Bogart, a bit more realistic on what types of businesses he understands, does not get involved in the stock market. But he enjoys the trappings of the upper class. Witness the scene when he is talking with his underling (Abner Biberman) and he is practicing his putting in his office. At the conclusion, Bogart is living in a townhouse (a sign of his financial success).

There is a tradition in the films of the depression that some gangsters are not as bad as others. This is not to be taken seriously in real life, but the idea is that certain people are driven to crime by economic circumstances (Cagney returning to no job at the end of World War I) and some are driven by pure evil (the sadistic side of Bogart’s nature). Cagney, on his rise, gains the friendship of people like Gladys George (actually the unrequited love of Ms George) and tries to find room in his organization for people like Frank McHugh, a nice guy who really never fit in properly as a criminal – and dies as a result. Bogart gains the support of like villains (Bibberman, who shares Bogie’s fate at the end), and keeps showing a contempt for human life in most of the film (witness how he kills a cop on one of the rum runners he and Cagney are on, because the cop was once his sergeant in the army who punished him for breaking the rules when he did). But Cagney turns out to have more guts in him than Bogie. At the end of the film the latter, facing his own demise, turns into a total coward.

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The film has many touches to set the tone of the 21 years it covers (1918 – 1939). At the start newsreel footage takes the audience back to the end of World War I, showing Presidents and events up to Wilson (who, curiously enough, is shown by an actor playing the President, not as part of an old film). It has been noted that Gladys George’s Panama is based on Texas Guinan, the speakeasy hostess. The death of Cagney on the steps of a church is based on the death of Hymie Weiss, a Chicago gangster rival of Capone who was killed that way in 1927. It was too good a death to not use in a gangster film, as it seems more symbolic than it was in real life (it does remind us of how Cagney, for all his good intentions, came up short due to his profession in violence).

I have not commented on the love triangles involving Cagney, Jeffrey Lynn, and Priscilla Lane (and Cagney, Lane, and Gladys George). The irony that Cagney never sees that George is more than just a good friend is rather poignant, for both of them. And it is George who cradles his dead body in the end and gives his epitaph. Perhaps today a director would allow Cagney to wise up and get away with George. But that would spoil the full effect of the film’s conclusion.

In 2009 Empire Magazine named it #1 in a poll of the 20 Greatest Gangster Movies You’ve Never Seen*

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They Drive by Night (1938).

Directed by Raoul Walsh

They Drive by Night is a 1940 black-and-white film noir starring George Raft, Ann Sheridan, Ida Lupino, and Humphrey Bogart, and directed by Raoul Walsh. The picture involves a pair of embattled truck drivers and was released in the UK under the title The Road to Frisco. The film was based on A. I. Bezzerides‘ 1938 novelLong Haul, which was later reprinted under the title They Drive by Night to capitalize on the success of the film. Part of the film’s plot (that of Ida Lupino’s character murdering her husband by carbon monoxide poisoning) was borrowed from another Warner Bros. film, Bordertown (1935).

Critical response

When the film was released, The New York Times film critic, Bosley Crowther, gave the film a positive review, writing, “But for fanciers of hard-boiled cinema, They Drive By Night still offers an entertaining ride. As Mr. Raft modestly remarks of his breed, ‘We’re tougher than any truck ever come off an assembly line.’ That goes for the picture, too.”

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The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 94% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on 17 reviews.

Enjoyable, And Hard To Classify

5 March 2006 | by ccthemovieman-1 (United States) – See all my reviews

Not much action here for a “film noir” and really more of a melodrama than a crime story, but I still like this because the story’s decent and it features a top-flight cast of actors who are usually fun to watch.

That cast includes George Raft, Ann Sheridan, Ida Lupino, Humphrey Bogart and Gale Page. My favorite of the group – in this film, at least

    • is Sheridan, a wise-cracking waitress. Raft and Bogart are truck

drivers and Lupino plays the boss’ wife. In here, the two women are more interesting than the men, which says a lot considering its Raft and Bogart.

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Sheridan not only is easy on the eyes but delivers some great film-noir-type lines. Unfortunately, the edge is taken off her once she leave the diner and hitches a ride with Raft to Los Angeles.

Bogart plays more of a low-key family man whose wife (Page) is the nice- looking, wholesome type. This is one of the last movies Bogart made before he became a star. Hence, he gets fourth billing in here.

Lupino is very good as the vicious scorned woman, a role she found herself playing in a number of films.

As mentioned above, I’m not really sure how one would classify this film since there is humor, film noir, soap opera, straight drama and romance all in it. The combination makes the film interesting and recommended.

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The Long Haul

8/10
Author: telegonus from brighton, ma
20 July 2002

This is the kind of movie that makes movie buffs movie buffs. On the surface the story is routine (I’m tempted to say hackneyed), the psychology shallow, the acting variable, and the meaning, such as it can be said to have one, borderline moronic. Yet it works like a charm, and is a minor classic of its kind. This is a tough movie to categorize. Not that one has to. It’s a long haul trucker movie. But is that a genre? It has comedy and romance but is neither a comedy nor a romance; and it has tragedy but is not a tragedy. Near the end it turns into a murder story, though I wouldn’t call it a crime picture. Director Raoul Walsh had a flair for subverting genres anyway, and made basically Raoul Walsh pictures, whatever the putative genre, and this one’s about as Raoul Walsh as you can get.

It’s the story of two brothers, played by George Raft and Humphrey Bogart, who are wildcat truckers who don’t want to work for anyone else. They’d like to own their own rig but can’t afford one, and are in debt up to their ears half the time. As the story progresses, Bogart loses in arm in an accident, and the boys have to go work for the boorish if amiable Alan Hale, whose wife, Ida Lupino, has eyes for Raft. Ann Sheridan is also on hand, as the hash-slinging good girl Raft really belongs with. Nothing special here, no great drama, and certainly no surprises. What drives the film, literally, is its optimism, especially as it relates to “little guys” Raft and Bogart. Without being too emphatic about it the movie is like a cheerleader for these two from start to finish.

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The dialogue is salty and well-delivered by all, even the usually tedious Raft, while the background stuff,–the diners, rented rooms and garages–is beautifully detailed and always believable. Director Walsh was made for Warner Brothers, the studio that produced the film. He had a feeling for regular people, informal surroundings, the hustle and bustle of working life. Nor was he the least bit pretentious. The studio’s famous liberalism didn’t seem to rub off on him. He remained a populist with an anarchic streak, and was never an ideologue, hence this movie’s depiction of blue collar life rings truer than most, as we know that these little guys want to be big shots (as most little guys do), and that they mean it when they say they want to give everyone a fair shake. We know in our guts that if these two ever make it to the big time they’ll be awfully nice guys to work for. It’s not easy for a movie to convince a viewer of such things,–it’s not easy for a movie to be convincing at all, but this one is. Thanks to Raoul Walsh, with a little help from his fine cast.

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One of George Raft’s best

8/10
Author: ROCKY-19 from Arizona
8 August 2006

Let’s get this out of the way first: Humphrey Bogart’s legions of fans seem impelled to insult George Raft as often as possible, no matter how inappropriate or clearly wrong. Those not so blinded will thoroughly enjoy this odd, mixed bag of a picture. Raft and Bogey play brothers – very believably so – who are wildcat truck drivers trying to get ahead in a tough business during the Depression. The film is odd because it seems like two separate movies. It starts out as a seeming social commentary on the hard life of truckers with fine characterizations. But as soon as Ida Lupino appears it veers straight into film noir. I, personally, would have preferred a continuation of the tone of the first part of the film rather than be subjected to the “crazy b—-” act that so many call “classic” and “stealing the picture.” There either should have been more foreshadowing of this switch early in the film, or the screenwriters should have found something more consistent. At any rate, Raft and Bogart get to step away from gangster roles for a breather. They’re still tough guys, but they’re vulnerable to the whims of fate. Raft, in fact, is adorable here,

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uncharacteristically blue-collar and common, desperate to be in charge of his own life. He has instant chemistry with no-nonsense Ann Sheridan. Raft works so comfortably under Walsh’s direction, it’s rather refreshing. If rumors are true and Bogart and Raft were not getting along at this point, they were both professionals and hid it very well. Blame Lupino, but by the second half of the film, Bogart practically disappears just when we’d like to see more development of his very sympathetic character. For Bogart fans, this is not a “Bogey” film. He’s simply prepping for legend-status just around the corner. It would have been nice to see more of Sheridan, as well. I don’t recall Alan Hale ever being better than he is here – watch the small things he does with such a loud character. Lupino is definitely unforgettable, and her cult following will love this. Roscoe Karns is again a fun comic foil. The editing of the picture is sometimes a bit rough, and there is a telephone sequence that does not visually work. Arthur Edeson was a frustratingly inconsistent cinematographer, ranging from brilliant work like “Casa Blanca” to B level work. This is somewhere in the middle, but the road sequences are great.

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“Asleep at the wheel”

20 October 2010 | by Steffi_P (Ruritania) – See all my reviews

The beginning of the 1940s in Hollywood sees the loosening of genre conventions as different movie formats began to interbreed. In particular a kind of gangster-flick meanness began to shove its way into regular drama, eventually producing the style we now call film noir. They Drive By Night is an odd little transition movie from this period, one of those awkward little steps in an evolutionary process.

The leading role went to George Raft, which was as good a way as any of sticking some gangland atmosphere into the picture. Raft can’t act though, at least not very well, being at turns jittery and wooden – very much the poor man’s Cagney. He should have gone into musicals like Cagney did, as he was a very good dancer. Raft is supported by Humphrey Bogart, who was at the time just on the cusp of becoming a major star, although no-one knew it at the time. It looks very odd to see him next to Raft, a bit like spotting Elvis Presley in somebody’s backing band, since although he is rarely centre-stage he has fantastic presence, always on the verge of upstaging. They Drive By Night also features one of the earliest big parts for Ida Lupino, and I regret to say she is at her most hysterically bad. Admittedly bits of her performance look OK, but to see the whole thing shows it to be very forced and calculated, lacking in any kind of natural flow.

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The director is Raoul Walsh, which is a bit of a mixed omen. Although Walsh was a fine craftsman, no studio ever gave him a really important project since The Big Trail in 1930 and nearly all his later pictures smack of potboiler. Still, a good man with a bad movie. In They Drive By Night he keeps his camera close to the action to elicit a feeling of intensity and restlessness. He doesn’t over-emphasise interiors and doesn’t clutter shots with props or shadows, but still the atmosphere is cramped with the way actors all seem to huddle together, filling the frame. He uses wider, open shots for emphasis at important moments in the same way another director might use a close-up. Still, the story lacks the free-spirited romanticism that inspired Walsh’s most memorable moments.

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And that’s not all that’s wrong with the story. They Drive By Night sets itself up, quite promisingly, as a gritty action drama about the lives of bottom-rung truckers. Then, halfway through, the plot is hijacked by Lupino and turned into some femme-fatale murder wotsit, and all the business about trying to scrape a meagre profit and stay awake on long hauls (not to mention Bogart’s character) is forgotten. It’s not that this is confusing, as both parts are fairly straightforward, it’s just that neither of them is fully developed. Each bit looks like half a movie, the first one trailing off into nothing, the second boiled down into forty minutes of clichés.

Of course the device of slightly barmy yet beautiful women bumping off their husbands would become something of a film noir staple. But here is where They Drive By Night shows its primitiveness alongside later noirs. Raft resists Lupino like a saint, and stays true to goody-goody Anne Sheridan (and on the subject of Sheridan, why is she suddenly transformed from smooth-talking floozy to prim housewife-in-waiting?) Over the next two decades Fred MacMurray, Orson Welles and even Jimmy Stewart would be getting suckered in by the “wrong kind of woman” and being dragged down to a sorry end. And perhaps this is the final flaw in They Drive By Night. In pictures like this, we don’t want perfect morals and cosy endings. We want the hero to take the bait hook, line and sinker.

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Manpower (1941)

Directed by Raoul Walsh

Storyline

Hank McHenry and Johnny Marshall work on a road crew for the power company. In a freak accident Hank is injured and is promoted to foreman of the gang. One night Hank and Johnny meet Fay Duval in a clip joint, but tensions start to show in the road crew as rivally between Hank and Johnny increases.

Tense Gentlemen on the High Tension Wires

5/10
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
16 December 2005

Edward G. Robinson and George Raft are a couple of linemen. Robinson is the foreman of the crew and a bit of a lug when it comes to the opposite sex. Raft however is a smooth operator.

They both meet Marlene Dietrich at a clip joint, the Code euphemism for a bordello. Robinson falls for her and Dietrich’s looking for a way out of the working life. They marry, but she starts getting a yen for Raft and that brings on trouble.

Manpower has a place in film history having nothing to do with the content or the quality of the movie. While visiting his good buddy George Raft on the set, one Benjamin Siegel was introduced to Virginia Hill as depicted in the film Bugsy. There’s a scene where Raft gets into a brawl with Barton MacLane that is depicted in Bugsy.

And if that wasn’t enough, Raft and Robinson got into a real brawl over Marlene just like in the film. It seems as though Dietrich was involved with Raft during the production. But Raft was not the most educated of men.

Edward G. Robinson came from a slum background like Raft, but he’d educated himself and in fact was a well known art collector. Dietrich was no dummy herself and she and Eddie got friendly on the set, talking about stuff that Raft didn’t have a clue about. Of course this got George jealous and they had a knock down drag out over her. You couldn’t buy that kind of publicity. Lucky for Robinson Raft didn’t call on Ben Siegel for his services.

So Manpower entered its place in Hollywood lore. Too bad the film wasn’t any great masterpiece. It’s entertaining enough though with a good cast of Warner Brothers regulars supporting Ms. Dietrich and her gentlemen friends. It seems though just about every film Warners made back then had either Alan Hale or Frank McHugh in it, in this case both. They’re always entertaining. Add to that Eve Arden in her usual role as the wisecracking best friend of the heroine.

Not the greatest film ever made, but a historic one and not bad on the entertainment scale.

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Reception

Bosley Crowther wrote a positive review for the film, noting that the cast of the Warner Bros. film was outstanding. “With such exceptional material, the Warner blacksmiths couldn’t help but make good—good, in this sense—meaning the accomplishment of a tough, fast, exciting adventure film.” Channel 4’s review of the movie notes the exciting setting makes it worth seeing, but goes on to pan the film: “Directed with the usual efficiency by Walsh, Manpower’s weak script never manages to convince despite the setting and the strong cast

The film was a solid box office hit.

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B-picture quality from Raoul Walsh and his stock company cast…

5/10
Author: Neil Doyle from U.S.A.
13 September 2007

Everything about MANPOWER is highly improbable, including the casting of EDWARD G. ROBINSON as a lineman in love with the alluring clip-joint hostess MARLENE DIETRICH and the three-way romance that includes GEORGE RAFT as a jealous blue collar onlooker who warns Robinson about the pitfalls of marrying Dietrich.

Raoul Walsh directs it in his customary boisterous style, letting ALAN HALE, FRANK McHUGH, WARD BOND and BARTON MacLANE overdo the rowdy blue collar supporting roles. The comic relief offered by Hale and McHugh is below par this time and becomes tiresome long before the tale reaches a climactic storm scene.

Fans of the star trio will probably overlook these faults and find the film passable viewing, but it’s nothing special and easily forgotten. EVE ARDEN gets to sling some one-liners in the kind of role she always played with verve and skill.

Linemen working on electrical wires at the height of a severe thunderstorm is stretching things a bit for the melodramatic climax.

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