Lots of film watching this week! In addition to the joys of finally getting to start season 6 of Archer on Netflix, I indulged in a variety of noirish flicks, from 1927 to 1972.
Sunrise (1927): F.W. Murnau (of Nosferatu fame) uses high Expressionism to tell the familiar tale of a country man (George O’Brien) seduced away from his wife (Janet Gaynor) and child by a “woman from the city” (Margaret Livingston). The selfish flapper femme fatale talks our hero into taking his wife out for a boat ride and dumping her over the side so they can flee to the city together. He can’t quite do it, however, and much of the film then shows husband and wife reuniting, away from the spell of the evil black widow but in the city themselves. The settings are glorious, and the use of special effects is both ample and brilliantly handled, especially for 1927. It’s slow-going, as most silents are, and I hate the sexist simplicity of the virgin/whore binary on which the film is based. Nonetheless, it’s a film whose images I won’t forget. RECOMMENDED.
The Seventh Victim (1943): I’ve been learning more about Val Lewton lately, in print and via a 2014 110th Lewton birthday episode of You Must Remember This (podcast). I was happy to find The Seventh Victim online to enjoy. Young Kim Hunter is utterly adorable as a teen trying to find her beloved sister who’s gone missing. The demonic cult involved in the plot is ridiculously cheesy, but it’s a fun horror-noir combo with some nice touches. Just beware: some scenes were cut that make the film more confusing than need be. I strongly recommend reading the IMDb review entitled “Clearing Up The Confusing Plot Line” after you watch. It’ll neatly answer most questions as it illustrates how badly studios could muck up films. RECOMMENDED for those interested in Lewton.
Leave Her to Heaven (1945): I’d put off watching this Gene Tierney vehicle more than anything because it’s in Technicolor, and I like my noir dark. I’d also seen enough of Tierney to know her acting is limited…and this was proven true in Leave Her to Heaven. She is a textbook madwoman-as-femme-fatale, and she brings sure ruin to big lug Cornel Wilde. Neither lead does much for me, nor does sweetie-pie good-girl Jeanne Crain. I has this trashy sordidness that feels much more like the 50s than the 40s to me, and I’ve seen better crazy bad girls–from Anne Baxter in Guest in the House (1944) the year before this film to Hedy Lamarr in That Strange Woman (1946) the year after. Sorry, Gene: NOT RECOMMENDED.
Step by Step (1946): I watched this fun patriotic propaganda flick because it’s the only one I have found in which Lawrence Tierney plays the good guy. He’s an ex-marine who becomes entangled in a silly Nazi spy ring plot, and he shows well that he can play the hero just as well as the villain. Anne Jeffreys is delightful as the working gal in trouble, too. RECOMMENDED for a fun afternoon’s B movie distraction.
King Creole (1958): Why didn’t anyone tell me Elvis made a noir?! I found King Creole enjoyable and memorable as it meshes his rebel style (learned from watching James Dean) and a poor boy criminal scenario. It also includes familiar actors to noir fans (Paul Stewart, Walter Matthau, Dean Jagger, Vic Morrow). Carolyn Jones is also great as the gangster’s sexy but worn-out girlfriend. Frankly, I so loathe the Elvis Technicolor musicals that I’d avoided this film until I saw that IMDb labeled it noir. Then I took the plunge. Love the New Orleans setting and the young King at his sympathetic bad boy best. RECOMMENDED.
The Judge and Jake Wyler (1972): This TV Movie of the Week was a two-hour pilot for a series that never went into production. Bette Davis is a germophobic ex-judge and private investigator who gets ex-cons to handle the leg work by serving as their parole officer. The premise has potential, but the script doesn’t. And Bette’s acting is really too big for TV. NOT RECOMMENDED.