Getting caught up on some viewings for the past few weeks means covering mostly noir but a few others as well, including an old film I saw anew and a flick with an amazing cast that I didn’t finish!
Border Incident (1949): I really wanted to love this Anthony Mann-directed film. It came in a boxed collection I recently purchased and featured Ricardo Montalban, whose early work I’m enjoying thoroughly. Sadly for me, I did not love the film. In fact, I realized I’d originally mistaken it for Borderline (1950, with Fred MacMurray and Claire Trevor, and Raymond Burr, directed by William A. Seiter), a film I don’t like either. Mostly, Border Incident isn’t very noirish, isn’t particularly suspenseful, and doesn’t have much for the actors to sink their teeth into. Its politics are also sickening, as the film’s heavy-handed voiceover intro and conclusion sound like propaganda for the dumb but generous Mexican farm worker, so willing and able to ensure we have our coffee each morning for postwar breakfast. Maybe someday I’ll rethinking this, but I was quite disappointed, so this gets a NOT RECOMMENDED for now.
Strange Illusion (1945): Never let it be said that I enjoy Jimmy Lydon’s “golly gee” acting. I like that his character is smart in this very superficially plotted thriller, but I don’t find much credible in his acting — or anyone else’s in this Ulmer picture. Too little is mysterious or truly tense, so I have to give it a NOT RECOMMENDED.
The Scarf (1951): I really enjoyed John Ireland’s portrayal of an escapee from the mental ward at Alcatraz (didn’t even know they had one) who isn’t sure whether or not he murdered a woman. James Barton is delightfully over-the-top as turkey farmer Ezra, who takes our neurotic protagonist in and, after assuring at gunpoint that he seems more sinned against than sinning, lets him find some solace in good honest farm toil as he struggles to remember the night of the murder. Weirdly, Mercedes McCambridge then enters the film as a trampy hitchhiker-cum-singing waitress who eventually comes to Ireland’s aid in exposing the truth and the true villain. I’ve only known McCambridge from Johnny Guitar, and she’s no more desirable here (despite others alluding to her sex appeal), but she fits this strange B noir well. Ultimately, the mystery itself is easily solved, but the way characters get drawn into the protagonist’s life is interesting, and you’ll never see Ireland look more intense and even sexy as an angry, troubled, wronged man. It ain’t Shakespeare or Hitchcock, but it’s an enjoyable ride. RECOMMENDED.
Night World (1932): Years ago I stumbled across this film playing on AMC back in the days when it was the oldies movie channel of choice. I had recently seen Lew Ayres in Holiday, and it was fun to see him play another wealthy unhappy drunk, even younger, who actually gets a happy ending. I didn’t remember much else until I stumbled across it again on YouTube, and this time I enjoyed Mae Clark as our heroine who helps Ayres to find himself and happiness despite his self-absorbed mother and all the misery that wealth can bring (lol). Also noteworthy, though I didn’t remember it, was the bizarre casting of Boris Karloff as the club owner, a man we are supposed to see as a tough guy but who comes across as simply miscast. RECOMMENDED.
Not as a Stranger (1955): Few films can boast the amazing cast of Stanley Kramer’s Not as a Stranger, including Robert Mitchum, Olivia de Havilland, Frank Sinatra, Broderick Crawford, Gloria Grahame, Charles Bickford, Lon Chaney Jr., Lee Marvin, Whit Bissell, Mae Clark, Jesse White, and Harry Morgan! And that’s why I decided to watch it. Frankly, I was bored. This is a melodramatic tale of a driven man (Mitchum) who will do anything to become a doctor. He marries for money (to de Havilland, playing a Swedish (?!) nurse), and acts arrogantly, even alienating his wise-cracking rich pal (Sinatra, chewing scenery). I understand that the second half of the film shows Mitchum getting more and more driven and less and less likeable, but frankly I could not make it. DID NOT FINISH.
Black Friday (1940): What a delightful mess this film is. We watched it for #BNoirDetour as a noir-horror, but it’s a lot more horror than noir. As others let me know, Stanley Ridges steals the film, playing both an old loveable professor and a murderous gangster. I learned that this was the role Karloff wanted, but he couldn’t play a plausible gangster (see Night World above). Lugosi, in that plan, would be the doctor. But when Ridges joined the cast, Karloff became the doctor and Lugosi was bizarrely left in the small role of the gang boss. It’s a weird ride, but as I admit a cheesy delight in Curt Siodmak’s brain transplant theme (also seen in Donovan’s Brain), I did enjoy this one. RECOMMENDED for a night of B thriller absurdity.