Wow, that’s one crazy woman. Let this film be a lesson to you, guys; just because a pretty girl holds a common interest with you doesn’t mean you should abide when she wants to become the most notorious pair of robbers in the country. Peggy Cummins does a wonderful job bringing this oddly insane woman to life. Despite being obviously manipulative and a very bad human being, she still somehow presents the persona of a timid and vulnerable woman, reeling her husband (who is basically just her grunt worker) back in every time he’s at his wit’s end. It’s an interesting relationship even if it does stretch the limits of believability at times. And accompanying this clever depiction of an anti-hero is a barrage of fantastic camerawork. Specifically, the ad-lib long-take bank robbery shot, all from the unbroken perspective of the car’s backseat, was a thing of beauty – from the routine chatter as the two try to find a parking spot for the getaway car, through the robbery, to the hauntingly devious smiles from Cummins as she stares down the cops on their tail. It’s a wild film and, in places, boldly original. 8.75/10
Archive for the Film Noir Category
A woman runs out of the darkness with blonde hair, a white dress, and pale skin. Surrounded by nothing but a circle of darkness, the pounding of her heels echo through the unknown setting. Two henchman quickly track her down and our film begins from there. It’s a brilliant intro matched both in style and quality by the film’s closing scene. These bookends are fabulous (and, of course, fabulously filmed by John Alton), but they are the highlight of a slightly underwhelming overall film. First, the main antagonist is a crucial character in this story. He’s interesting and layered, but absolutely butchered by Richard Conte, whose performance felt like a high schooler rattling off a script instead of becoming the intriguing man he should have been. And this has a trickle down effect on several of the scenes he is in (many of which still manage to be good despite him). Secondly, the film is probably a little to plotty for me in general. But there are several interesting aspects of this film (from the various relationships to the unorthodox execution of events) that a heavy plot is forgivable. Conte’s harm is not as easy to overlook though. 7.5/10
John Alton can do no wrong. Outside of a few sidetracks here and there, I’m going on a John Alton marathon. He might be the most consistently great cinematographer ever. He cares about every shot, and He Walked By Night is no different. Light and shadow create bold contrasting black and white images. And the hazy greys of the moonlit city and the underground sewer tunnels, the intense closeups of a sweating and nervous antagonist, the wavy reflections created through windows and mirrors, and the use of unique shooting angles and deep focus don’t hurt the cause. And throughout most of the film is an eerie quiet tone where the images unfold and tell the story without the help of sound. Suspense, fear, and desperation are all seen and felt.
Unfortunately, all of the praise I heap on this film is damage control as it occurs. The film begins (and continues much to my frustration) with a terrible and obtrusive narration. As good as so many of the action scenes are at telling the story quietly, this narration acts as an exact opposite and in the worst possible way. Additionally, the rundown of the police procedural steps sets this up to be about the force solving a crime which leads to a weak and underdeveloped protagonist, instead of the brilliant game of cat and mouse it could have been. Talk about a seesaw ride. 8/10
This review contains spoilers.
A solid and entertaining film noir. Nothing here knocked me off my feet or had some sort of profound emotional impact on me. But there are so many good qualities to this film that I couldn’t help but lose myself unashamedly for two hours. The great use of light and shadow was a productive noir staple, and the beautiful scenic setting helped create a unique noir atmosphere not like many other films in the genre. The slow build up for the protagonist and his love interest (his kind of woman) was a break from the norm and helped keep the pace at a relaxingly smooth level. But I’ve read a lot of complaints about the point where the action starts to pick up, and Vincent Price’s goofy character leads a charge to save the protagonist from a group of dangerous mobsters. The attack is, without a doubt, silly and unrealistic. But the idea of the attack is right in line with everything we know of Price’s character up to that point. I actually like the idea if it had been executed differently, and don’t consider it the film-ruining flaw that some do. Glad I watched this. 7.75/10
“People, they never notice. They’re all wrapped up in themselves.” Con man, John Muller, tells this to his gang as a reason they can get away with robbing the most crowded joint in the gambling underworld. Not only does this set up the opening heist scene, but also the theme for the entire film. While at times a little heavy-handed, overall it makes for an intriguing and strangely haunting second half, and Sekely paints an accurate portrait of human nature based on this idea. Additionally, from a cinematography standpoint, this film is brilliant. In the three movies I’ve seen photographed by John Alton, all have used light, shadow, and black & white contrast in ways no other cinematographer has been able to consistently match. Not only are the scenes beautiful to look at, but he is able to create tension, define tone, and make the setting a reality. One of the more impressive film noirs I’ve seen. 8.75/10
In the shadows of a dimly lit antique shop, we see a knife plunge into a man, watch him fall to the floor, and see a fire begin to build around him from a shattered oil lamp – all from the point of view of the murderer. (I lost a little respect for Psycho after seeing this scene which was filmed 15 years prior and, truthfully, better too.) The man stumbles through the dark streets and barges into a residence where two high-class folks watch him approach. They welcome him with open arms and we quickly learn this murderer is a well-respected musical composer. The film has several fantastic scenes like these, pushing the limits for the time period, and presenting some truly shocking and sad events. And in the meantime, the atmospheric little community marches on through it all, as the hunt for the murderer takes a backseat to the night life and the odd town celebrations. It’s not often you have a film with a murderer as the main character that’s main focus isn’t on being a crime story. I applaud its uniqueness, but wonder if it borders slightly on gimmicky. 8.75/10
Welles’ leap into the parody genre – a fast-paced, over-the-top costume noir. This is a great piece of parody work, though, because it teeters on the edge of seriousness, giving the impression at almost every turn that it might be sincere. But time after time, the rug is pulled from us, and we’re brought back to the reality of what this is. Besides the fact that this never specifically calls itself out as a parody, it also features some great (albeit, exaggerated at times) cinematography that I don’t normally expect from a spoof. The camera movements, extreme angles, haunting set pieces (and costumes), and the rapid pace in which they are all used cause your head to spin, and you’re left feeling almost exactly what the film’s protagonist must be feeling. A fun and fast experience, no doubt, but more an exercise in giving the viewer a ride than anything. 8/10