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Summer of Sam (1999)
8/10
There's a homicidal maniac wandering around the neighbourhood. You don't want to do anything about it?
28 March 2020
Summer of Sam is directed by Spike Lee and Lee co-writes the screenplay with Victor Colicchio and Michael Imperioli. It stars John Leguizamo, Adrien Brody, Mira Sorvino, Jennifer Esposito, Michael Rispoli, Saverio Guerra, Brian Tarantina, Al Palagonia, Ken Garito, Bebe Neuwirth and Michael Badalucco. Music is by Terence Blanchard and cinematography by Ellen Duras.

It was met with some indifference upon release, for many film fans went into it expecting another "Se7en" type serial killer thriller. What we get is Spike Lee doing a clinical character piece of how the residents in a South Bronx neighbourhood react to having a serial killer in their midst. It's 1977 and it's the time of the "Son of Sam" murders in New York City, mistrust and vile character traits start to come to the fore...

Lets face it, Spike Lee is often about as subtle as a sledgehammer over the head, but when it comes to characterisations - particularly when it comes to New York - he's one of the best around. He positively revels in dropping a group of unsound characters into a pressure cooker atmosphere and let them play out their respective human fallibilities. Who else could run a concurrent strand of a serial killer with a serial adulterer and produce such edgy and sly rewards?.

The musical backdrop to the plotting gives us the move from disco into the punk explosion, with the juxtaposition between good friends - Leguizamo's disco dancing philanderer and Brody's (excellent) punk rocker turning gay tricks to pay for his musical aspirations - proving to be more pivotal than "Son of Sam" (Badalucco off the chain) himself. All while the "hood" lowlifes gather themselves as an army to seek out the serial killer themselves, which unfortunately means anyone remotely not in their circle of friends is a suspect!.

It's no Lee masterpiece, for it's a touch too long and could have been trimmed by 15 minutes of pointless sexual exposition, while it sometimes feels like Lee is stuck between blaxploitation verve and mainstream appeasing ticket selling. Yet it's a bold piece of film making, with some genuinely jaw dropping sequences within. Prepare for a film that's big on characters during the reign of a serial killer and you might just appreciate Summer of Sam much more. 8/10
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Commando (1985)
7/10
I eat Green Berets for breakfast. And right now, I'm very hungry!
28 March 2020
Commando is directed by Mark L. Lester and written by Jeph Loeb, Matthew Weisman and Steven E. de Souza. It stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong, Dan Hedaya, Vernon Wells, James Olson, David Patrick Kelly, Alyssa Milano and Bill Duke. Music is by James Horner and cinematography by Matthew F. Leonetti.

John Matrix (Schwarzenegger) is the former leader of a special commando strike force that always got the toughest jobs done. He is forced back into action when his young daughter (Milano) is kidnapped by kingpin criminal Arius (Hedaya) and his gang of thugs. They want Matrix to carry out an assassination, but all Matrix has on his mind is to save his daughter - he has half a day to do so before the thugs will kill her - so it's now a private war...

After playing "Conan" and "The Terminator", Schwarzenegger slipped into a role that would prove to carry all the hallmarks of the big man's action movie career. Commando is awash with outrageous action, pure carnage and gruesome deaths, plenty of quippy one liners, and of course over the top villains.

Clocking in at just 90 minutes in length, it's the perfect "leave the brain at the door" popcorn crowd pleaser. Chong gets a well written lead lady part, giving us a spunky heroine who evolves as the plot grows ever more chaotic, and young Milano gets to play a resourceful child character.

High art it is not, but who cares if you want to just watch Arnie waylay a whole army on his own. Great fun. 7/10
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7/10
I've always been a bad guy, and a bad gambler. From now on, I would like to be a good guy, and a good gambler. I thank you.
28 March 2020
Guys and Dolls is directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and collectively adapted to screen from the play by Mankiewicz, Jo Swerling, Abe Burrows and Damon Runyon. It stars Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra, Vivian Blaine, Robert Keith, Stubby Kaye, Sheldon Leonard, B.S. Pully and Johnny Silver. Music is by Frank Loesser and cinematography by Harry Stradling Sr.

Gambler Nathan Detroit (Sinatra) has few options for the location of his big craps game. Needing $1,000 to pay a garage owner to host the game, Nathan bets Sky Masterson (Brando) that Sky cannot get virtuous Sarah Brown (Simmons) out on a date. Despite some resistance, Sky negotiates a date with her in exchange for bringing people into her mission. Meanwhile, Nathan's longtime fiancée, Adelaide (Blaine), wants him to go legit and marry her.

Having never seen the play I have no frame of reference about the transfer to the big screen. Whilst concurring with the strongly held belief that both Brando and Sinatra are indeed miscast, the former a great actor who can barely sing, the latter a great singer given the wrong character role to play, the pic still comes out in credit for joyful entertainment.

Samuel Goldwyn forked out big money to put the source to the silver screen, and it shows as no expense is spared across the production (though Goldwyn was hugely disappointed with the box office returns). The songs are simple but all hit the foot tapping mark, the dancing choreography superb, while the booming colour photography gladdens the eyes. All told, Mankiewicz, directing his first ever musical, does a fine job.

One has to wonder how much better the pic could have been if MGM had of released Gene Kelly to play Sky Masterson, while in truth the pic is 30 minutes too long. Yet with Simmons and Blaine beguiling, and Stubby Kaye superb, it's easy to forgive the flaws and just sit back and enjoy the colourful ride. 7/10
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The Favourite (2018)
7/10
Some wounds do not close; I have many such. One just walks around with them and sometimes one can feel them filling with blood.
22 March 2020
The Favourite is directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara. It stars Olivia Colman, Rachael Weisz, Emma Stone, Faye Daveney, James Smith, Mark Gatiss, Willem Dalby and Nicholas Hoult.

In early 18th century England, a frail Queen Anne (Colman) occupies the throne and her close friend, Lady Sarah (Weisz), governs the country in her stead. When a new servant, Abigail (Stone), arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah.

A critical darling with awards and nominations to match, The Favourite, to me at least, is something of an acquired taste. Firstly it should be noted that as a history lesson it's pure bunkum, so much so I wondered if Lanthimos is actually Mel Gibson. Though to be fair to Lanthimos, he never hid from the fact he and his writers were pretty much making it up for entertainment purpose.

The craft on show is top level, with three high quality lead lady performances giving their all for the director. Lanthimos also has some nifty camera tricks up his sleeve, it's clear that this is a talent to follow for those so inclined to his off kilter type of film making. Helps, too, that the costuming and set designs are also from the top draw. It's hard to fault from a production standpoint.

Narratively the pic is pulsing with parliamentary politics that blends with royal shenanigans. Yet ultimately the prime concern is about the battle for Queen Anne's soul between Sarah and Abigail. This consistently remains fascinating, even as Lanthimos continues to sex things up and pitches black comedy alongside the tragic thrum at the core.

It's an odd mix of a film that I personally don't think works as a whole, and with the finale a crushing disappointment, it leaves one in awe and yet also unsatisfied. 7/10
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8/10
Gentlemen, we are now a superpower.
22 March 2020
Twilight's Last Gleaming is directed by Robert Aldrich and collectively written by Ronald M. Cohen, Edward Huebsch and Walter Wager (novel "Viper Three"). It stars Burt Lancaster, Burt Young, Richard Widmark, Roscoe Lee Browne, Joseph Cotten, Charles Durning, Melvyn Douglas, Richard Jaeckel and William Marshall. Music is by Jerry Goldsmith and cinematography by Robert B. Hauser.

A renegade USAF general, Lawrence Dell (Lancaster), escapes from a military prison and takes over an ICBM silo near Montana and threatens to provoke World War 3 unless the President reveals details of what the Vietnam War was really all about...

Twilight's Last Gleaming is the sort of tight gripping politico thriller that we could do with more of these days. Aldrich, a damn fine director of ensemble casts, slips on his angry hat and gets subversive as he implores the U.S. Presidency of the 70s to make do on the promise of an open armed government.

At over two hours and twenty minutes in length, Aldrich asks his audience to buy into every single sentence being spoken. With so many characters involved in the story, we are treated to a number of split screen scenarios, this is where we can follow what is being said in the various key areas of the plot at the same time - and it's high quality. The pace never sags, and as the president (Durning) and his advisors sweat on Dell's very real threat, so too do we the audience as the paranoia of the story seeps out from every camera Aldrich uses.

Still relevant today, this demands to be seen and evaluated by more like minded film fans. With a cast responding in full to a shrewd director, and a story of great worth that builds to a crushing finale, Twilight's Last Gleaming is well worth your time. 8/10
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7/10
I like grumpy old cusses. Hope to live long enough to be one.
21 March 2020
Tall in the Saddle is directed by Edwin L. Marin and written by Michael Hogan, Paul Fix and Gordon Ray Young. It stars John Wayne, Ella Raines, Ward Bond, George 'Gabby' Hayes and Audrey Long. Music is by Roy Webb and cinematography by Robert De Grasse.

Ranch hand Rocklin (Wayne) arrives in town to start his new job but finds his employer has been murdered and the locals are all a bit too shifty for comfort...

Hee, the title is rather appropriate given Duke Wayne's stature, and yet it's a title that doesn't really do justice to the pic as a whole. The plot has some nifty complexities, where simmering passions blend with a murder mystery and crooked shenanigans.

Marin directs at a clip, never once letting the narrative sink into tedium. The action is fruity, where in spite of some crude era back projection work, fist fights, gun play and chases keep things on the boil.

Raines is socko sexy (how nice she's not token fodder either), which acts as a counter point with Long's homely beauty, while Wayne does his thang with iconic rewards. Gorgeous photography seals the deal here, both with the Calif locations frames and the monochrome shadings, for what is ultimately a hugely enjoyable 40s Oater. 7/10
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The Fly (1958)
8/10
It'd be funny if life wasn't so sacred.
21 March 2020
The Fly is directed by Kurt Neumann and adapted to screenplay by James Clavell from the short story written by George Langelaan. It stars David Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price, Herbert Marshall, Kathleen Freeman and Betty Lou Gerson. Music is by Paul Sawtell and cinematography by Karl Struss.

When science goes berserk, The Fly finds Hedison as scientist Andre Delambre, who after successfully inventing the ability to transmit matter from one place to another - falls prey to a cruel slice of horrific fate...

Kurt Neumann would sadly pass away shortly after The Fly was released. Itself a terrible shame, it's doubly sad that he didn't get to see his film become a cult favourite with longevity assured. It's a film that smartly blends sci-fi with horror, and even managing to be fun into the bargain.

It's sometimes by modern observers accused of being too slow, but really it's a lesson in fine story telling. For at the heart of the tragic tale is a bountiful love story, the loyalty of a great wife in full effect. Throw in Andre's stoic pursuit of a science to benefit mankind, and this is a film that needs time to lay the story foundations.

Once we get to the horrors, and the surviving characters of the flashback structure play out this fateful tale, it simultaneously grips and fascinates. The effects work of course now looks a bit creaky, but those who first sampled them many decades ago have never ever forgotten the impact of the critical sequences.

Two pretty poor sequels would follow, which in turn would see a brilliant remake by David Cronenberg some 28 years later. Neumann's film is still a great piece of 1950s sci-fi, clinically adapted from a genius piece of short story writing. Loop holes exist, of course, but who cares, dive in and be haunted by what transpires on the screen. 8/10
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Pet Sematary (2019)
6/10
A place to bury our pets and remember them. I know it seems scary, but it's not. Perfectly natural, just like dying is natural.
15 March 2020
Directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer and written by Stephen King, Matt Greenberg, Jeff Buhler. It stars Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jeté Laurence and Hugo and Lucas Lavoie. Music is by Christopher Young and cinematography by Laurie Rose.

Dr. Louis Creed and his wife, Rachel, move from Boston to Ludlow, in rural Maine, with their two young children. Hidden in the woods near the new family home, Ellie, their eldest daughter, discovers a mysterious cemetery where the pets of community members are buried.

Not as bad as I was fearing it would be, but is it really any better than the original film?. Itself a simply ordinary adaptation from what is a very good book, you would have thought the 2019 version would at least bring some fresh life to the story. Yet albeit that some changes have been made (one of which was moronically shown in the trailers), it's still a re-tread that has failed to entice newcomers to this world.

There's some good on show, though. Child actor Jeté Laurence is excellent, particularly in the latter part of the pic. The design for the Pet Sematary and the surrounding areas are splendidly eerie, with photographer Rose deserving a better film really. While the sound work out at the special place is also bang on the tonal money.

The ending has provided much division, but personally it was a change that I liked. Two writers and two directors came up with this adaptation, but they didn't get much right between them and the pic feels like a compromised cash cow. Stick with the book and get The Ramones album of the same name instead. 6/10
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Baby Driver (2017)
9/10
The moment you catch feelings is the moment you catch a bullet.
15 March 2020
Baby Driver is written and directed by Edgar Wright. It stars Ansel Elgort, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey, Flea, Lily James and Eiza González. Music is by Steven Price and cinematography by Bill Pope.

In debt to a crime boss, a young getaway driver with tinnitus finds himself taking part in a heist that could spell doom for all involved.

Lets get it out the way, I'm a big fan of Edgar Wright, I find him refreshing for still shooting on film. That he has beautiful camera actions and for the fact his cutting is smooth and not a incomprehensible video game mess like so many other action movie directors these days. So obviously I love Baby Driver for sure.

The choreography is high quality, the stunt work equally so, while the varied soundtrack (given to us via Baby's personal player) is one of the best in many a year. Cast are bang on form, where naturally they are given a zinger of script to work from (it pays to watch more than once to catch some lines again). While the thrill of the extended action scenes are joyous.

It was a film long in gestation for Wright, and you can see he has given it his undivided attention. He may be divisive as per his output, but the monster success of Baby Driver (both critically and commercially) speaks volumes about the quality of the work on show. One of the best films of 2017. 8.5/10
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7/10
The road to stardom(dust) begins here.
15 March 2020
That'll Be the Day is directed by Claude Whatham and written by Ray Connolly. It stars David Essex, Ringo Starr, Rosemary Leach, Rosalind Ayres and Robert Lindsay. Cinematography is by Peter Suschitzky.

It's 1958 Britain and Jim MacLaine (Essex), fed up with school and his home life, leaves home and takes a series of dead-end jobs and is introduced to crime and sex. Even this isn't enough to off set his feeling of a hum-drum existence, could the upcoming Rock "N" Roll boom be his saviour?.

With perfect cast decisions, including rock star cameo's, a top grade music soundtrack - and director Whatham having a brilliant sense of teenage life in late 50s Britain, there's plenty to enjoy here.

Said to be based on the early life of John Lennon, it's important to note that this is actually not a rock movie. This is more of a kitchen sinker than anything else, which is ok of course, just be prepared if you haven't seen it before. 6.5/10
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See No Evil (1971)
8/10
Fleischer's criminally underseen and undervalued woman in peril pic.
15 March 2020
See No Evil (AKA: Blind Terror) is directed by Richard Fleischer and written by Brian Clemens. It stars Mia Farrow, Dorothy Alison, Robin Bailey, Diane Grayson, Brian Rawlinson, Norman Eshley and Paul Nicholas. Music is by Elmer Bernstein and cinematography by Gerry Fisher.

Recently blinded in a horse riding accident, Sarah Rexton (Farrow) moves in with her uncle's family out in the English countryside. Adjusting to her new way of life, things quickly move from calm to pure terror as a murderer stalks the family - with Sarah unaware there is a killer in the house with her...

It was a flop upon release back in 71 and pretty much disappeared out of sight unto the next millennium. If the public and critics were judging it harshly against the superb and similar Audrey Hepburn movie, "Wait Until Dark", from three years earlier? I'm not sure, for this deserves a re-evaluation.

This is a genuine slice of edgy suspense, the kind we rarely see done efficiently these days. It's also boosted by a terrific turn from Farrow, who gives her all for the part as Fleischer puts her well and truly through the mangler. The killer is kept hidden until the edge of the seat last quarter - where we only ever see his cowboy boots throughout, so thus we have a strong mystery element as well.

There's no blood letting as such, more glimpses of the aftermath of murders, but once Sarah comes under attack and has to fight for her life from the dark world she is in - the effect is more frightening then any repeated blood death kill we see all the time now. With the great Bernstein scoring the music and Fleischer (multi genre legend) turning is tricks of the trade, it's easy to forgive the improbabilities of it all and enjoy the thrill ride. 7.5/10
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Blue Velvet (1986)
8/10
No. I told you. I don't want to hurt you. I want to help you. I think I know some of what is happening to you.
29 February 2020
Blue Velvet is written and directed by David Lynch. It stars Dennis Hopper, Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan, Laura Dern, Hope Lange, George Dickerson and Dean Stockwell. Music is by Angelo Badalamenti and cinematography by Frederick Elmes.

The discovery of a severed human ear found in a field leads Jeffrey Beaumont (MacLachlan) into a vortex of troubled mysteries involving a beautiful nightclub singer and a group of crimninals led by the psychopathic Frank Booth (Hopper).

Such is the diversity of David Lynch, you will find many anouncing this to be his last accessible piece of genius, others that it was merely the start of his shift into mainstream majesty. Personally, I just find it a fine movie, easy to follow, even if it's nightmarish at times and brilliantly off kilter at others.

From the off we are in no doubt that Lynch is setting out to show what crawls beneath the happy facade of suburban small town Americana. We are pitched into a detective story with a difference, one that is fronted by the naivety of a young man aided from the sidelines by the young girl who is falling for him. Both of them stumble into a world of adult pschosexual murk, flanked by the outrageous malignant menace of Booth and his merry band of odd balls. One of the joys to be had here is observing the things and reactions that Booth's group do in the background, splendidly weird. Superbly perfomed by the cast, most of them daring and real for their director, Blue Velvet did earn Lynch a Best Director Oscar nomination. Which considering it was 1986 and the controversial themes at work are troublingly biting, makes the nomination something of a surprise.

Frederick Elmes also photographed the equally controversial "River's Edge" this same year, and once again he considerably pumps Neo-Noir textures acrosss the pic. While Angelo Badalamenti's musical compositions are lush and pin sharp for scene accompaniments. Main music tracks are Bobby Vinton's title tune and Roy Orbison's "In Dreams," both certain to never let you forget this film whenever you hear them again. Lynch's film is plot conventionality, yet disturbing in the blending of beauty and violence, both visually and orally - and of course there's some sly humour to be found as well. To me it's not the masterpiece some claim it as, for there's more style than substance, more shock and awe as opposed to character depth, but it is a great, clever and unforgettable film. 8/10
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River's Edge (1986)
7/10
Did the sight of this dead girl move you in any particular way?
29 February 2020
River's Edge is directed by Director: Tim Hunter and written by Neal Jimenez. It stars Crispin Glover, Keanu Reeves, Ione Skye, Daniel Roebuck, Dennis Hopper, Joshua John Miller, Roxana Zal and Josh Richman, Music is by Jürgen Knieper and cinematography by Frederick Elmes.

When a group of high school friends discover that one of their social group has murdered another - his girlfriend - they all react in various ways...

Based on an actual murder incident in 1981, "River's Edge" is a deeply unsettling film in how it probes the troubling underbelly of American youth. Naturally considered controversal at the time of release, it is however a fascinatingly brave portrait of disaffected youth via home and school life. The various reactions each member of the group serve up is chilling whilst baffling considering the reality of it all.

The screenplay is high quality because it doesn't demonise the "kids" for their bizzare response to a tragedy in there circle, instead we get complex characterisations that are smartly portrayed by the young cast. They in turn are bolstered by another edgy off the wall turn by Hopper (he did Blue Velvet as well this year), where his ex biker drug peddler also has a murder in his past and has given his love to a blow-up doll named Ellie.

Troubling in many ways, a sort of nihlistic youth apocalypse that's amazingly handled with a calm honesty, this still decades later remains an important film. 7.5/10
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7/10
As for Pete, there's a line in the Velveteen Rabbit that reads... Real isn't how you were made. It's the thing that happens to you. I'm Gabriel Noone. Goodnight.
25 February 2020
Well I can add The Night Listener to my list of films that I believe are criminally undervalued. I be genuinely surprised to see this finely crafted tale rated below 6 on some internet movie sites. Is it just the Robin Williams haters dragging this smart film down? Or perhaps it's kids who don't quite understand a film about the complex and eerie nature of the fragile human condition? Either way this film delivers something outside of the norm, something for those to seek out who require a break from the hum drum of the spoon fed Hollywood masses.

Boasting the ever reliable and undervalued talent of Robin Williams (gusto without histrionics), and the considerable brilliance of Toni Collette, the film delivers a dark look at the yearning for love in some form or another, at the gullibility of those in need of something, making this film is a smart and intriguing nights entertainment. All those interested in the film should seek out the true story it's based on, that of the Anthony Godby Johnson affair, itself an eerie slice of human mystery.

This wouldn't be out of place on Hitchcock's CV, and tomorrow when I'm taking on the challenges of another working class day, this film will be at the forefront of my mind - because it did its job handsomely. You may not like it once viewed, but you will at least think about it afterward. Or maybe it's just me that thinks this is a little gem that should be thought of better with the advent of time... 7.5/10
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Chattahoochee (1989)
6/10
Well, I don't reckon I'm a hero. Sure don't feel like one. I just did what I could. One thing at a time. Step by step.
22 February 2020
Chattahoochee is directed by Mick Jackson and written by James Cresson (as James Hicks). It stars Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper, Francis McDormand, Pamela Reed, Ned Beatty and M. Emmet Walsh. Music is by John E. Keane and cinematography by Andrew Dunn.

In 1955 Florida, Korean veteran Emmett Foley (Oldman) has a breakdown and is incarcerated in a "maximum security" mental health prison. Here he witnesses patients being abused and used.

One landed in the cuckoo's nest.

Intense incarceration based tale, Chattahoochee suffers due to a cliché riddled screenplay that can't hit the upper echelons of pics dealing with the "mismanagement" of mental health patients. Foley's attempts to expose the nightmarish conditions at the facility he is imprisoned in, keeps the viewer interested, as does his burgeoning friendship with Benson (Hopper) and the crashing of his relationship with the girl he loves outside (McDormand).

Ultimately, it's well performed by the principals, but staid in writing and direction to the point you end up hankering for the "greats" of the genre made previously. 6/10
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8/10
Being versatile, I played my mother's father.
22 February 2020
Yankee Doodle Dandy is directed by Michael Curtiz and collectively written by Robert Buckner, Edmund Joseph, Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein. It stars James Cagney, Joan Leslie, Walter Huston, Richard Whorf, Irene Manning, George Tobias, Rosemary DeCamp and Jeanne Cagney.

This is a biographical interpretation of the life of renowned musical composer, playwright, actor, dancer, and singer George M. Cohan (Cagney). As usual it is advised to seek out facts about the person the biography is about - if one so wishes of course to see how true the bio is.

A wonderful spirited picture that begs and demands to be viewed in today's context. Unwavering in its flag waving patriotism, this was unashamedly a moral booster that acted as a recruiting poster for the war effort - of which George Cohan was rightly lauded.

Though his singing voice was never what you would call high quality, his dancing however certainly was, and it's an utter joy to see the multi faceted Cagney light up the screen in every scene he is in. Great blood pumping songs help off set the slightly over long run time, to which even a British guy like myself found myself saluting such a jingoistic joy come pic's finale. 8/10
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6/10
I ran down like a clock. It was just as though I'd been wound up too tight and the spring broke.
22 February 2020
The Man I Love is directed by Raoul Walsh and adapted to screenplay by Jo Pagano and Catherine Turney from Maritta M. Wolff's novel. It stars Ida Lupino, Robert Alda, Andrea King, Martha Vickers, Bruce Bennett, Alan Hale and Dolores Moran. Cinematography is by Sidney Hickox.

Loved by some, not so by others, Walsh's film is pretty much a soap opera meller with some faint noir shadings. The plot, that has more holes than a bullet riddled bucket, sees Lupino's torch singer return home for the holidays and complications arise in the love and lust department - for her, her family, and the ruthless nightclub owner played by Alda.

There's a mature look at womanhood and masculinity in the post war years, with a poignancy factor boosted by it being set around the Christmas holidays. As usual Lupino is as watchable as ever - in fact into the bargain she's very sultry here as well - and there's some nifty noirish dialogue.

However, as the story is intent on reflecting upon damaged love across the board, there's a distinct lack of fatalism or bitter cynicism to be found, thus explaining why many have be forced to put it in the soapy meller category. This is good film making, but for entertainment purpose it helps if you go into it not expecting a hidden film noir gem, but a pic of unhappy people wandering aimlessly in a melodramatic fog. 6/10
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Straw Dogs (1971)
10/10
This is where I live. This is me. I will not allow violence against this house.
16 February 2020
Straw Dogs is directed by Sam Peknipah and Peckinpah co-adapts to screen play with David Zelag Goodman from the novel "The Siege of Trencher's Farm" written by Gordon Williams. It stars Dustin Hoffman, Susan George, Peter Vaughan, T.P. McKenna, Del Henney and Ken Hutchison. Music is by Jerry Fielding and cinematography by John Coquillon.

A young American maths teacher and his English wife move to the rural English village where she was raised and face increasingly vicious harassment from the locals...

One of Peckinpah's masterpieces (yes you can have more than one), Straw Dogs is an uncompromising dissection of violence, machismo and boundary pushing of the human condition. Controversy around the film reigned supreme upon release (and long into the dead part of the video nasty era 1980s), and in fact still today it is still pored over as an abject lesson in audience manipulation. For a s the power struggle between a husband and wife against their abusers reaches boiling point, ultra violence and sexual assault attacks the viewer's senses.

Peckinpah is in his pomp here, making us observers complicit in the ultimate cynical premise. It's not so much that violence begets violence, but that a mild mannered man has to resort to extreme violence - thus repelling his once firm code of morals - in order to defend what should in fact be his right. Hoffman is excellent, layering the character arc to perfection, while George as his wife is sexually suggestive, spiteful and positively superb in bringing to vivid life such a challenging characterisation.

As the director (see what he could do when not pestered by studio execs) pulls the audience's strings, and Fielding lays a haunting musical score over proceedings (Oscar Nominated), we have been privy to one of the best and most caustic observations of violence put on the screen. 10/10
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Backfire (1950)
6/10
I didn't only break his back the last ten days, I broke his heart.
16 February 2020
Backfire is directed by Vincent Sherman and collectively written by Ivan Goff, Ben Roberts and Larry Marcus. It stars Virginia Mayo, Gordon MacRae, Edmond O'Brien, Dane Clark, Ed Begley and Viveca Lindfors. Music is by Daniele Amfitheatrof and cinematography by Carl Guthrie.

While recuperating from wartime back injuries at a hospital, veteran Bob Corey (Macrae) is visited on Christmas Eve by a beautiful stranger with a message that his army friend Steve Connolly (O'Brien) is seriously injured and in trouble with the police. Upon release, and aided by his girlfriend nurse, Julie Benson (Mayo), Bob enters the labyrinthine underworld of post war Los Angeles in search of his friend.

The warning signs that this might not be a particularly sparky film noir are evident with the lie on the film's poster. Tantalisingly suggesting Mayo as a femme fatale type, the girl from "White Heat" is anything but since she's literally an angel of mercy. Pic is a trifle of nifty noir moments and awkwardly acted scenarios. That it's needlessly convoluted only makes the problems of the staid script come to light.

The problems faced by returning veterans was a recurring noir theme, and here, even though it's not pushed forward to the maximum, it at least gives the story some psychological heart. It has a good cast, good monochrome photography and is played out with some classic noir staples, but it's not all it can be, compounded by a weak finale that feels like a writers compromise. 6/10
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7/10
People with wax heads should keep out of the sun!
16 February 2020
Deadline at Dawn is directed by Harold Clurman and adapted to screenplay by Clifford Odets from the novel written by Cornell Woolrich. It stars Susan Hayward, Paul Lukas, Bill Williams, Joseph Calleia, Osa Masson and Lola Lane. Music is by Hans Eisler and cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca.

Sailor Alex Winkley (Williams) wakes up with hangover amnesia to find he has a wad of cash on his person that he didn't have before his drunken exploits. Enlisting the help of dancer June Goth (Hayward), he retraces his steps to the home of the nightclub hostess who had befriended him the night before. Finding the woman dead, Alex doesn't know if he murdered and robbed her? So with the clock ticking, Alex and his friend have to find out what happened...

"She's a blitzkrieg with hair on her head"

Amnesia formed the backbone of many a good film noir picture, here we have a familiar theme brought about by a simple social occurrence, that of a drunken night. This sets us up for a mystery to be solved as our protagonists trawl through a backlot produced night time New York that's awash with a whole array of damaged or menacing characters.

The dialogue is often sharp, where we get plenty of choice one liners and superb philosophical musings from Lukas' taxi driver who has joined the fight to prove Alex's innocence (in fact all the cabbies in this are real cool). This was Clurman's only big screen directing assignment, and in truth it's just a passable job and he's saved by strong turns from Hayward and Lukas. However, there's a nifty noir world painted and the pic constantly holds interest value. 7/10
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8/10
I'm not stickin' my neck out. Why should I? Phenix City has been what it is for 80, 90 years. Who am I to try to reform it?
16 February 2020
The Phenix City Story is directed by Phil Karlson and written by Daniel Mainwaring and Crane Wilbur. It stars John McIntire, Richard Kiley, Kathryn Grant, Edward Andrews and John Larch. Music is by Harry Sukman and cinematography by Harry Neumann.

A crime-busting lawyer (Kiley) and his initially reluctant attorney father (McIntire) take on the forces that run gambling and prostitution in the "Sin City Of The South", Phenix City, Alabama.

Karlson's uncompromising film noir is based around the real life 1954 assassination of Albert Patterson (McIntire), who after being nominated for the role of Alabama Attorney General was on a mission to rid Phenix City of organized crime. It's important to note that this is not a historical fact film as such, it's more an interpretation of the Patterson murder and how Phenix City was a cess pool at the time in focus.

Print of the film I personally viewed had a 13-minute newsreel preface where newsman Clete Roberts interviews many of the actual participants of the events in the story. I wasn't prepared for it and thought I was about to watch a documentary, but then we shift to Karlson's film and it delivers quality noir film making.

Karlson ("Scandal Sheet" - "99 River Street") and his team don't hold back from violence and devastating scenes. Yet somehow in spite of the dark turns that occur, where the stink of racism and organized crime resides, there's an overriding message that even though we may want to fight fire with fire, sometimes the lawful ballot box is the best option.

Cast are well directed, so much so there's no weak links here, but one has to admire the class McIntire brings to the role of Patterson, while Larch gives us one of film noir's most repugnant villains. Neumann's photography is only ok, there's some flashes of expressionism here, but one can't help wishing for some chiaroscuro magic to befit the dark tones being played out.

This is still a film noir enthusiast essential, on proviso that it's understood there's some poetic licence undertaken. 8/10
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9/10
It's a good story today. Tomorrow, they'll wrap a fish in it.
9 February 2020
Ace in the Hole is directed by Billy Wilder and Wilder co-writes the screenplay with Lesser Samuels, Walter Newman and Victor Desny. It stars Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Bob Arthur, Porter Hall and Richard Benedict. Music is by Hugo Friedhofer and cinematography by Charles Lang Jr.

Chuck Tatum (Douglas) is a one time big-city journalist who is now stuck working for an out of the way Albuquerque newspaper. When on his way to another mundane reporting job he happens upon the chance to exploit a story about a man trapped in a cave to rekindle his career and put him back in the big league. However, the situation quickly escalates into an out-of-control media circus...

Inspired by the real life Floyd Collins disaster in 1925, Ace in the Hole finds Wilder on supreme acerbic and cynical form. Flopping upon release, nobody was quite ready for Wilder to paint an uncompromising portrait of the human spirit stinking to high heaven. It now holds up as one of the finest exponents of media machinations and the human fallibility that encompasses a thirst for tragedy.

Douglas leads the way with one of his finest and intensified performances, filling Chuck Tatum with a reprehensible attitude to media ladder climbing. When one witnesses the harrowing sequences as Tatum talks to the trapped Leo Minosa (Benedict tugs the heart strings), telling him it's going to be alright, we feel complicit in knowing just exactly what is going on up top. Leo adores his wife Lorraine (Sterling a splendidly subtle shallow perf hiding hollow turmoil), but she has wanted out for some time, but under Chatum's prompting she sticks around to make money on her husbands trapped suffering.

Pretty soon this one store tin-pot town is booming, tills are ringing and the papers are selling big time, the coupling of Tatum and Lorraine is a match made in hell. Dialogue is in true noir fashion often sharp and biting, even with some of Wilder's customary humour deftly tucked away. As the exploitation of the situation reaches fever pitch, and the hypocrisy of the human condition is laid bare, "Ace in the Hole" proves itself to be a pitiless story that is a compelling journey for the viewers invested in the darker shades of what Wilder was fronting. A big flip-flop for a main character's behaviour at film's end seems a little out of place, given what has preceded it, but the ending is straight out of noirville and ensures the pic is a near masterpiece from a true master of his craft. 9/10
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I Walk Alone (1947)
7/10
For a buck, you'd double-cross your own mother.
9 February 2020
I Walk Alone is directed by Byron Haskin and adapted to screenplay by Charles Schnee, Robert Smith and John Bright from the play written by Theodore Reeves. It stars Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Lizabeth Scott and Wendell Corey. Music is by Victor Young and cinematography by Leo Tover.

Frankie Madison (Lancaster) returns to New York after 14 years in prison. Noll Turner (Douglas), Frankie's former partner in bootlegging, is now a wealthy nightclub manager, and Frankie is expecting him to honor a verbal '50:50' agreement they made when he was caught and Noll got away...

This is perfect noir foil for the three main stars, Lancaster is all macho mismanagement and edgy, Douglas is suave, cunning and intense, while Scott smoulders and portrays her conflicted character with believable confusion and an earnest yearning for worth.

The story intrigues mainly through Frankie being a man out of his time, after serving 14 years in prison, he comes out to find the underworld he once knew has changed considerably. Yet he wants what is his and will put himself through the mangler in the old day way to get what he thinks he rightly deserves. Kay Lawrence (Scott) isn't a femme fatale, she just borders the type by default until the truth will out and the story arc folds inwards (love the way Tover lights her scenes).

Douglas revels in being a villain, and the Noll Turner character gives him the chance to smarm, charm and trample on anyone who could affect his monetary gains. And so it is left to Corey as Dave to round out the key affecting perfs. He's the man closest to Frankie, but as a milquetoast type of lawyer, he has, while Frankie was in prison, helped legally cover the financial angles for Noll Turner. All characters are entering noirville and it makes for a satisfying experience for fans of such. 7/10
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7/10
Warden, I never broke my word, see - not even to a rat, and I won't break it now to a square guy.
9 February 2020
20,000 Years in Sing Sing is directed by Michael Curtiz and adapted to screenplay by Wilson Mizner, Brown Holmes, Courtney Terrett and Robert Lord from the book written by Warden Lewis E. Lawes. It stars Spencer Tracy, Bette Davis, Lyle Talbot, Arthur Byron, Grant Mitchell and Warren Hymer. Music is by Bernhard Kaun and cinematography by Barney McGill.

Cocksure hoodlum Tom Connors (Tracy) enters Sing Sing Prison and is instantly disrespectful towards those in authority. Could it be that the tough - but compassionate for reform - warden can put Connors on the right road?.

Out of Warner Brothers, this crime/prison melodrama manages to rise above its social conscience heart to become gutsy entertainment. This is due in most part to a committed turn from Tracy, the real location photography, the use of real prisoners for key prison scenes and the sense of realism brought about by the adaption from real life Sing Sing Warden Lawes' literature source. Curtiz manages to keep it from being a torrid "message" movie, even keeping a grim feel to proceedings, though his one failing is not to rein in the sometimes over the top perf from Davis as Tom's love interest moll. 7/10
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8/10
Identity it's a crisis can't you see!
9 February 2020
No Man of Her Own is directed by Mitchell Leisen and adapted to screenplay by Sally Benson and Catherine Turney from the novel "I Married a Dead Man" written by William Irish (Cornell Woolrich. It stars Barbara Stanwyck, John Lund, Jane Cowl, Henry O'Neill, Phyllis Thaxter, Richard Denning and Lyle Bettger.

Callously jilted by the man who has made her pregnant, Helen Ferguson (Stanwyck) survives a train crash and is mistaken for another woman, Patrice Harkness (Thaxter), who was killed in the crash. The woman, who she had befriended on the train, was also pregnant and recently married to a man who also died in the crash (Denning as Hugh Harkness). The rich Harkness in-laws, having never met Patrice, take who they think is Patrice into their home and even though Helen is tormented by her deceit, she spies an opportunity to give her child a grand life. But will she be found out? Will her past come to light with dire consequences?.

Film noir styles meets melodramatic verve in what is still a riveting picture, even if the implausibility of it all is hard to swallow. Stanwyck gives it the whole shebang, carrying the film on her shoulders as she hits all the right emotive beats of a double characterisation that brings guilt, shame and conflict of interests. Lund is sadly bland as the Harkness sibling love interest, but the rest of the cast do sterling work, notably Cowl as the Harkness matriarch. Cowl would pass away the year of the film's release.

From a film noir perspective it's disappointing that the filmic finale is different to that of Woolrich's novel. However, the story of a destitute unmarried woman thrown a bone by the vagaries of fate is in true noir fashions - as is the turn of events when things go dark in the last third as the past comes knocking at the door of settled bliss in the form of Bettger's oily Stephen Morley. A love story, a survivalist story, one of blackmail, deceit and murder, lots going on in a hugely enjoyable entertainment. 8/10
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