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Monday, February 21, 2022

What If They Walk Yet Among Us?


Most Noted of Literary Hauntings --- Scrooge Met by a First of Several Ghosts

After All is Said, Do Ghosts Scare Best?

Fascination with death is rife to us all I suppose if fewer embrace it for light conversation, but let someone close depart, and for a while at least, death is Topic A. Cousin to dying is what happens after, or what if those gone aren’t really gone, and what if one or two slip back in the house after bedtime? Such was weighty concern over past centuries when lives were short, and cemeteries were fuller than populace above ground. Remember the Brontes? I don’t know how the trio wrote for constant fear of grim reaping all about them. No wonder then that ghost stories, read/told aloud, consumed voraciously by candlelight, became hugely popular especially in Victorian time of a latter-half nineteenth century, more so in England than the US, where warding off wolves or native hostility took emphasis over spooks afoot. Life expectancy being low, and indeed it was in those days (1850: 40 for men, 42 for women, barely better, 45/50, by 1900), they spent much of waking hours, and troubled sleep, in rumination over what came after it all.

Ghost stories fed that hunger, and Victorians could not get enough of them. Christmas was ideal occasion to spin gothic tales, for reason what escapes me, but no Eve, as in 12/24, was complete without pants or pantaloon scared off family and friends as they gathered to celebrate the returning dead. Every author of note or obscurity penned scary tales, as here was where surest money lay. Charles Dickens edited magazines where the Yule issue was reliably a year’s biggest seller, and if others submitted less than was needed to fill pages, he took up quill and wrote hair-raisers himself. Tradition went back before Victoria. Lord Byron shared for months a bad weather retreat with the Shelleys, Percy and Mary, where being kept indoors inspired the trio to write ghost stories and unnerve one another for recreation (Frankenstein the result from Mary). Sicker idea of fun dated to a seventeenth century where crowds turned out, with refreshment, to watch public dissections, “corpse cutting” as it was colorfully called. And they thought ancient Rome was barbaric for coliseum excesses … seeing innards removed, limbs sawed, delighted a public for whom gore was mother’s milk.

Seventeenth-Century Cut-Ups As Rendered by Rembrandt

Lest we judge however … for last night I watched London Hospital on Amazon, a Brit depiction of healing arts circa the early 1900’s, and you’ll need a strong stomach to enter, but why wring hands over surgery staged explicit or bodies burnt to crisps when TV has been doing this dance for years, as witness NCIS and forensic exams to require tummy distress bag alongside one’s viewing chair. I’ve developed hard bark over time with these, but what does it say of we who watch carnage so casually? Movies used to locate surgery below frame lines, what went on described but seldom shown. Horrors got more horrific by displaying brains or limbs in a jar, but shrank from same organs cut from, then lifted off, live or dead bodies. You knew the Code was relaxing when Basil Rathbone sliced cranial matter in The Black Sleep close-up, and a following year saw The Curse of Frankenstein arrive with Peter Cushing spattered in blood as he dismembered at will. Bodies were now to be violated in view of all who would pay admission, so how was this materially different from corpse-cutting of yore?

British makers applied more to such pursuit because after all, here was their folklore. The Flesh and the Fiends, a rawest so far for rifling graves with leavings dipped in acid, gave good value to chill-seekers, so much so that US distribution, hard got for Flesh/Fiends being so extreme, snuck it out as Mania or The Fiendish Ghouls after trimming butchery (plus nudity) Europe saw. Grave robbing was quite the enthrall for those morbidly disposed, as evidenced by 1945's The Body Snatcher, most successful among Val Lewton productions for RKO, mere idea of digging up the dead enough to bring customers in droves, even if the film suggested more than showed the dread act itself. Horror topics were taken up less with ghosts than mechanics of death and how those buried could yet be despoiled. American-International and director Roger Corman made cottage industry of luckless deceased being not so after all but put in graves all the same. Premature internment became dread concern, at least for those going to see House of Usher, well-named The Premature Burial, others where being declared dead was merely a start to something awfuller.

Movies centered on ghosts were rarer to come by … I could count homegrown ones in the 60’s on half of fingers … The Innocents, The Haunting, both shot in England if financed by US firms. Hammer, Brit-based, gave us vampires (not dead, but undead), werewolves (not dead but ought to be for everyone’s benefit), and modern-dress psychos seen as scarier than any ghost could be. I wanted more manifestations than films, certainly those American-made, allowed me. Even House on Haunted Hill withheld those back-from-the-dead, for weren’t scares stage-managed by sinister “Frederick Loren” (Vincent Price)? Omnibus grab bags were as stingy --- you’d think Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors would use honest ghosts rather than voodoo, omnivorous plants, yet more vampires, a hand chopped off but vindictive all the same. Got to where it seemed ghosts were no one’s cup of tea but mine. I thought it likelier I’d see a real spook than go to outer space someday, which was why science-fiction appealed to me less than gothic horror. Went with a cousin and his friend from high school to see 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968, playing in “Ultra-Vision” at the newly remodeled Winston Theatre, an hour’s hop from home, such event made worthy because 2001 merited such a drive, only I was too young to divine its greatness, yearning instead to return two days later for a Saturday kid show with House of Usher the screen offering along with Bingo for all and a teen band. Happenings in the horrors seemed more within the realm of possibility than inter-galactic exploration --- who knew but what I might be buried alive someday, House of Usher possibly instruct for avoiding such catastrophe.

Movies were as doubtful about ghosts as a general population was presumed to be. Frankenstein’s monster had life cobbled from corpses, The Mummy rose thanks to incantations, never of his own volition. Neither were ghosts per se. Where were simple spooks as Victorians had in short stories? Tales got told in infinite number once Americans embraced the literary genre, but Englanders did it more and undoubtedly best. Analysts tried to explain why a latter half of the nineteenth century was so spirit-filled. Candles were understood to be ideal accompany to spinning of scares, then gaslight came along and, while it lighted rooms better, gave off carbon monoxide to cause hallucinations, these making readers/tellers think ghosts indeed were real. Photography had caught on and it was realized that the dead could be captured by lens, not actually so, but the nature of slow-timed exposures left all type of odd imagery on finished photos, and some swore departed had come back to pose. Low-priced magazines were the rage, hundreds of them plus newspapers with appetite for short stories never satisfied. Writers could live off the thrill trade, then anthologize backlog and sell output all over again. Publishers topped rivals with one compilation after another, thickness past a thousand pages with seventy or more entries, “A Century of Creepy Stories” (1930) typical of collections to burn anyone’s wick down to the wax.

Stage Spooks On The Loose Plus The Body Snatcher As Screen Sensation 

An advantage literature had was ghosts we could imagine rather than face head-on. We'd form our own image of the returning dead rather than let a camera fake one for us. Film was where there was no doubt you were looking at someone else’s special effect, and how often do screen ghosts fit an individual’s concept of same? There is something personal to that, for which no substitutes will do. I like the ghost we finally see in The Uninvited, knowing the while that others may laugh. Being told there is no such thing since babyhood is a signal, more a command, to chortle when specters show up. The very word “spook” cues us to smile, this why parents felt safe letting offspring attend “Spook Shows” during latter’s stage vogue. Maybe ghosts were better left to print than pictures. Victorian-era magazines graduating to illustration of stories saw readers complain that the unseen now shown was a let down from what imagination had supplied. For every movie that depicted ghosts, there were a thousand previous and present told tales doing the same, at safe distance of written word that required us to supply imagery.

Best then to invite laughter where venturing to graveyards. Laurel and Hardy did it in Habeas Corpus (1928). Hired to snatch content from a cemetery, they go there and are properly terrified, apt response for Habeas Corpus being shot in darkness and L&H paid to dig up remains and intent on doing so. Lighter treatment was The Live Ghost (1934), where the boys are shanghaied aboard a haunted ship, a drunk immersed in whitewash assumed to be a ghost, fun had due to varied misunderstandings. War brought ghosts closer to home and hearths, their presence welcome and encouraged. A father who has passed moves among his family to lend comfort when a son is lost to combat in The Human Comedy (1943), and Spencer Tracy stays around after death to pave way for fiancée Irene Dunne and Van Johnson in A Guy Named Joe (1944). Ghosts often had unfinished business with mortals, a crime to be unraveled, murder of the deceased or betrayal of some sort, this an oft-device of stories past and ongoing.

The Uninvited
(1944) had competing ghosts sorting out dread events that led to respective deaths, and it is for the living to separate benign from malign participants. Dead of Night (1946) told at least one ghost story of five, a little boy who was killed long before but appears to Sally Ann Howes during a Christmas gather. Here was a beautifully evocative couple of reels within whole of an omnibus to come closest to what Victorians achieved with their short tales. Maybe a best of American creators doing a similar thing was Val Lewton with The Curse of the Cat People and its life-affirming depiction of spectral presence, here being a ghost that helps. What would be labeled as comedy for Abbott and Costello in 1946 was near-profound meditation on disturbance that compels the dead to come back and fix history that is broken. The Time of Their Lives was Universal set upon rebranding A&C, to freshen a formula wearing out boxoffice welcome. Little Giant (1946) had split the team for much of running time, The Time of Their Lives going a next mile by period-dressing them for a first couple reels, then denying the team interaction by letting Costello be a ghost that Abbott cannot see. Result was a favorite of all A&C but for those who’d stand fast beside Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Note Posters Above Play Down Actual Content of The Time of Their Lives

Concept of Lou and ghost-mate Marjorie Reynolds righting a wrong from 160 years before raises The Time of Their Lives above mere haunting gags to dignify these ghosts with an urgent mission, prelude to main narrative seeing them both shot down and thrown in a well, cursed to remain on the estate where they died. Latter is surprisingly grim, so we want the restless spirits to be vindicated. The Time of Their Lives was one of few times A&C had a story with real stakes and complication. I’d like to think the team respected it enough to put best feet forward. Abbott during the Revolutionary War portion is a straightforward heavy, Costello’s death an indirect result of his treachery. The Time of Their Lives hews close to tradition observed by Victorian writers, the ghosts not disposed to rest until their long departed names are cleared, this an Abbott and Costello for people who ordinarily would not watch Abbott and Costello. I once set an alarm for one am so I could see it on Channel 2-Greensboro, satisfied that missing the broadcast meant never having such opportunity again. Now of course there is a Blu-ray, along with all the other Universal A&C’s, from Shout.

Honest ghost stories were rare on film and to be savored. We saw a rarity at one of the Syracuse shows, referred to as the Orson Welles Ghost Story, actual title Return to Glennascaul, a short subject written-directed by partners in Welles’ Othello project, and released to theatres in 1953. There were playdates, if not many, and the film was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Short Subject. Fans want to claim it for Welles because he appears and narrates, but that appears to have been the extent of his participation. Return to Glennascaul tells a subdued and effective ghost story, was shot in Ireland on spooky roads pointed to bleak houses. The ghosts are benign but not quite to be trusted. The tale takes as long to unfold as we’d spend reading a short story, which is why in part it works so well. Highpoint of creeps is when the traveler realizes he was a guest of ghosts. So many stories work best when they aim no higher than that, atmosphere and suggestion preferred over pyrotechnics or spooks too belligerent. I wish Welles or someone had sponsored a whole series of these, Return to Glennascaul the one/only pearl an extra with Criterion’s Blu-Ray of Othello.

Karloff Invites Us To Chat With Ghosts in Black Sabbath

Ghosts seemed more to comport on stages than screens. Those “Spook Shows” traveled far/wide to theatres large/small. None of what they did was meant truly to frighten, though some tickled edges via “beheadings,” sometimes of audience volunteers, and bloodshed made to look real thanks to sleight-of-hand adroitly applied (most spookmeisters were variety inclined magicians). Attendees could ask why real ghosts cared to tramp about a theatre crowded with children, and who believed for a moment that James Dean would permit himself to be “materialized” by a ghoulish master-of-ceremonies? That last might latterly be seen as shockingly bad taste, but stars who died untimely were assumed to itch for whatever incantation might usher them back, especially where invited by black-clad “Vampira,” a Dean girlfriend (she claimed) interacting with him more in death than when he was among us. Serious treatment of ghosts by movies remained a higher hill to climb. Fox didn’t want The Innocents used for Saturday spook fests, and so sold it as rarefied object beyond risk of snickers or derision, maybe not so keen an idea as it would lose money for them. Euros as always understood the returned dead better and so offered Castle of Blood, Black Sabbath, others of disrespected-by-a-mainstream category. Karloff for Sabbath introduced a trio of phantom
s by asking us frankly, Do you believe in ghosts? Most with the quarter to get in were expected to reply yes, while parents stayed home. Latter had long since given ghosts the gate, even ones pitched to their level like The Innocents, or later The Haunting, which also went in the red, this time by nearly half a million. Ghosts then were the province of youngsters or fools, at least by movie measure. That would change as appetite for supernatural content became insatiable with streaming’s arrive and domination it would achieve. Now it is The Haunting remade as a series plus Turn of the Screw/The Innocents (as Bly Manor) that invite us to binge on ghosts. You could argue that, thanks to Netflix, Amazon, the rest, ghosts have never had it so lush.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Film Noir #2

 Noir: Act of Violence, Affair in Havana, Affair in Trinidad, Alias Nick Beal

The category called noir is widening. I’m liable to widen it further before this venture is done. Years ago, mid-seventies it seems, a 16mm print of Fallen Angel came my way. Being noir, or not, never occurred to me. Fallen Angel seemed then like 40’s romance with a murder twist … was it Alice Faye that distracted me? Now of course it is indisputably noir. We think of and wonder how watchers responded to Fallen Angel and others of noir definition when they were new. A splendid book by Mark Vieira digs for truth of then-reception via exhibitor comments for each of thrillers covered by Into The Dark: The Hidden World of Film Noir 1941-1950. I’ll trust then-showmen over anyone trying to speculate on these shows since. Vieira knew their wisdom and gathered copious examples of it. Into The Dark has analysis from many a horse’s mouth that lived the era and had to earn livings off this stuff. And when they got let down, they sounded off. You may not look upon noir favorites the same after reading these salvos, but then, we don’t rely on noir to put bread on tables like theatre men once did. Here's one for the suggestion box: How about if reps from Kino, Criterion, Warners, the lot, step up and tell us how these old pictures rate in terms of here-and-now dollars-and-cents. Where trading noir like marbles, would one Nightmare Alley be worth three Phantom Lady’s? There’s bound to be an economic pecking order, so show me a Top Selling 40 for Film Noir, please.

ACT OF VIOLENCE (1948) --- P.O.W. Van Heflin turned informant during captivity and fellow prisoners took the brunt, evidence of the betrayal gone but for lone survivor Robert Ryan, who is bent on revenge. Compelling concept, as we wonder of actual incidents from the past war, and whether Heflin equivalents now served as community leaders, church deacons, scoutmasters. How much collusion with the enemy followed servicemen home? Question too was whether it was in the Army’s best interests to paper over such conduct for sake of overall morale. I’m surprised there weren’t more movies treating the theme, but far as I can tell, Act of Violence was alone, the more to be admired for it, and for MGM exploring war heroism not turning out to be so heroic. Van Heflin played well the weakness inherent in many men. We can imagine him trading comrade lives for food and comfort, Heflin a mirror for those rationalizing past acts just to go on living. How many shameful deeds do any of us keep tamped down?

Ninth ring of hell for Heflin is time-honored and since vanished Bunker Hill of L.A. location fame, him seen partly there (Angel’s Flight an always iconic glimpse) when not amidst backlot down-and-outness, where he encounters glory that is Mary Astor dowdy and done-for, Taylor Holmes silken and predatory. Such pros … I’d like to think they were not taken for granted in their day … that someone, preferably everyone, went up at the end of a day’s work to tell them how marvelous they were. Great business wherein Heflin hides out at a sales convention, its hotel full of middle-age revelers same as Edmund O’Brien mixed with and was tempted by in D.O.A., still later (1950) a photo finish setting for Key To The City except latter was comic. Will there ever be such wild and wooly gathers again? I’m doubting it.

AFFAIR IN HAVANA (1957) --- Is (or was) it incumbent upon all actors to develop skill for playing melodrama? I don’t know how any from the Studio Era could have got by otherwise. Affair in Havana was shot on-site in 1956, streets and houses for-real (latter apparent for acoustics, especially when Raymond Burr SHOUTS). I’d like to know what late 50’s American films were shot in Cuba besides this, The Sharkfighters, and The Big Boodle. Well, there was Cuban Rebel Girls, obviously. Suppose Twentieth-Fox considered a Cinemascope trip down there? Maybe, as Boodle posters said, the place was just too red-hot, hell-hot, for comfort. Affair in Havana was distributed by Allied Artists. It looks cheap but authentic. Did they build even a single set for it? The triangle stuff with murderous underpinnings stamps it for noir, rich Raymond Burr in a wheelchair as wife Sara Shane plots a departure with jazz pianist John Cassavetes, except she doesn’t want to leave broke.

Again to melodrama, which Burr had the gift for, but Cassavetes did not. Maybe the latter chose to play it passive, led about by beauteous Shane and never taking a lead as violent events unfold, sitting around like the rest of us to see how things will turn out. This was clearly not Cassavetes’ kind of project, not that he necessarily looked down on it … it just seems to me he lacked experience or aptitude for corks-out, pulpy stuff like Affair in Havana. Burr sort of leaves him vacant, a young man who sure could have benefited from four or five novice years at RKO where they taught expertise at this sort of thing. Cassavetes comes off by being the unexpected, that is, oddly at disconnect from what happens around him, and never sure if he even wants the faithless wife who flings herself at him. Sort of a Harry Langdon of noir. I ended up liking his low-key performance but can’t imagine he looked back on Affair in Havana with much regard. Sold on DVD by off-labels (one with Spanish subtitles evidently burned in), but I caught it at You Tube as part of quest to see unseen noirs. Is that a journey that could ever be completed?

AFFAIR IN TRINIDAD (1952) --- Those Glenn Ford-Rita Hayworth pictures, her billed generally over him, were Glenn being rude to her and everybody. Any guy in Ford’s face will get his own bashed, and look out Rita, as perverse clinches with GF will get you slapped silly, the backhand a staple for each occasion they co-starred. Should I arrange to have Ford “cancelled”? … but then I don’t have that kind of influence. Affair in Trinidad sniffs of Notorious and varied aspects of Gilda. I couldn’t figure if heavies were German detritus or fresher Soviet models. Either way, they want to launch missiles from the Caribbean to US targets. One nice thing of living in a smallest town is villains less likely to strike, as what to target … our Tastee-Freez? Hayworth was showing age by 1952, insecure anyhow and always was, part reason why director Vincent Sherman (above with his star) initiated an affair, mostly to settle her down and get Affair in Trinidad finished (read his excellent book about that).

Ford got eventually away from playing hotheads, not an image to sit well much longer. I like him always spoiling for trouble, an attitude attaining state of grace a few years later with The Big Heat. Watch the first six minutes of Affair in Trinidad and get pretty much a whole reason for being there, that is in terms of Rita dancing torridly as any performer might for Code-sanctioned houses. She was still sort of boxoffice despite a personal life largely off rails, having married “Mr. Evil” Dick Haymes, and then Prince Aly Kahn, who I’m not curious enough about to look up for more detail. Or wait, did Aly come first, and then Mr. Evil? Affair in Trinidad took $2.3 million in domestic rentals, which for Columbia in 1952 was a blue fortune, bigger gold strikes of From Here To Eternity and On The Waterfront still a couple of seasons off.

ALIAS NICK BEAL (1948) --- So why weren’t there more devils in film noir, a handiest Mister Big for any circumstance or occasion. Depends perhaps on how many recognize Satan as an active entity. Does he do more than occasionally pop up on shoulders? Ray Milland is a contemporary fallen angel, well turned out, persuasive, a noir dweller not differing markedly from the rest. We accept him more than outlandish Al Pacino devil dancing against New York background circa 1997. Maybe it was easier to conceive of Satanic presence among us in 1948. Milland dislikes to be touched. He blanches at the sight of Bibles, commits murder and goes unpunished, for how could the Code chastise him? We want Ray to corrupt Thomas Mitchell’s do-gooding judge-turned politician, for who in postwar trusted do-gooders? As it isn’t emphasized, I wonder how many of first-run viewership realized Milland was playing Lucifer himself. Fantasy aspect was played down in ads. The last thing Paramount wanted was for Alias Nick Beal to be confused with horror movies. Milland here is not so different from any opportunist off noir grids, which maybe implies that by war's end, we were all devils in a sense. Director John Farrow enhances Alias Nick Beal with long takes to finish three days’ work in minutes. The Kino lease of pre-49 Paramounts should do the Farrow legacy good. Alias Nick Beal is available on Blu-Ray from Kino.

Monday, February 07, 2022

A Start of Something Noir


From Noir To Eternity --- Starting With A's

Herewith I embark upon A to Z recite of film noir and notes on each I’ve watched and for most part enjoyed. Trouble is I may not be around long enough to reach Z, for A to start of C has already consumed 22,000 words, and besides that, you may all get sick of the subject well before I scratch latter half of the alphabet. Plus there’s risk of tiring over surfeit of
the style, a not expected impasse, for I enjoy graze upon these, most seen before, all a joy to watch even if a mixed bag at times. There are things so relaxing, reassuring, about film noir. At late date that is our twenty-first century, they seem like costume pictures, celebration of what is gone from current culture … phone booths, upper berth on trains, snap fedoras. These we’d like back, at least I would, and noir gives them to us, at least by ninety-minute parsing. More on noir in general will drip-drab through intros to come. Titles stood alone are links to past occasion when Greenbriar visited the respective movie. I'll add to these until readership is fed up enough to call a halt. And it won’t take up every week, noir fatigue a condition better avoided.

13 West Street (1962) --- 6/8/2014 

711 OCEAN DRIVE (1950) --- Edmond O’Brien was especially good as full-on go-get, dames always a temptation and signpost to disaster if not doom. Was that not noir’s way? … and yet O’Brien seemed never sated, ready the while to give up a nice, if marriage-minded, girl to hot foot after another who’s already married, allied with criminals, or plain no good. Eddie’s was confidence bound in a body just this side of a schlub’s. He sweated a lot in suits a Mitchum or Mature wore lightly. You think if a guy like this can score, why not me? 711 Ocean Drive takes the time to explain how electronics make wire services into huge business, fact that technology here is so primitive enhancing interest as in how do they make such hopeless analog work? O’Brien could play brainy types, not enough so to see a thing through right, for he was too eager a beaver to recognize stakes beyond grasp. A Mister Big like Otto Kruger need only wait out Eddie excesses, then pounce, or have others do same for him. Refreshing that Kruger escapes last reel justice … no cuffs on him … but maybe bleeding ulcers his character complains of are punishment enough. Kruger’s kind were often the final victor in noir racing, seldom shot down, often not even brought to book, at least onscreen. Was this letting us know there were certain untouchables who really were untouchable?

We understand Eddie because money, or a seeming right but invariably wrong woman, could bring anyone as easily down, but when is such temptation thrown the common man’s way? Essential message was noir life as risk seldom ending with reward, no matter how good short-term goodies were. Is even Joanne Dru worth falling off Boulder Dam for? 711 Ocean Drive is an education for those who want data on 50’s (and current) betting scourge, as is also Captive City. As for O’Brien, he peaked fortunately before pies and fries got the better of him. Did film buffs hanging about Welles’ Other Side of the Wind location ever go up and tell Eddie what a noir icon he had been, or was he too far gone by then to savor the complement? Greenbriar dealt with 711 Ocean Drive release and merchandising in June 2014. Since then, it has been released on Blu-Ray as part of one or several noir sets.

ABANDONED (1949) --- A noir can be toxic for me by content others get easily through. Case at hand: The suspense end of Abandoned where a woman with an infant child is sealed in a car filling with carbon monoxide. I’ll withstand unpleasantness in films to a point, but this swore me off Abandoned for keeps, the disc hereafter a Kino coaster. Set-up is the baby barter racket, queasy going in, which was one reason I never sought out Abandoned till now. Noir is just melodrama with nightshades on, doomed or otherwise characters to burn through according to narrative need, but small children as currency violates compact I keep with any film that is otherwise light repast, this policy applied to whatever is watched or especially re-watch. There was fence called the Code around a Classic Era I am frankly glad was there. Remove any/all barrier and movies becomes nihilistic horrors streaming nightly via various sick apps we foolishly subscribe to. Abandoned spent most years since 1949 being rare, another of Universal-International backwash to generate little interest before squirrels gathered noir nuts to feed repertory schedules. Abandoned takes mostly to streets and real-life settings, which is where current value rests. Narration portents gravity of subject, here being social contagion that might happen to yours or my “city.” I don’t know a racket that wasn’t addressed by postwar noir, except Abandoned is more a procedural, as in identify the crime, then find its perpetrator. Dark subjects were essential to studio meal plan, even where it seldom paid, unless made cheap or with a popular name, economy had where sets did not have to be built, companies realizing after the war that authenticity could be got on terms not so removed from what Italian Neorealists achieved for next to nothing. Noir in that sense became like westerns, the main obstacle being civilians poking heads into range of cameras.

THE ACCUSED (1949) --- 12/20/2017

ACE IN THE HOLE (1951) --- Souped-up precode made twenty years beyond such stuff being commonplace, but no more once Enforcement took snap out of pre-1934 garter. Who was Kirk Douglas’ Chuck Tatum but a maniacally self-conscious Ricardo Cortez? People hadn’t seen anything like Ace In The Hole for a long while, so might have been shocked, vet filmgoers less so thanks to recall of such yarns when they were freewheeling and fun. 1951 exhibitors said customers cared not for it, or were actively put off. This is not a pleasurable picture to watch, whereas precodes, never mind how caustic, always had frolicsome spirit. Since when did Warren William apologize for being ruthless? Early 30’s folk felt cheated if he wasn’t. Conscience stuff for Ace’s third act weighs hard. I wanted Chuck to get that Pulitzer Prize he literally bled for. Must my hero stumble scissor-wounded for twenty concluding minutes, a device no more welcome than Mitchum conked on the head part way into Where Danger Lives ?

Noirs are to relax and amuse, like anything I watch, so don’t let’s have cracked skulls or holes poked in bellies. Wilder’s “meaningful” shots and hard-crust dialogue are like a non-stop anvil chorus. Ace In The Hole is sort of funny until it stops being funny. Peddled by Criterion as “one of the most scathing indictments of American culture ever produced by a Hollywood filmmaker,” to which I say Ho-hum, because isn’t that what we essentially get from everything now? Length sits heavy as rocks on hapless Leo Minosa, 111 minutes for what should conclude in 80. Somewhere Wilder got his notion that a morally parched America needed his reproof and so set action in as arid a spot imaginable. Maybe it helped sell cool concessions at least to those who stayed the feature course. Me for bailing out on Kirk’s contrition, finger poised upon the fast forward but not pushing as a voice said no, because chances are you will not be sitting through this one again. More about myths surrounding Ace In The Hole from 2007 … it’s a chapter as well in Showmen, Sell It Hot!. And no, Paramount didn’t “dump” it, or misunderstand it, or screw over Wilder. Ace In The Hole just wasn't enjoyed enough by a then-public to be declared a success.

ACROSS 110th STREET (1972) --- Should definitions of noir widen to include Across 110th Street? --- because I’m for adding this must of a crime study from 1972, an ensemble of near epic dimension that surprises me for not being much better known and regarded. I’d call Across 110th Street a street-level Godfather for canvas it fills, setting and locations as gritty as seventies backdrop could yield. Muddy, grainy, as what we want and expect of the period, Across 110th Street was of sort we’d sit through at the old College Park Cinema and wonder if there was something wrong with the print or the projector. A new decade raised bars for explicit depiction of crime. The French Connection went farther than we had been accustomed to. Beside it, then-recent Bullitt punches seemed pulled. The newly wrought ratings system made extreme profanity an option, “R” a license to kill not with dispatch, but on cruelest graphic terms. At last we saw what hardened police did on everyday fields of combat, and the effect was thrilling. Classification called noir would be revamped now that movies spoke blunt as never before.

Across 110th Street
might have shocked more had there not been so many similar ventures tumbling over one another in suddenly crowded charnel houses with R for Restricted hung over each, grim joke being so few venues enforced the age requirement to get in (no one at the Liberty stopped me during early ratings period before I came of age, and Ann saw The Godfather alone at the Liberty when she was eleven). Cop films were made either for this hard-tack market or what was left of “family” viewing, thus a McQ where John Wayne applied brakes to mayhem and salty talk, this against backdrop of Dirty Harry, Popeye Doyle, or Across 110th Street’s Anthony Quinn killing with abandon. Quinn co-produced Across 110th Street, so had vision to see where theatre screens were headed. His is as modern a character and performance as any veteran star gave during such upend of film decorum. Theme of the Mafia muscling into Harlem rackets gives glimpse of worst in both worlds, theme tune for Across 110th Street by Bobby Womack a Top 40 hit to give impression that the film was “blaxploitation,” confining category for a show that cast much wider a net. Here is top-notch noir I don’t hesitate to put in that category, one of the seventies’ best, and available on a nice Blu-Ray from Kino.
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