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Monday, January 02, 2023

Film Noir #18

Noir: Brawl in Cell Block 99, Breaking In, and The Bribe

BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 (2017) --- Title bespeaks retro fun circa fifties with Brod Crawford or kin busting out of stir with bulls hot after them. Don’t you believe it. Takes steel to cope with what Brawl in Cell Block 99 gives, it of sort the MPAA rated X back when standards prevailed. Not complaining, as what is here compels due to skill of writer-director S. Craig Zahler, his a cobra reflex for charnel places healthier viewership might shun. Dialogue is able in ways rivalry could envy, and once hooked, you're hell bound to a finish. This prison is not what Jim Cagney or George Raft faced. You could take youth to those and none come out scarred. Brawl would be tough for a sumo wrestler to get through without blanching. Give me Valium rather than Milk Duds going in, then prepare to be immersed, Zahler using again his player group, all capable. Vince Vaughn can snap any man’s arm by threes, does so repeatedly. Didn't realize he was over six foot four, equal at least to John Wayne, but Wayne never dashed opponents as done casually here. And what arresting dialogue Cell Block cast gets, hardest R content palatable with such wit attendant, Zahler thinking clever amidst corrosive levels of violence. Don’t expect sissy happy ending stuff. Saw this on Amazon streaming, rehab since ongoing. Do filmmakers resent that their work isn’t being seen in theatres? But what can they do about it?

BREAKING IN (1989) --- Old thief mentors young thief in what might have been, should have been, 1989 alert for one worthwhile in our midst. IMDB says Breaking In had a budget of six million, returned $1.877 worldwide. For a film at least pretty good, this was discouragement, as in think how many others so situated end up in a same scrapheap. Enough to make talent give up and go home. We were told in 1989 that Breaking In was dawn upon Burt Reynolds as a character actor, darned if he wasn’t good at it, etc., and so he was, but his “Ernie Mullins” is tired, walks with a limp, Reynolds unplugged and reminder that best days were behind and not likely to come back. A set injury and dire sickness a few years before was hard by itself to shake off, and here came Breaking In as if to confirm rumors as right. Old football wounds plus stunt work did damage, this actor’s decline seemingly overnight. Still he was good whatever the assignment and sentiment would always be there among plentiful who grew up on Burt Reynolds movies. Breaking In paces well, has good talk and situations (written by John Sayles, directed by Bill Forsyth), and is nourish to extent this man and comparative boy are criminals and dwell on society’s outer edge, however much of Breaking In is played for humor. They rob the drabbest places, a supermarket, homes anything but promising as scores, an amusement park (Portland, Oregon located, and fittingly run down). Threat looms that someone will be hurt or imprisoned, though when it comes, we are satisfied and can sign off cheerful. This is noir with a half-smile and pathos for Reynolds still able/willing, plus knowing Breaking In should have been treated better than it was, a small movie that today would stream to exclusion of cinemas. Kino has a nice Blu-Ray if anyone is curious. I’m pleased for having watched.

THE BRIBE (1948) --- There is for many a need to know noir the moment one claps eyes upon it, so to that end, I recommend The Bribe for show window to sum up the style and initiate those new to pursuit of dark doings. Ill-boding frame device, check. Flashbacks to where it all started bringing us eventually back to where we began, by which time we've forgot all that, check. Doubt lingers like Robert Taylor's cigarette cloud as to who might be trusted, or why they should not be trusted. A femme is possibly fatale, resolve of this delayed till final inning. The Bribe is several kinds of fine without being fine as a whole. It fairly shrieks backlot approximation of Central America, what Taylor refers to as a “whisky and quinine resort.” He starts off staring down a process projected storm, his final fag smoked and fingers dug into an empty pack, noir device and actor artifice surely taught at Pasadena Playhouse and points east to the Atlantic, foolproof thesping stratagem and I love it, cigarettes an always reliable crutch. People smoked for plenty good reasons and maybe dying sooner was worth it for a lot of them. Had Robert Taylor been warned, which I assume he was, and often, would he have quit? His Bribe character is named Rigby Reardon, a name I’d not dream up writing fiction a hundred years. Steve Martin was also Rigby Reardon in a 1982 send-up of noir called Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, woven from old footage dropped into new action, The Bribe a principal source and most representative of a world Dead Men makers sought to recreate. I went more to see the old clips than laugh at Martin, little enough to inspire the latter, was astonished by pains Universal took to match vintage views with ’82 effort at duplicating the look. Here was isolated occasion where real effort/expense went to presenting past film as it could/once did look. Imagine reward had they forgot Steve Martin and given us The Bribe, plus others excerpted, intact. For the sake of matching old with new, labs for once applied maximum effort, showing what could be retrieved from original elements.

The Bribe
would not likely inspire Blu-Ray release, though I could be wrong (hope so). Plot turns on postwar concerns, valuable goods sold amongst scrap and salvage, in this case airplane engines, latter valued enough by thieves to justify payoffs and murder. Taylor is a federal man who comes within hairbreadth of “selling out,” him by postwar no guarantor for doing right things on screen, Undercurrent and High Wall two so far to darken the Taylor image, plus fact his once-celebrated looks took on almost devilish demeanor, what with widow’s peak more peaked and brows to speak sullen even where words did not. G-men were seldom corrupted during the Studio Era, virtually never prior to the war when they were most venerated, but we’re not for sure of Rigby till almost an end. Metro must have walked a thin line to get this story passed. Leo explored contraband themes a following year with Malaya, again with focus on exotic action, so were third worlds and offshoot islands hotbeds for smuggled goods? I began wondering if that junkyard Dana Andrews went to work for in The Best Years of Our Lives might make profitable way selling plane parts offshore and let chump taxpayers get it in the neck per usual, as Charles Laughton colorfully puts it in The Bribe. There is history here, as with any noir, if you want to sniff for it. Taylor sniffs mostly after Ava Gardner, who here plays variant on “Kitty Collins” from star-making The Killers, singing in bare midriff black attire against smoky cantina backdrop. You can regard what Metro does with setting like this and get time's worth, Gardner on hand or not. Visuals are the sell with much if majority of noir, and it is this upon which The Bribe excels (Joseph Ruttenberg director of photography). There is a Warner Archive DVD that could be improved upon, but still will do for pleasure The Bribe supplies.


Blogger Dave K said...

Interesting group! Haven't caught CELL BLOCK yet, and it's been years since I've seen the other two - but I'm afraid my big take away here is wanting to track down DEAN MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID. A forty year old movie making fun of (then) forty year old movies, my memory of which is a cute idea that under-delivered. But I think that was my impression of all those early Steve Martin movies directed by Carl Reiner. However, for the first time in decades, I watched THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS the other night and was shocked, not just with how really funny it was, but how well crafted as well. Might go looking for DEAD MEN.

10:38 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a helluva picture.Thank you for turning me on to it.

7:54 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Dave K: Yes indeed, The Man With Two Brains is easily the best of the Martin/Reiner pictures, managing to be both hilariously funny and distinctly weird. My memory of Dead Men was sitting in the theater wanting to laugh but only managing chuckles here and there -- not because of anything funny being spoken, but just the idea of, say, Martin making a phone call to Bogart. The whole thing was a great concept, though, and not one likely to be repeated in 2063 with clips from today's movies.

However, I loved Breaking In when seeing it on its original release, and was disappointed it didn't start Burt Reynolds's comeback in a big way. From everything I've read about him, it wasn't just injuries and illness derailing him, but bad script choices that seem like deliberate career suicide, as if he didn't believe how good he really was.

For what it's worth, I attended a Myrna Loy tribute at, I believe, Carnegie Hall in the 1980s where the actress was in attendance, and several other major actors spoke. Burt Reynolds was one of them; he sounded really out of it, as if under the influence of something or other. It was only much later I knew the physical pain he was in during that time, and that he was likely on painkillers.

7:15 AM  

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