Film Noir Finds

Written by Joe D on December 28th, 2011

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As promised here are some interesting film noir finds on Netflix.  Union Station, a kidnapping story starring William Holden and Nancy Olson. This was made immediately after Sunset Blvd. and both of these actors appear in that film as well. I guess they got along. Station is directed by Rudolph Mate’. He directed the original D.O.A. and was a cameraman on such classics as Carl Dreyers Passion Of Joan D’Arc. This film is definitely worth checking out, it’s even got Barry Fitzgerald reprising his quaint Irish detective role from Naked City. And it’s shot at the beautiful Los Angeles Union Station.

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Cry Danger, you get Dick Powell, Rhonda Fleming and a host of great noir character actors, shot in some amazing 50’s L.A. locations, including a trailer park within view of City Hall! Pretty cool. Robert Parrish’s directorial debut. Shot by the always good Joe Biroc, he was Aldritch’s cameraman for a lot of films.

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5 Steps to Danger OK, this is by no stretch of the imagination a great movie, maybe not even a good movie.  Made fast and cheap, the things it has going for it are as follows: Sterling Hayden, Ruth Roman, driving around the desert in a 50’s Packard convertible! That is cool  as hell. If you like these actors, check it out.

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The Killer Is Loose, an interesting film by Budd Boetticher , Wendell Corey plays a sort of nerd serial killer, maybe the first one in Cinema. Joseph Cotten is the cop that put him away, killing Corey’s wife in the process so now “Foggy” wants revenge. A weird flick but worth checking out.

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Plunder Road, Hubert Cornfield’s excellent gold heist movie.

More to come. Same Bat time, same Bat channel.

Caught and House Of Strangers

Written by Joe D on December 20th, 2011

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Here are two noirish films I found on Netflix streaming. Both worth watching. Caught is a sort of poor man’s Citizen Kane, being a thinly disguised story of a very rich man, in this case Howard Hughes. Robert Ryan portrays him excellently and I’m sure he had opportunity to observe Hughes during his time at RKO. But the star of the film is the lovely and talented Barbara Bel Geddes. She plays a carhop with designs on being a model and winds up married to an insane millionaire. James Mason appears as a sympathetic doctor and love interest. The ending has to be seen to be believed, if I told you what happens you wouldn’t believe it. It could never happen today.

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This film was directed by an emigre from France, fleeing Nazi persecution, Max Ophuls.  I hear tell that Robert Aldritch directed some additional scenes for this film but I don’t know which ones. I’ll look into it. Martin Scorsese restored this film at UCLA archives a few years before he made his Hughes film, The Aviator. Unlike Hearst I don’t think Hughes tried to destroy anyone’s career over this film, maybe he was too far gone in his mental illness to notice.

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The next attraction on our double bill is House Of Strangers, a study of an upwardly mobile Italian family in old New York. This clan is ruled with an iron fist by it’s patriarch, portrayed by the great Edward G. Robinson. He turns in a wonderful, if somewhat stereotyped performance. His rise to riches as a banker (shades of A.P. Gianini) destroys his family pitting brother against brother in a quest for power. The main sibling is played by Richard Conte, the only brother the father doesn’t denigrate. Conte plays a lawyer with a habit of ending his pronouncements “Period”. Like “I’m going to the theater with you. Period!” No arguments. It’s a funny bit. The thing I really like about this film is the honest portrayal of the characters, the father is a tyrant, he calls one son “Dumbhead”, he treats his oldest son like a slave, making him wash is back in the tub while he  sings opera. But in spite of his evil side, you can’t help but like Eddie G. , you know he’s bad but he’s sort of charismatic, charming. He’s always telling his sons that he built everything for them and they will get it all when he dies. A very accurate portrait of just such a person.

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The brilliant director Joseph Mankewiscz  limns his character with an unerring eye. Lest I forget Susan Hayward appears as a rich chick out for kicks and goes slumming with Conte. I am not a big fan of her work but I must say here she turns in a very good job. I like her in this movie. Flashback structure, Gothic old house, speakeasies, lots of shadows, Noir without a detective, family noir. Check it out.

Coming Soon, Film Noir Finds

Written by Joe D on November 21st, 2011

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I just watched Dark City, a film noir I’ve never seen, it was on Netflix streaming! An interesting film, released by Paramount, starring a very young Charlton Heston and Lizabeth Scott. Directed by yet another protege of Max Rhinehart, William Dieterle.

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He was famous for wearing white gloves while directing, he made the monumental Hunchback Of Notre Dame starring Charles Laughton,the great Devil And Daniel Webster and Portrait Of Jennie, the film that David O. Selznick drove him insane over. But nevertheless Dieterle was a Cinematic Poet 1st class. I discovered several more interesting noirs that I will list soon, including an HD version of Stanley Kubrick’s early outing Killer’s Kiss, check out the opening scene shot in the demolished/rebuilt Penn Station in Manhattan.

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Anyway more Noir gold to be revealed soon, stay tuned.

So Evil My Love

Written by Joe D on April 16th, 2010

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Lewis Allen
An excellent film in all respects but Film Noir? I don’t know, they billed it as Gothic Noir but it’s like Merchant Ivory noir. Ray Milland is excellent as a talented cad, painter/thief no goodnik.He seduces the virginal widow of a missionary, Ann Todd,  gets her to commit unspeakable acts and thanks to the writing and Miss Todd’s acting you totally believe it.Art Direction and Cinematography are top notch, all the acting in the movie is good. Look for Leo G. Carroll as a tenacious detective. Lewis Allen does an excellent job directing.He was around New York when I lived there but he was producing films in his later years. I met with his representative, a sleepy gent whose name escapes me, about a script I had written but Mr. Allen said no thanks. Allen produced the successful adaptaion of William Golding’s Lord Of The Flies directed by Peter Brook, he also produced Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451. He directed Suddenly starring Frank Sinatra as an assassin out to hit the President, Sinatra pulled the film from circulation after he heard Lee Harvey Oswald had watched it a few days before the Kennedy assassination. Now that I’ve seen So Evil My Love I’ve got to say Bravo to his work as a director.
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Next at the Noir Festival

Written by Joe D on April 7th, 2010

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Thursday April 8th two Gothic Noirs unspool at the Egyptian, Lewis Allen’s So Evil My Love and Jacques Tourneur’s Experiment Perilous. The first pairs Ann Todd and Ray (Man With X-Ray Eyes) Milland while Perilous features the beautiful Hedy Lamarr.

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Friday night John Brahm’s excellent, rare, psychological thriller The Locket is shown along with Richard Fleischer’s Bodyguard. The Locket stars Laraine Day and Bad Boy Bob Mitchum. Bodyguard features a script by Robert Altman and stars super psycho Lawrence Tierny. A tough double bill to beat! I’ll be there how about you?

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Cry Danger!

Written by Joe D on April 5th, 2010

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I went to see Cry Danger at the Film Noir fest Friday night. It’s a fun film notably for it’s incredible locations, great character actors, and snappy dialog. I had seen this film years ago on VHS rented from the now defunct Jerry’s Video. But it was transferred from a really bad dupey 16mm print and looked like crap. This version at the Cinematech was a real beaut, recently restored by the joint efforts of the Film Noir Foundation and UCLA.

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The film starts off with a guy getting off a train at Union Station, he goes to a dive bar, then a trailer park on Bunker Hill with amazing views of L.A. City Hall! The best noir location of all time! A downtown crummy trailer park! You have to see it to believe it. Great characer actor Richard Erdman was at the screening as well as leading lady Rhonda Fleming ( she looked great!)

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Richard Erdman

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Help Me Rhonda!

They regaled the audience with tales of making this film, Erdman talked about Jay Adler who portrayed the sleazy owner of the trailer park, He said he was the nastiest, evil person he ever worked with, he said Adler was such a miscreant as a youth that his family sent him away to a military school which Adler promptly burned to the ground!

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Dick Powell Shoves his 45 in Jay Adler’s face

The wife of screenwriter William Bowers was in attendance as well. Bowers was an excellent Noir writer, his dialog still brings laughs, intentional ones I might add. Eddie Muller revealed that Bowers wrote the excellent Pitfall , which contains some of the best noir dialog outside of Out Of The Past. For some reason Bowers didn’t get credit on Pitfall which is a real shame. Rhonda Fleming told a revealing story that later shed some light on the ending of the film. SPOILER ALERT! She said that during the shooting of the final scene she was stricken with appendicitis and had to leave before they finished shooting. The end of the film was odd, Dick Powell tells Fleming he loves her, she wants to run away with him. She tells him to pack his bags and they’ll go off together. He exits the trailer and tells the asshole cop outside to go in and arrest her. Now is this any way for a hero to act.? Remember the great scene at the end of The Maltese Falcon, when Bogie tells Mary Astor he loves her but he’s turning her over to the cops anyway. That was a great scene! I think Rhonda was in the hospital and they made up the scene where Dick Powell tells Regis Toomey to arrest her , so they could shoot an ending without Fleming , at least I hope so because the ending as is makes Dick Powell a scumbag of the highest order. UPDATE! I wrote to Rhonda Fleming and asked her about the end of the film, she was kind enough to write back and tell me that the end was filmed as written, oh well another theory up in smoke!

Film Noir Fest at The Egyptian

Written by Joe D on April 1st, 2010

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It’s Back! The Film Noir Festival starts this Friday April 2nd at The Egyptian Theater in Hollywood U.S.A.! First up Cry Danger starring Dick Powell and shot on location in 50’s L.A. James Ellroy eat your heart out! Here’s the trailer.

Followed by Tight Spot Phil (The Phenix City Story, 99 River Street) Karlson directs Ginger Rogers and Eddie G Robinson. What a cast! Rhonda Fleming is supposed to appear live so get tickets now!
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Siodmak’s Masterpiece “The Killers”

Written by Joe D on March 18th, 2010

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One of the things that strikes you about Siodmak’s great film Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers is the storytelling. It’s brilliant. Fracturing a narrative and reassembling it is much more interesting then just relating events in a linear flow, at least to me. The film I’m reminded of most by Siodmak’s approach is Orson Welles Citizen Kane which was released 5 years earlier in 1941. Kane had a tremendous effect on the filmmaking community, it was like a bomb of creative freedom, influencing generations of filmmakers. I’m sure it blew Siodmak’s head off and he shows it’s influence in several ways. First off both films start with the death of their main character. In The Killers this opening scene is all that’s based on Hemingway’s short story. The rest of the narrative was invented by the screenwriters. (Including an uncredited John Huston according to an interview with Siodmak). This was Hemingway’s favorite film adaption of any of his works and he would screen the film at the drop of a hat for guests down in Cuba.

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Cold Open

The opening is sensational, no credits, no fade in, just cut wham! to a POV driving down a rural road at night. What a way to start a film, Dynamic! Then we get the credit sequence as we see the two killers (William Conrad and Charles McGraw) walking up to a little diner.

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The Killers

An innocent American small town, like a Norman Rockwell painting and two cold as ice killers cruising it’s quiet streets. Talk about a study in contrast, a very Hitchcockian element, showing pure evil in the midst of picture postcard setting.

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Small Town Mayhem

Then we get another Kane simile, the story is taken over by an insurance investigator. In Kane it’s an investigative reporter that leads us from one story to another.

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Who’s That Knocking At My Door?

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It’s Death!

The cast is excellent, Burt Lancaster’s first starring role and an early outing for Ava Gardner. They both never looked better and the sexual tension smoulders between them like molten lava. But Burt falls in love and that’s his undoing. There’s a two shot of Burt and Ava with a light burning between them, Siodmak is shining the love light on our star crossed lovers.

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This Little Light Of Mine, I’m gonna Let It Shine

This reminded me of a similar shot in Christmas Holiday showing the love of Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly. Actually there is another parallel with Christmas Holiday, when Burt is in jail, his cellmate gives an astronomy lecture, they look out their cell window and what do they see but the exact same glass painted clouds parting reveling a star on high that was used at the end of Christmas Holiday! Check it out it’s the same.

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The Same Glass Painting From Christmas Holiday

It has an emotional effect on Burt, he starts thinking about his lost love Ava and asks his cellie to look her up when he gets out. Burt is put in harm’s way by a chance meeting, very similar to what happened to Robert Mitchum in 1947’s Out Of The Past. In both films our protagonists wishing to hide out and start a new life are working at out of the way gas stations when Fate steps in and has a figure from their respective murky pasts show up at the station and recognize them.

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Albert “Dr Cyclops” Dekker. He died under very Mysterious Circumstances

It’s a study in extending tension here in The Killers. Albert Dekker ( he of the bald dome and thick glasses in Dr. Cyclops) shows up at the bucolic service station and seems to relish torturing subservient attendant Burt, making him check the oil and wash the windshield all the while giving him the fisheye. Another tour de force sequence is the robbery of the hat factory, all done in one take and brilliantly so. The camera tracks and cranes in a virtuoso series of moves that conveys tension, excitement and execution wonderfully. I noticed that you can see the cameraman on the crane reflected in the window of a departing truck but you barely notice it because the film is working so well. I bring this up to make a point as Fellini said the magician must show the card up his sleeve to make the illusion more complete.

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Presto! Crane in The Window

There is a great boxing scene in the film that’s as good as any boxing sequence, it’s like a Whitman’s sampler of Cinematic treats.

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A Great Fight Sequence!

Another Kane connection occurs when Edmund O’Brien is hiding out in the rooming house Burt was killed in. O’Brien is laying in wait for one of the gang, Dum Dum, he listen’s through the door as Dum Dum rents the room and then begins tearing it apart looking for a clue to the whereabouts of the missing heist money. We only see O’Brien listenening but the scene is fraught with tension. It plays just like a radio play, unseen just heard.

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Edmund (D.O.A.) O’Brien listens to a scene played out on the other side of the door

This was a technique Welles excelled in, a natural extension of his years spent in radio. Check out the amazing scene in Touch Of Evil in the suspect’s love nest apartment when Welles and Heston argue as Joseph Calleia searches for and fids evidence off screen. Sheer Genius. The final note of the Kane symphony is the similarity of Ava Gardner’s and Albert Dekker’s palatial mansion to Kane’s Xanadu. The magnificent staircase is the hallmark of both locations.

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Xanadu II

The Killers is a masterpiece, a great work of Art diguised as a piece of genre entertainment. True Creativity expresses itself no matter what the subject or format.

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John Brahm’s The Locket to Screen at Noir Fest

Written by Joe D on March 15th, 2010

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Here’s a chance to see a rare gem, John Brahm’s great psychological noir The Locket will be projected in all it’s sparkling 35mm luscious B&W glory on Friday April 9th at 7:30 pm at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, U.S.A. Hats off to Eddie Mueller and Alan K. Rode the Mavens OF Mayhem, Nabobs of Noir, Czars of Crime and High Priests of the Heist . I saw an interview with Robert Mitchum where he talked about this film. Mitchum said he was shooting two films simultaneously, he’d fly to a location in the morning, act all day in Pursued then fly back to the studio and work on The Locket all night long. He said he didn’t get any sleep for a month.

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This is a great film similar in subject to Hitchcock’s Marnie but to me The Locket is the better of the two. Go check it out for yourself and make your own comparison.

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The Blue Dahlia Redux

Written by Joe D on March 9th, 2010

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The idiotic “Shoot the match and prove you didn’t kill my wife” Scene, although it looks like a cigarette, which is what’s written in the script but was changed to a match during filming, probably re-infuriating Raymond Chandler!

I got the published screenplay to Raymond Chandler’s The Blue Dahlia. It has an introduction by the producer John Houseman. Houseman tells the story of Chandler needing to get drunk to finish the film after a secret meeting with the head of production who offered R.C. a $5000 bonus to get the script done. Houseman claims that Chandler was blocked, that George Marshall had shot almost all the pages written, 93 or so, and that the attempted bribe by the studio head had so insulted and enraged Chandler that he wanted to quit. But rather than let a fellow veteran of the English public school system down, Chandler heroically opted to sacrafice his health by consuming vast quantities of alcohol which he assured Houseman would enable him to finish. Now there are a few points worth mentioning, the script was almost complete, Chandler had begun work on The Blue Dahlia as a novel, and we know from his correspondence that he had an ending in mind all along, that Buzz (William Bendix) the steel plate in the head veteran was the killer. The Navy objected to this most strenuously and Paramount agreed to change the ending. Houseman does not mention this fact in his introduction. So this is what I think happened, Chandler finished the script as he planned, with Buzz as the killer, the Navy objected, Chandler was called in to a meeting with the studio head, Mr. Head told Raymond to change his ending and offered him $5000 to make it go down easier. Chandler flipped out, he hated the movie business and couldn’t stand anyone telling him what to write. Chandler went to Houseman and threatened to quit. Then R.C. went home and thought it over, “I’ll write their crap ending but on my terms. ” He made his list of demands, he got to work at home, drunk, with round-the clock secretaries he could chase around, and limos waiting at his beck and call and a doctor on call to take care of him. He had to anesthetize himself to write that idiotic scene where Buzz shoots a match in Johnny’s hand to show he wasn’t the killer and then the captain tricks Dad the house detective into giving himself away. Oh Brother! I think Chandler hated that character,( the house dick) he has all the abuse in the movie heaped on him. Houseman acts as if this was the great ending Chandler came up with at the last minute, that Chandler didn’t have an ending in mind at all which we now know is untrue. So that’s my take on why old R.C. needed to get loaded to finish the script. Another point was revealed in Houseman’s intro. During a fight scene a heavy oak table fell on Don Costello’s toe and broke it. Director George Marshall staged the rest of the scene so Costello didn’t have to walk around, he fights Alan Ladd but on the floor. It was brilliant! A great example of taking an accident that could have shut down production and making something better out of it. Marshall really rose to the challenge and elevated the scene creatively. Bravo! More Myth and Magic in the Land Of Make Believe!

Siodmak’s Christmas Holiday

Written by Joe D on March 4th, 2010

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Subversive Cinema at it’s best! Robert Siodmak’s Christmas Holiday delivers a potent punch right in the breadbasket of Normal American Life. Wow, I wish I could go back in time to see this movie with an audience in 1943. It’s a zinger, why do I say subversive cinema you might ask? Well this movie puts all that’s sacred on it’s ear in brilliant ways. A soldier, a man in uniform is dumped by his fiancee, sent a Dear John telegram on Christmas Eve, he wants to go kill her and her new husband! This sets the ball rolling but the movie is really Deanna Durbin’s story. She was Universal’s big child star, singing her way into our hearts as an adolescent, about as squeaky clean and wholesome as they come and here she plays a prostitute! Her incestuous gambling murderer of a husband (played by Gene Kelly!) offed a homosexual bookie and was sent to prison for life.

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This Film is Set in New Orleans, and features a scene at the Morning Call Stand, home of the World’s Best Beignets!

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And guess what? You can still go there today!

The movie was based on a book by Somerset Maughm and the script was written by Herman Mankiewicz! Talk about a literary pedigree. Midnight Mass in a Catholic cathedral is beautifully shot but it’s just a background for our prostitute’s breakdown. The sequence in the church is rendered more powerful by an expressive sound track. The real sounds of the Mass, recorded in a church make this scene come alive, someone coughing in a silent part of the ritual. echoing in that vast stone room, the little bells the altar boys ring during the sacraments, the brilliant cutting to an anguished Close Up of Durbin as the priest intones in Latin “Mea Culpa, mea culpa, mia maxima culpa” A powerful sequence.

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Gene Kelly as Robert Manette, withered branch of a once noble family tree

Music is subverted, the popular song Always, used in Pride Of The Yankees, a song about Love that lasts is used several times each time commenting on the story in a masterful way. A Sequence at a classical music concert that cuts with a muscular rhythm to a Beethoven symphony, a lot like Quentin Tarantino’s style of editing images to music. Then an amazing transition from the classical concert to a New Orleans jazz band playing at a cafe. A great cut! Wagner’s love theme from Tristan and Isolde is used beautifully. Especially at the end of the film when Durbin goes to the window and looks out, she sees some glass painted clouds parting in the night sky revealing a shining star on high, she stares at it transfixed and it reminds me powerfully of the scene in Un Chien Andalou where Luis Bunuel looks at the cloud passing in front of the moon from a balcony also acompanied by Wagner’s music.

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Siodmak showing the influence of Max Rhinehart

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Surrealist Star Gazer Bunuel

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Bunuel’s artificial Celestial Bodies

But here’s the thing about this ending, several things in fact which raise it to one of the highest echelons of Cinematic Endings, first Bunuel understood better than anyone this dramatic technique of an ending, that you can do anything , any surreal, crazy thing and get away with it because it’s the end, the film or play is over, you don’t have to explain what just happened. Check out Bunuel’s ending for his Diary Of A Chambermaid and you’ll see what I mean. I guess it comes from the Greek Deus Ex Machina, where the Gods could come down and do whatever they felt like to end a play, no need to explain it, the Gods did it. Siodmak understood this as well so here he is referencing a film (Un Chien Andalou) that was a call to revolution, a “gun fired randomly into a crowd”, a film that caused riots on it’s premier in Paris, at the end of a Deanna Durbin film! Incredible! Secondly, the end is fraught with psychological truth, Kelly lays dying, shot down by a handy policeman, he was just about to kill Durbin, yet she still loves him. The guy ruined her life, he murdered someone but because she loves him she stands by him, his mother blames Durbin for her son’s guilt, for killing him! And Durbin accepts the blame, she feels guilty she couldn’t change him and proceeds to punish herself by becoming a prostitute. This stuff happens every day! People are always taking on guilt for something and messing up the rest of their lives in reaction to it. Durbin still loves Kelly as he lays there dying and he says to her ” Let go Abigail” before dying. Then the soldier repeats it “He said let go”. In other words Kelly is dead, move on with your life. I knew a girl many years ago whose boyfriend committed suicide. She was always talking about him, I guess she was still in love with him. Then she met a guy and started going out with him. One day he couldn’t take it anymore and told her to get rid of her dead boyfriend’s stuff! I thought it was brutal at the time but maybe she needed that help to move on with her life. That’s the parting gift Kelly gives to Durban and the soldier hammers home. He’s dead, you have to keep on living. The other people seem to disappear from the room, she goes to the window almost in a trance, she parts the curtains just as beautiful artificial clouds part before an artificial sky, revealing an artificial Star twinkling on high, all accompanied by some of the most beautiful music a human being ever composed.

But here thanks to Youtube you can see this masterpiece for yourself.

Robert Siodmak’s Cry Of The City

Written by Joe D on March 1st, 2010

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Here thanks to Youtube is a classic hard to see film noir, Robert Siodmak’s Cry Of The City starring Victor Mature and Richard Conte. Look for future Film Fornos about great under appreciated director Siodmak, he’s our Director Of The Month at Film Forno!