Robert Siodmak-Maestro of the Atmosphere

Written by Joe D on August 14th, 2007


Today I’m writing about a great , but not that well known director, Robert Siodmak. I am posting a scan of a sort of self interview he did for Sight and Sound magazine from 1959. Siodmak to me is above all else, a master of cinematic atmosphere. His films always convey that elusive feeling of place, not just a physical place but a psychological place. Something that makes your skin crawl , or causes you to feel a little sweaty , suddenly the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and it isn’t from the action taking place on the screen , it’s something that oozes out of the background and gets under your skin. Check it out for yourself.


Watch the magnificent Criss Cross starring Siodmak stalwart Burt Lancaster and Lily Munster Yvonne De Carlo and super slimy Dan Duryea. A great movie!

Would you believe Lily Munster! A young Yvonne DeCarlo

Dan “scumbag” Duryea & B. Lancaster

The excellent armoured car robbery from Criss Cross, a study in efficiency and creepiness.Also one of our favorite noir locations, Angel’s Flight is prominently featured.

I tried to find this location from Criss Cross, then I realized it was Bunker Hill. It had been destroyed.

Over at Giallo Fever , Keith did an excellent piece on The Spiral Staircase, Siodmak’s personal favorite. Here’s the link:

I also like The File on Thelma Jordon , The Crimson Pirate with Burt and his acrobat pal from their days in the circus Nick Cravat, Burt is very impressive climbing the rigging and swinging around on ropes, also there’s a scientist who creates many super cool inventions way ahead of their time, like in The Wild Wild West .


The Crimson Pirate and his mute sidekick Ojo

Then there’s The Killers considered by many to be the first film noir and introducing Burt Lancaster!

Let the Maestro speak for himself, click the link below.


Pierrot Le Fou

Written by Joe D on August 12th, 2007

They struck a brand spanking new 35mm print of Jean Luc Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou and are screening it in a limited release. I went to check it out Friday night. What a wild and wacky flick! I’ve got to say right here and now it’s not for everybody. It is so far out that a few people left during the screening and I overheard an 80 year old woman sitting in front of me say “Well , that wasn’t what I expected.” OK, let’s begin… Anna Karina is amazing, beautiful, talented, she even sings! She is one of the most original forces ever captured on celluloid.

That Rare and Radiant Maiden Whom the Angels call Karina

Jean Paul Belmondo is cool, laconic, iconic, handsome , and physically superb. He can move like a cat, I’ve seen him do his own stunts in movies and he’s incredible. These two are the stars of this crazy film (fou means mad or crazy).

My Name Is Ferdinand

Godard deconstructs conventional filmmaking in his pursuit of pure “Cinema”. There are moments where you know nothing is real yet a fragment of music kicks in, the beautiful light, the faces of the actors, move you emotionally. The story is crazy , unbeliveable , a midget found with a scissors stuck in the back of his neck, people quoting from commercials , it’s as if Godard is doing everything in his power to make this movie unreal , uninvolving and then Presto! like a magician he pulls a rabbit out of his hat and a beautiful haunting moment, melancholy as a lost love. It’s as if Godard is an alien from another planet. He lands here and decides to make films , his concerns are not like anyone else’s. He wants to make films that are sucessful, please the masses , sell tickets , but he must be true to his vision. From what I understand Godard felt everything in Cinema that possibly could be said had already been done. This film renewed his hope, his creative spark. He felt he was on to something new.

Tinted glasses, cigarette, Celluloid
The things that are important to him are things that occur in other peoples films by accident. The unknowable , the unseen , the indescribable. The reality of a movie camera recording a certain human being at a certain point in Time, History, Culture. It’s almost as if he communicates in the darkness between the frames of film when the shutter is closed. I personally find some of his other films more entertaining, like A Bande Apart, or A Woman Is A Woman. They have equal measures of artistic integrity and entertainment, at least for me. Pierrot Le Fou has a sort of melancholy about it, even in it’s funniest moments, it’s all about doomed love. A stranger tells a funny story to Belmondo on a pier, it’s about his love affairs and how they didn’t work out. I understand Godard and Karina were in the process of splitting up while this film was being made , you can sense it. As I watched it I became aware of another phenomena, Pierrot Le Fou is about everything. It will mean something different to everyone that watches it.

P.S. It also features a cameo by Sam Fuller in which he gives his famous definition of Cinema: “Film is like a battleground. Love, hate, action, violence, death. In one word…emotion.”

Kiss Me Deadly

Written by Joe D on August 11th, 2007


Stop , I’m naked under this trench coat!

Whenever I’m at my local video store and I see someone perplexed at what to rent , I ask if they like film noir. If they say yes I recommend Kiss Me Deadly. This is a film I saw many times as a kid , usually on Channel 5 late at night. I couldn’t believe how cool it was , from the opening crazy nighttime drive down the California coast , a sexy Cloris Leachman , naked under a trench coat , Ultra cool , amoral blockhead Ralph Meeker driving a sleek Jaguar roadster. Credits in reverse on the dark road. (The blacks are really black in this film, they seem blacker than normal) Torture , violence , a sadistic hero who uses his girl Friday/ girlfriend as man bait for married cheaters. Maxine Cooper is Velma.

Mike Hammer and his Voluptuous Velma

Then there’s Nick, his beboppin’ Greek mechanic. He keeps Mike’s cars zooming and he’s always yelling “Va va Voom” and ” Pow”! He’s like a walking , talking Batman comic. His Va Va Voom was sampled by Ry Cooder for his Chavez Ravine album, check out the opening of “Muy Fifi”..



Don’t forget Albert Dekker. He was Dr. Cyclops and was found dead, tied up, shot up, hanging and overdosed and it was ruled a suicide!

Albert Dekker plays Dr. Cyclops , only not in this film

Lazy Eye poster boy Jack Elam is here, he’s one of the gunslingers laying for Charles Bronson at the begining of Once Upon A Time In The West.

He started in the movies as an accountant

Strother Martin , the Southern Gothic slimy wierdo who had a failure to communicate with Paul Newman shows up here.


Strother, Baby

Great Los Angeles 1950’s locations ( I think this movie was one of the reasons I wanted to move here ), It even features Angel’s Flight , the super cool little funicular railway that went up Bunker Hill! This groovy trolley is in several excellent noirs , like Criss Cross for example.

A sure sign of a cool LA noir

This movie was shot by B-movie maven Robert Aldritch in 3 weeks! Due in no small part to the excellent screenplay by the legendary A.I. Bezzerides ( there’s a documentary about A. I. out , check it out).


Buzz Bezzerides at 90
The movie’s MacGuffin is a mysterious box that emits a blinding light and Banshee scream when opened, a direct antecedent to the briefcase in Pulp Fiction.

Aldrich directs Gaby Rodgers

Kiss Me Deadly, the chicks are hot, the gansters grotesque, the hero’s handsome, the cars Cool, and the locations are outstanding. So please, if you haven’t seen it, rent or buy or borrow a copy and check it out. Then stroll down to your nearest dive bar, drop a quater in the jukebox , play a Sinatra tune , order a whiskey and think about Velma.


Atom Age Pandora

Is this the end of Mike Hammer?

Get Carter, Michael Caine, Mike Hodges

Written by Joe D on August 8th, 2007

Great, grungy locations, nihilistic, vicious characters, ultra-violence, groovy 60’s ambience, stellar Michael Caine performance, all add up to make Get Carter probably The seminal English gangster flick of all time. There are just so many great things in this movie I don’t know where to begin. But I’ll try. OK let’s start with Michael Caine, never before or since has he been this ruthless, hot-headed, just plain tough. He’s on a quest, who killed his brother and why. So this hard core criminal has a moral imperative, maybe for the first time in his life, his head busting talents are fueled by something other than a paycheck. This is brilliantly expressed by Caine, if you watch the trailer you’ll see a scene where Caine/Carter is interrogating a guy and the guy falls to his knees, then just as Caine/Carter stabs him , cut. In the film Caine stabs the guy over and over as he speaks, punctuating each word with a stab! Like “Don’t” stab “You” stab “Lie” stab “To” stab “Me” stab etc. Brutal, but in the context of the film, perfect!
This could very well be Caine’s greatest role and a lot of credit must go to the director Mike Hodges.

Mike Hodges, A Man With A Movie Camera

I had lunch with Mike a few years back. We were discussing restoring Mike’s film “A Prayer For The Dying“. It seems the film had been recut by the producer without Mike’s input. Mike had delivered a finished film, scored, mixed, done and then back in the U.S.A. they tore it apart. This had not sat well with Mike and he burned with desire to put the film back in it’s original form. I wanted to help. We spent a whole day going from one cavernous film vault to another searching for elements, unfortunately we couldn’t find what we needed. The final chapter has not been written on this project though, there is still some hope that it may one day be resurrected. Mike is a great guy and a super talent, he discovered Clive Owen and cast him in his wonderful “Croupier“. But I think it safe to say “Get Carter” is his masterpiece.

Touchez Pas Au Grisbi

Written by Joe D on August 6th, 2007

Here is the trailer for Jacque Becker’s classic noir Touchez Pas Au Grisbi (Don’t Touch The Grisbi). Grisbi is french gangster slang for treasure and this movie is just that. Incredible locations, atmosphere, and cinematography, great performences, excellent direction all add up to a top notch french Film Noir.

Jean Gabin was past his prime, washed up, a has-been. Nobody gave him a second thought anymore, word on the street: He’s through! Becker brought him back big time! After this film he was back on top and coasted through his golden years a renascent star. Lino Ventura was a pro wrestler, he had been injured so he was managing wrestlers. Someone suggested him to Becker for the part of a gangster. Becker approacher Ventura, he hadn’t ever acted, he said “No Dice!”, Becker persisted and thus one of the greatest Cinema actors of all time was born! If you don’t believe me check out Melvilles L’ Armée des ombres (Army of Shadows).


Jesse’s Uncle

Not only that but I believe this was Jeanne Moreau’s first screen appearence. You can’t beat this pedigree with a stick!

Moreau in The Middle

You can’t lose, put both of these films in your Netflix cue. You’ll be picking your feet in Poughkipse with delight. The only caveat, Gabin is a pretty old guy, he’s cool but he’s gotta be 65 or so and all of these stunning young babes are throwing themselves at him. I mean if that’s how it really was in Paris circa 1954 then get me a time machine! Also my pal Guillaume has a cat named Grisbi, I asked him what does that mean? He told me about this film, one of his all time favorites. I had it on my Netflix cue for years and about 6 months ago they got it! So sit back, uncork a nice Chateau-Neuf-de- Pape (French gangster’s favorite Red), smear some pate on toast, hole up in your hideout, and have a picnic with Gabin, Moreau, Ventura et al.

Bullitt, Peter Yates, Pablo Ferro, Steve McQueen, Bill Hickman, Bud Ekins, Bruce Lee

Written by Joe D on August 5th, 2007

Here’s the title sequence from Bullitt. It was done by, guess who, the amazing Pablo Ferro. Steve McQueen saw a Peter Yates film called The Great Train Robbery and hired Peter for this movie. McQueen knew Pablo’s work and hired him for the credits. It’s a super cool credit sequence. Check it out.

Peter Yates told me that when they shot the finale to the great car chase, where the bad guys crash into a gas station and get blown to Kingdom Come, they had 5 cameras shooting it. At the last minute they decided to put one more camera in a cement filled industrial drum in the station, in harm’s way. Well as usual with a big pyrotechnic rig something went wrong. A stunt driver was towing the bad guys car with a cable and was to release it just before the gas station. The car was supposed to hit the gas pumps and a pyro guy was to hit the button blowing everything sky high. The car was released a little prematurely, the pyro guy hit the button, everything went KA-BOOM, but you could clearly see the gas station exploding before the car hit the pumps, they cursed their luck, thinking of what a drag it would be to rebuild the station. The next day at dailies, lo and behold, the footage from the camera added at the last minute, the one in the cement filled drum looked great, you couldn’t tell everything blew up too soon and that is the shot used in the final movie!

Good Luck Trying to Remake This Chase

The great stunt driver Bill Hickman drove the Mopar chase car, he was a driver for James Dean’s race team and was driving the station wagon follow car when Dean was killed. Hickman also did the car chase in The French Connection, another classic. Bud Ekins did the motorcycle stunt in Bullitt, sliding on the highway, he also did the motorcycle jump in The Great Escape and drove the truck on the rope suspension bridge in Friedkin’s Sorcerer. Bud was a good friend of Steve McQueen’s.

McQueen at the wheel of his killer Mustang

Recently McQueen’s first wife re-released a book she wrote about him. In it she says (and I agree) “Steve was like a wild animal” his screen presence always reminded me of footage of an animal in the jungle. The actor who I think was most like a wild animal though, would have to be the great Bruce Lee. He’s like a Cheetah or a leopard when he strikes and I think this phenomenon has a lot to do with both actors undying popularity.


Lee driving a Shelby Cobra

Assault With A Deadly Weapon

Written by Joe D on August 4th, 2007

Hey Amerikanski! Here’s the cover of the VHS version of Roma A Mano Armata. There is a wide screen version of it out there somewhere on DVD, but if you can’t find that check this out. A lot of these films were re-packaged for American release and played at your local grindhouse. In my case forty-deuce (Times Square before it was Disneyized), this version is cut down a bit and not widescreen but it’s still worth watching if that’s all you can find.

Roma A Mano Armata, Tomas Milian, Maurizio Merli, Umberto Lenzi

Written by Joe D on August 3rd, 2007

I love this movie! Almost non-stop action, not one but two excellent bank robberies, frenetic car chases, beatings, rapes, shootings, you name it’s got it! But seriously it’s the characters that are the best thing about this movie. Maurizio Merli is one hot head, ass kicking , tough cop! He will slap a punk silly in the blink of an eye, he has the most hair trigger temper you’ve ever seen.

Go ahead punk, make my day

He’s the perfect foil for Tomas Milian. Milian plays an evil, amoral hunchback. He’s a cold blooded killer,but he’s kind of charming in his own repellant way. This is an amazing physical performence! The shambling gait, his obsequious posture when dealing with Merli. He’s like the villan from Dirty Harry and Joe Pesci from GoodFellas rolled into one person. We meet him at his job in a slaughter house! What an intro.

The Butcher Of Rome

He gets arrested and is beaten by Merli during an interrogation, so he slashes his own wrist in the bathroom to get put in a hospital.

After pissing all over the police station bathroom…

His gang kidnap Merli’s girl, take her to a junkyard and threaten to crush her in an old Fiat.

They’re just trying to scare her

Merli retaliates by busting into Milian’s house while he’s having dinner, then forcing him to eat a bullet in front of his horrified sister. This seems to inspire Milian to escalating acts of savagery. He hijacks an ambulance during a chase and when the driver tells him there are passengers in the back Milian slides open the window, shoves his machine gun through and opens fire, killing a guy and his sick wife!


When the ambulance crashes in a crowded market, Milian hops out and begins spraying the crowd with his gun, creating a diversion so he can get away. Man!

Dig that Crazy Scarf
A movie about a cop and a criminal messing with each other, trying to kill or catch the other is only as good as these two characters and here we have one of the greatest duels in history. Lenzi mixes it up by having the good guy (Merli) be so unremittingly violent and having the bad guy (Milian) have a physical handicap, we subconciously root for this poor guy, he’s very capable in spite of his deformity. He dosen’t take shit from anyone, even a killer cop, and he’s successful. He’s a skillful butcher, he drives a cool car, he wears snappy clothes, he has a nice sister.

Coolest Car in Cinema- Le Citroen
A family that cares for him. Merli has no one, no family and his girl friend leaves town to think things out. Merli does have one pal, a fellow detective but of course he sacrafices his life saving Merli’s. The last criminal hunchback I can recall was James Whitmore in Jhon Huston’s immortal classic The Asphalt Jungle.

Lenzi calls in a cameo

The score by Franco Micalizzi is spot on! Super 70’s synth funk Italian Style. I was working on Kill Bill and Quentin says ” Hey Joe, you want to go see some Italian crime films at the Cinematech tonight?” I say yeah, of course! And we saw this gem and The Cynic, The Rat, and The Fist. Cut to last year I’m working on Death Proof, QT puts a cool piece of music under the big car chase when the girls are out to get Kurt Russel. It’s the music from Roma A Mano Armata. QT says, “I’ve been wanting to use that music ever since we went to that screening!” So if you’re in the mood for a crazy ride check out Roma A Mano Armata. Tomas Milian will blow you away!

Bergman, Antonioni Today

Written by Joe D on August 1st, 2007

The deaths of these two maestros got me thinking. Do young people today watch their films or even know who they are? A friend of a friend teaches a film course at a prestigous art college, according to him students are not that interested in classic Cinema from the 50’s and 60’s. They barely know Fellini let alone Antonioni. Although he reports that there seems to be a lot of interest in Kubrick among film students. Also a lot of young people find these art films boring, not just Antonioni but Truffaut and Godard as well! And I’m not talking about dumb people, these are college educated young professionals. To make matters worse there’s an article in the NY Times today lamenting the lack of Antonioni titles on DVD. So even if people want to see his films, they can’t. When I was a young cinephile these two were Titans on the horizon of Film. Are people less interested in intellectually challenging films? Is this a symptom of the dumbing down of world culture? Only Time will Tell.

The powerful presence of Steve Cochran graces an early Antonioni effort “Il Grido”