Sunday 29 November 2020

Lucky Grandma


Crime stories can feel like a dime a dozen so when a new inventive story comes along, it’s easy to sit up and notice, especially if the protagonist is a chain-smoking no-nonsense Grandma from Chinatown who gets mixed up with gangsters, the mob, and her grandson’s TikTok videos. 


Full review is over at Filmhounds HERE.

Tuesday 24 November 2020

Noirvember: The Bigamist


Film noir usually follows similar plot points and usually involves crime, murder, theft, kidnapping, police corruption and sometimes but not always, a femme fatale. But The Bigamist doesn’t quite follow these rules, except for the crime part to an extent. It is indeed illegal to be married to more than one person at a time (not including polygamists) which is the crime our protagonist, Harry Graham, is guilty of. But his double life and double marriages are not committed out of spite or resentment. He loves his wife but he also wanted to do the right thing when he got another woman pregnant, so married her too. This is one of the tamest films in the genre.


It could be easy to say that Ida Lupino’s Phyllis is the femme fatale of the piece but she never leads Harry on, never takes advantage or convinces him to do anything. She is understanding and diplomatic. Even Harry’s wife Eve isn’t the revenge taking person and its hinted that maybe she forgives him for his actions. There is little danger but immense devastation as three lives are ruined, four if you include the child. The fact that Eve cannot have children and Harry gets Phyllis pregnant after a one-night stand, just makes the entire situation heart-breaking. Cruel fates steps in at just the wrong time, which could be seen as an element of any film noir.


Ida Lupino both stared in and directed this film noir classic, which has been cited as of the first American feature films where an actress has directed herself. She also rounds up the cast with the likes of Joan Fontaine, her near opposite in the story and Edmond O’Brian as the man who just wanted to do the right thing. Each charismatic in their own way but here, they are subdued into a strange trance where all the characters in the story are actually decent people. There is barely a flash of violence or revenge or even anger. The placid feeling throughout does make the film uneasy to watch as nothing major really takes place, just the discovery of Harry’s double life. But the story is still compelling, thanks to great performance and the suspicion that things aren’t that easy.

For more #noirvember, follow @little_sister_filmnoir

Monday 23 November 2020

Noirvember: Four Film Noir Classics

It seems that Film Noir is a genre that is both of its time and one that has created modern sub genres, film noir never dies. Secrets fuel stories where women are centre stage and gangsters dominate the sidewalks where men are in the spot light. Back in 2018, Arrow Academy released a box of four films, classic film noir that I had yet to discover. The film included are; The Dark Mirror, Secret Beyond the Door, Force of Evil and The Big Combo.

For all reviews of each of the films, they are over at Vulturehound HERE.

For more #noirvember, follow @little_sister_filmnoir


This was originally published on Vulturehound in 2018

Sunday 22 November 2020

Noirvember: Gaslight

The expression ‘being gaslighted’ actually comes from this story about a cruel husband who is purposefully making his wife slowly go mad in order to keep his suspicious past buried.


Set in Victorian London, the story begins with a vicious murder of an elderly woman. The murderer then proceeds to frantically search for something, pulling out drawers, ripping up furniture, making a mess. After the discovery of the body, the house is cleared and left vacant for years.


One day, a married couple. Paul and Bella Mallen, move into the house but the top two floors are boarded up apparently due to the lady of the house and her nerves. One day after Church, a former detective recognises Paul Mallen. He had worked on the murder case years before and starts to suspect foul play. He befriends Bella while walking through the park one day which angers Paul. He has been taking and hiding objects around the house, blaming Bella, accusing her of being mad. He has also cut her off from her family, keeping her letter and has even started lusting after the maid, who is only too happy to play along. Paul disappears every evening, under the pretence that he goes for a walk but in fact he has been entering the house next door which is connected to the upstairs of his house. Bella hears footsteps and the gaslight dims down, but by now she believes she is losing her mind. The former detective has conducted own enquiries and is convinced that Paul Mallen is in fact Louis Bauer who was suspected of killing his aunt for the family rubies. Together with Bella and her cousin who has come looking for her, they set a trap for Paul and get the evidence they need to convict him.


The story is far more dramatic but it is played out in a very British way which I love to see. Directed by Thorold Dickinson, who was Britain’s first university professor of film as well as a director, this restored gem was beautifully filmed. Although on an obvious set, the eeriness of the house, the looming dread and the flickering of the gaslight feels like it was mean to be watched late at night.


Bella Mallen is played by Diana Wynyard who is actually quite irritating most of the time, drifting in and out of an unsettling staring competition with the wall opposite her. But in doing so she manages to convey the slowly disturbed wife. Anton Walbrook as Paul Mallen/Louis Bauer takes great delight as the sadistic husband, obsessed with finding his treasure and mentally torturing his wife.


Gaslight has an ‘inbetween’ feeling, being set in the Victorian age and released on the cusp of the 40s. A delicate balance of great storytelling and some sensitive subjects, that cannot be fully explored or shown. A film like this is of its time, it couldn't be remade today, it wouldn't transcend and I wouldn't want it to.



For more #noirvember, follow @little_sister_filmnoir


This was first posted as part of the Blind Spot Series 2016.

Tuesday 17 November 2020

Noirvember: The Long Dark Hall


There is something very different about British film noir, where it usually ends up in a court case drama or takes a darker sinister turn, either can be thrilling and all with the wonderfully stiff upper lip that comes with these crime dramas. With The Long Dark Hall, peculiar name but no less full of suspense when Arthur Groome played by Rex Harrison is accused of murdering his mistress. The twist in the tale comes when his wife, played by Lilli Palmer, stands by his side throughout the grizzly detailed court case. 


Beginning with a very brutal murder in a dark street, the murderer is revealed immediately along with his next intended target. Following the horror film rule where the sexually promiscuous female character dies first, so does Rose, the showgirl having an affair with a married man. Like other horror films, the killer isn’t known to her or his other victim. He is a complete stranger, which is rather disappointing, the lack of connection. But the court room scenes where Groome’s innocence is challenged plays out as if he could indeed have committed the crime. There is a need for more explanation at the end, but as soon as the real killer is found out, which we don’t see on screen, its only revealed through dialogue, is the very quick ending that feels rushed. There was more to be discovered there.  

For more #noirvember, follow @little_sister_filmnoir


Sunday 15 November 2020

The Limitless Control of the Robot


Science fiction has never shied away from the possibilities that technology brings as well as the downfalls it could cause. Exploring the means and mechanisms of this genre, a cornerstone ideal that that provides endless ideas, stories and theories is the evolution of the robot. 

Cinema Year Zero explores Fritz Lang's films through 8 different essays. To read these and the full version of mine, as well as a recording, check it out HERE

Saturday 14 November 2020

Noirvember: Mildred Pierce


Based on the novel by James M. Cain, the story about a woman who separates from her husband and has to provide for her two daughters in 1930s. She gets work as a waitress and soon decides to open her own restaurant. She becomes a success and remarries again but she is forever plagued by her demanding elder daughter, Veda, who looks down on her mother throughout her life, no matter what she does. It seems an unusual plot from Cain as he is known for his crime stories but director Michael Curtiz creates a very different beast entirely.

Changing the ending and parts of the story, Curtiz creates a film noir of sorts with Joan Crawford in the title role. The stereotypical roles of the genre are askew and don’t follow the normal pattern, instead it is the camera angles and the superb lighting, especially in the more dramatic moments that make this one the better films of its genre. The film is seen as flashback from Mildred’s point of view as she explains what has happened in the last 4 years to a police detective after she finds out her second husband has been murdered. Cutting back and forward from the past to the present, it unravels as to who the murderer could be.

Crawford is brilliant as the tortured and troubled Mildred, having come from nothing, working her way up in the world, becoming a successful businesswomen when not many thought she could, should be an achievement but Mildred is torn down by her demanding arrogant daughter Veda. Unlike the original novel, Veda eventually gets her comeuppance. Mildred’s strange devotion to her spiteful daughter is elevated when her youngest Kay, dies suddenly and she puts everything into pleasing Veda which is ultimately her downfall.

Veda is actually part of the cause of Mildred’s divorce and downfall. She says at one point that she believes that Veda looks down on her which is why she seeks her approval. Veda’s hate for her mother and where she is from is unexplained, except for when she blames her mother for spoiling her, she bites the hand that feeds her and thinks she is entitled to a better life for no reason. Veda’s character isn’t given depth beyond her childish demands and selfish plans, leaving much of the dramatic to her mother. Mildred changes throughout the film, her character and confidence but she is plagued by her past and told she is worth nothing, Veda is her reminder of this which is why, when the ties are finally cut, she is distressed and relieved at the same time. She is finally free of her demon and can start again, but this time for herself.

A fantastic film, that may be dark and violent, which isn’t just the murder at the start, at least there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

For more #noirvember, follow @little_sister_filmnoir


This was originally published on Vulturehound in 2017

Wednesday 11 November 2020

Noirvember: Double Indemnity


Insurance Salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), by chance goes to see one of clients about motor insurance but instead meets his intriguing and beautiful wife Phyllis. She plays the bored but concerned housewife trying to trick Walter into letting her sign accident insurance for her husband. Walter sees right through her plan and guesses murder. But already under her spell, infatuated the two begin an affair. Walter eventually comes round to the idea of murder and the two plan the would be perfect plot. When Phyllis' husband 'accidentally' falls from a slow-moving train and breaks his neck, at first no one is none the wiser until Walter's colleague, an investigator of claims, smells foul play. Soon the deadly couple's plan and feelings unravel. 


Although the film has very stereotypical elements of Film Noir, there are things that are slightly skewed. The lead male is not a detective or a useless drifter, he's an insurance salesman. The 'detective' role is Keyes, Walter's colleague who can sniff out any false insurance claim by listening to what he calls 'the little man' inside him. But although he knows something is wrong the $100,000 claim after thinking it over, he doesn't suspect for one moment his friend and colleague is involved. Unlike other Film Noir genre films, the story had a central friendship, Keyes and Neff. Unlike the be all and end all relationship of a man and a woman having an affair. The two friends, have some great exchanges and also alters the dynamics of the film. The little things make all the difference, such as the ongoing exchange where Neff always lights Keyes' cigars for him. These are welcomed. Especially as insurance is not the most exciting of settings.


It's not surprise that the film has some similarities to The Postman Always Rings Twice as the original novella was written by James M. Cain. As the film was made at the time of the damned Hayes Code, the original ending, double suicide, was cut. The ending that Billy Wilder planned involved Neff going to the gas chamber with Keyes watching but instead the film ended with the two men on the ground, Neff dying and Keyes lighting his cigarette for him, a gesture of friendship.


Of course, the story is really all about the femme fatale in this story, Barbara Stanwyck, she plays ice cold Phyllis who plays three women technically. The unwanted housewife, the lover and the sinister killer. She has the ability to be emotional and pretend to show love but in one quick stare, morph into a cold-hearted killer.


One of the most haunting images is in the opening credits. A lone man, on crutches, coupled with eery ominous music of impending violence sets the tone of the film, foreshadowing events to come. Double Indemnity is always listed as one of the greatest of its genre and it does indeed hold up against its contemporaries but there is something slightly lacking that even Stanwyck’s style just can’t quite measure up.


For more #noirvember, follow @little_sister_filmnoir


This was first posted as part of the Blind Spot Series 2015.


Monday 9 November 2020

Noirvember: The Killing


“You like money. You've got a great big dollar sign there where most women have a heart.” – Johnny Clay, The Killing, 1956


Before The Shining, before A Clockwork Orange, before Lolita, (named) one of the most influential directors, Stanley Kubrick adapted another story for the big screen. Film noir The Killing, based on Lionel White’s novel Clean Break wasn’t the first feature film Kubrick made but it is the one that caught people’s attention. A heist movie with a group who don’t know all the details, only what they need to know was a heavy influence on Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. The opening sequence of The Dark Knight also paid homage to The Killing with The Joker wearing a very similar mask to the one Johnny Clay wears during the heist.


Newly released from prison, Johnny Clay plans to do one last big heist and start a new life. He decides to rob the racetrack on the day of a featured race and ensembles a group of men who need the money for various reasons. Amongst the group is a corrupt cop and a couple of employees from the racetrack itself. Clay also enlists the help of a wrestler and rifleman to provide distractions on the day. The only one of the group to know everyone and the whole plan is Clay to avoid accountability. Everything seems to be in place but betting teller George’s spoilt viper tongued wife Sherry finds out about the heist and the money at stake and sets about making her plans.


Like all of Kubrick’s films, The Killing is unlike his others, apart from Killer’s Kiss, which is also a film noir. The film’s unique storytelling is shown out of sequence revealing what each of the gang members are doing and where they will be next. The overbearing voiceover was not originally part of the film and was only added when the studios insisted claiming an audience wouldn’t understand what was happening. It’s a shame that Kubrick’s narration free version won’t ever be shown. This feels as if the filmmakers underestimated their audience. The characters that make up the group each have their own strength and role to play in the grand scheme of the heist. Looking for the familiar film noir genres traits, they are all there, including Marie Windsor’s femme fatale who betrays her husband. But there are no happy endings to be found, nothing is that simple. The film ends on murders, a mishap and an over stuffed suitcase with an incident at the airport being quite unexpected.


Although the film performed poorly at the box office upon its initial release, the film lived on to critical acclaim, being named of the greats of its genre.  The Killing doesn’t ‘feel’ like a Kubrick film but something the director made because of his curiosity, which we can appreciate now and in the future. 


For more #noirvember, follow @little_sister_filmnoir


This was first posted for Check the Gate at the Prince Charles Cinema

Friday 6 November 2020

The Ladykillers - 65th Anniversary

Its been 65 years since we were delighted by the dark comedy escapades of the Professor, Mr Harvey, the Major, One-Round, Mr Robinson and of course, Mrs Lopsided. One of Ealing Studios greatest comedies and one of the best British films of all time. With such a devious violent streak, the film plays out like Film Noir and ends up being a classic farce with a murderous side. The Ladykillers is finally getting its time in the 'limited edition' sun and getting released on 4K. It's a great day for all of us film fans!

My full review can be read HERE over at Filmhounds.