TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI (1954)

I will trade Delon, Belmondo, Trintignant, Aumont, Jourdan, Montand, Chevalier, Boyer…and maybe even Jeanne Moreau for one night with JEAN GABIN. I’ve never heard of this film. And I came away from it saying “Viva La France!!” “Viva GABIN!!”

 

The film is TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI. My review is one of the happy participants in Debbie Vega’s IT TAKES A THIEF Blogathon over at her blog ~ Moon In Gemini. Crime does not pay. At least that’s what Hollywood WANTS us to believe. With my pick for this blogathon, I look at what happens AFTER the crime. Moreso than just “honor among thieves”, this movie is the story of friendship.

She’s there for him before, during…and after

The head of the gang is MAX played by Jean Gabin. Nope, he’s not the pretty boy~type in the Delon / Jourdan mold. He’s not handsome at all by Hollywood-standards. He’s a man; a ruggedly beautiful and masculine man. You know he knows what to do…on a heist or in the bedroom. The movie shows us Max’s life and how he walks through his world. He’s a take-charge-take-care-of-business kinda guy. Nothing phases him. He moves with assurance. The other men look to him as their leader. He walks confidently through the underworld. ( …And dashingly wears the hell out of double breasted suits. ) The thrust of the story is he’s pulled a job netting a couple of thousands in gold bullions; but his friend and partner is kidnapped by a rival gang and Max must pay a ransom to get him back…those gold bullions. 

Max and the gangsters are middle~aged men. At first blush I thought “what do these old guys ‘think’ they’re going to do with these young girls.” Silly me…it’s Jean Gabin. And these ‘old guys’ are just fantastic! The crux of the story is the friendship between Max and his dear impetuous friend of twenty years, Riton ( poignantly played by René Dary  ), a man who perhaps is trying to hold onto his youth with his affair with a young chorus girl. She’s too young, and too pretty for him, but he wants her.

The Foley artists must have had a ball doing this movie; I felt like I had superhuman hearing. Every footstep on cobblestone…every bottle uncorked, every French bread torn in half was pronounced. The sound guy made me hungry. And the movie took its time. No one walked fast or talked fast. There was a leisureliness to the whole film. And director Jacques Becker wasn’t afraid to take his time either in letting scenes play out. We see Max make a snack for him and Riton…getting the sheets and blanket for bed… brushing his teeth…spitting out the water. We would have never seen that in an American film of the 40’s; taking the time to show the whole procedure; and especially not today. Nothing going on? Ha! This quiet scene of two friends together says EVERYTHING about them. I liked their friendship. Max discusses they are old men. Time to retire. Time to face that. Riton has other ideas: Josy.

                                 Josy has other ideas herself…

Jeanne Moreau plays Josy the chorus girl. And Moreau is dynamite. Oui oui, the cotton candy that’s Bardot would shortly be around fame’s bend. But for now we’ve got Moreau, and she commands attention in even this small early role. I remember my friend Wendy ( who has an essay or two here on my blog ) saying:

“I could not take my eyes off of Jeanne Moreau. It’s funny, I saw her name in the credits, but I was absolutely sure she was in a bit role. So as I watched Josy, I said to myself:  “She just draws the camera to her! I wonder who she is? I’m going to have to look her up after the movie.” Duh.”

Yeah…Moreau.

Friendship. Friendship. It’s the perfect, blendship… I enjoyed watching Max’s and Riton’s friendship. I believed it. Max loves Riton, even if he’s a pain in his neck, bailing him out of scrapes. They probably were together as young men robbing and stealing. The only one who Riton trusts completely IS Max. There’s a point in the film where Max telephones Riton and tells him NOT to go with the guys in his room. Riton doesn’t question it, he just immediately does as Max says. Max is the only one who could tell him Josy is NOT for him. Ev’ryone has that one friend that tells you the tough stuff; the stuff you don’t want to hear.

 

..And you take it

When Max needs to get some answers, he gets some answers. He doesn’t get all wound up like our Cagney, Bogie or Eddie G. Not a lot of talk…he just bitch~slaps you right in the kisser. They all put him in a predicament. Now he’s got to get out of it and they’d better talk. As I said, I loved the friendships and loyalties in this movie.  

Max and his young henchman Marco ( Michel Jourdan ) kidnap one of the rival gang members who has kidnapped their friend Riton.

 

He’s taken down to the basement of their local restaurant to be questioned by another mature gent, Pierrot ( Paul Frankeur ). Pierrot manhandles, tying him up like an S & M dominatrix to work him over until they get answers.

These guys may look sedentary, but they move like Baryshnikov when they have to get going. When bad guys come to Max’s apartment he escapes out a window down a chimney over a rooftop down a staircase up a fire escape through a…well, he didn’t actually do all that. But he sure does hightail it outta there quick fast and in a hurry. Jean Gabin is thoroughly watchable; in command…sexy, loyal. In fact, we get to know each one of his allies, even if for the briefest of moments. This is such a gem of a movie. We’re watching a family of friends. 

Thanks for reading! If you want to read more entries about how ‘It Takes A Thief’ you merely have to click on this photo above. Hell…it’s a lot easier than robbing a bank!

 

 [   H  O  M  E   ]

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I WALK ALONE

I MET SPARTACUS!

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Yep, I actually met Kirk Douglas. My friend Chip Duckett was getting memorabilia autographed for a giant AIDS ball being held in Vienna he helps brings talent to. He invited me along to Barnes & Noble with him for a Kirk Douglas book signing. ( “Let’s Face It: 90 Years of Living, Loving, and Learning.” ) Chip was going to get some Kirk memorabilia autographed. I wasn’t going to buy the book just go along for the ride. The seriousness of WHO I was actually going to meet struck me when we were taken to the bookstore’s “green room” ~ a storage room of books ~ to actually meet him, thanks to one of Chip’s connections at the store. We were going to meet him before the formal book signing began. Just before the B&N guy knocked on the door, Chip gave me one of his Kirk memorabilia items to have something in my hand. Wha’? The door opened and  there was Kirk Douglas sitting at a table. I knew I was going to see him, but I didnt know I was actually going to MEET him.

He looked old and small. I hung back while Chip introduced himself and chatted with him briefly while he got his memorabilia signed. After Chip was done, he introduced me to Kirk Douglas. Yo, you can be all nonchalant meeting a legend if you want, but I’m telling you straight up…I am a fangirl.

Mr. Douglas started to stand to greet me. The full import of who he was was hitting me dead in the face as he rose up. What the hell happened to that old and small man, because all of a sudden, in those few moments he didn’t seem as old and small as I initially thought. As he was standing up I said “Sir, please sit. You don’t have to stand for me.” And he said “Of course I do. I always stand for ladies.” ( Thats me guys…a lady!! L0L! ) We shook hands and I gave him Chip’s memorabilia, stammered innocuously and then stepped back.

I attended the book~signing ~ ( yeah, I bought the book a little later ) ~ met him again in that book signing factory line sort of way that handlers handle it. He smiled at me with recognition. Don’t worry, I didnt linger. I kept it moving.

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He was a major star my entire lifetime. When I met him, of course I had seen so many of his films already. When I saw SHADOWS and SATIN was throwing a birthday blogathon for Kirk’s 100th, well, how could I not…

You’re going to see a lot of great films covered in this blogathon. I’m going to look at an early-in-his-career-Kirk Douglas-film, before his teeth were clenched in stone. So far he’d done The Strange Love of Martha Ivers Out of the Past” “Mourning Becomes Electra.” I will cover his fourth film, 1948s I WALK ALONE.”

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With  “I Walk Alone” comes Kirk Douglas’ first of seven screen pairings with fellow newcomer BURT LANCASTER ( this being his fifth movie ). RIght from the beginning, their chemistry was dynamite; I find them to be as evenly matched as any two stars were. ( Well maybe with the exception of Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn ). They’re 

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more closely associated with each other ( their pairings also include: “The List of Adrian Messenger” [ 1963 ] and “Victory at Entebbe” [ 1976 ] ) than they are with their leading ladies ( though who can argue Burt with Ava and Deborah Kerr or Kirk with Lana and Kim and Jean Simmons ). If they ever were to really get into a fist fight, I don’t know who’d win…but I do know they’d each give as good as they got.

“I Walk Alone” is the story of a man released from prison after fourteen years, expecting to become half owner of a successful night club he invested in ( before going to the slammer ) with his old rum-running buddy.

He is in for a rude awakening.

i-walk-alone-kirkKIRK DOUGLAS is the old pal, Noll ( nicknamed ‘Dink’ ) and Douglas plays him as far from scared little Walter O’Neill as you or Martha Ivers could get. Noll is mucho suave-aaaay. He can talk his way out of, or smooth over anything. He’ll use the night club’s chanteuse to pump Frankie for info, while continuing to string her along in their romance. He’ll hook up with an ice queen socialite to further his business and social standing. He’s not above blackmailing an old friend. Noll will do or say whatever it takes. He is ambitious. He is a smooth operator.

i-walk-alone-burtQuite the opposite personality is BURT LANCASTER as Frankie Madison. He’s been cooped up for fourteen years. ( “FOURTEEN YEARS!!!!” he says tightly…and with reason ). Oh, he doesn’t look any worse for the wear having been in prison. He’s tall, fills a suit nicely…a big strapping fella. ( I think it should be de rigueuer for Burt Lancaster to wear a t-shirt in every movie from 1946 – 1952! But I digress ). Lancaster’s Frankie, is a man of few words…very defensive, sensitive and coiled as tightly as a snake. Where Noll is cool as a cucumber, Frankie is a hothead. He’s a bit awkward socially, being out of practice for so long. Noll’s Socialite Gal Pal, Alexis Richardson. speaks to him:

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SOCIALITE: “You know, you’re quite an attractive man.”
FRANKIE:    “Keep going.”
SOCIALITE: “How far do you want me to go?”
FRANKIE:    “I’m at the plate. You’re doing the pitching.”

The socialite is played to an Alexis Smith-ish fare-thee-well by actress KRISTINE MILLER. But that interaction ends poorly with her wanting Frankie thrown out of the club:

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“You looked like a man who might have three or four interesting sentences to say. You’ve said them. Goodbye!!”

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Well…he was out of practice.

Frankie’s wined and dined by club chanteuse: Kay Lawrence played by LIZABETH SCOTT, whose been sent by Noll to wine and dine Frankie. Noll tells her:

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“That’s why men take women to dinner. So they’ll have someone to talk about themselves to.”

Kay goes along with it, but gets mangled in Noll’s machinations because of her love for him. And there’s the usual requisite tension between two women competing for the same man. Alexis wants to marry Noll:

“You’re so utterly no good I should marry you.”

…If you call that love.

( ASIDE: Kristine Miller shared screen~time with Lizabeth Scott in “Desert Fury” and “Too Late For Tears” ).

i-walk-alone-kirk-lizabethFrankie realizes the ruse to pump him for information and unjustly lambasts Kay. He trusts no one except the book~ keeper Dave. He lumps Kay in with all the snakes. She finally sees what a user Noll really is when he tells her he’s marrying the Socialite:

“You love me but you’re marrying her?”

[ Oy, #IFIHADADIME! ]

The jig is up for Noll and Kay when Frankie realizes hes been played like a cheap fiddle.

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“The oldest trick in the world. You want to pump a guy, use a woman. And I grabbed.”

I love Lizabeth’s display of pouty anger when she tells off Douglas’ slimy caddish character since she was not in on his scheme.

NOLL:   “You’re in Frankie’s league now.”
KAY:      “I couldn’t ask for better company.”

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She sides with Frankie ( when she finally gets him to trust her again ). Look, I know this romantic coupling is pretty quick and just a plot contrivance. But I say, in the scheme of 40’s films, relationships happen at the speed of a writer’s Underwood.

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I know things like this can make or break one’s enjoyment of a classic film. But I don’t mind the shorthand in these old movies. I know it doesn’t make psychological sense for the script, but it sure gets things moving a lot quicker. I like Lizabeth Scott in this film. Yes, she’s stiff and wooden, down to her walk and her hairstyle. I know the voice they dubbed was wrong for her and her singing stance was all stiff. But a better pal a guy couldn’t have in the 40’s ( depending on the film’s budget ) than Lizabeth Scott. ( Ella Raines is a different vibe…she’s not really The Victim ). So Scott is part of the triumvirate and Im fine with that. Kay and Frankie are now an “item.” She falls for the right wronged man.

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Poor Frankie. It’s like he is stuck in a time warp… when  handshakes were as bonding and binding as a contract. A Promise meant something before he went to prison. Well he’s going to make Noll live up to his promise of fourteen years ago, ( “FOURTEEN YEARS!” ) by using some muscle. He’s going to take what’s his. He speaks to his old pal Nick Palestro to help round up the gang. I thought it was a great casting choice to have MARC LAWRENCE play the gangster Nick Palestro. He was such a staple in 30’s movies when he played “The Gangster.” ( When I see Lawrence in “The Man With the Golden Gun” or Diamonds Are Forever ~ I smile at the nod ).

It’s with Palestro we see that times, they are a-changing; that the old gang just ain’t what it used to be. Nick is a businessman now who owns a car lot. He’ll assemble some new boys, but things are not the same he tells Frankie. When Frankie and the boys meet Noll, Dave is asked to show Frankie “the books.” This was a sad scene to me on a couple of levels…time passing Frankie by, Noll’s lies, the book~keeper’s betrayal. That cut Frankie to the quick. The shame and humiliation Frankie suffers in front of EVERYone was tough to watch. I felt embarassed for him. He’s like a caged animal. The day of the old-time gangster in spats and Tommy gun is gone. The books are cooked and Frankie’s fight is with an amorphous enemy. He rails against The Corporation. Noll leaves him no dignity. It was sad to watch his powerless rage.

mazurski-chokes-walk-aloneCheck out the men who watch him ( especially that wiseass guy ). Think of those soldiers who came back from the war, having difficulty adjusting to Society. Cagney’s film The Roaring Twenties comes to mind. Frankie now wants to settle the score…but it seems he’s the only one living in the past. A relic. And now the ultimate indignity…getting a beatdown, by the one and only: Mike Mazurki.

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Who is this Dave, the book~keeper?  Well its WENDELL COREY. And this is his second movie ~ ( the first being “Desert Fury ). I was never really a big fan of his; his skeletal features and pale blue eyes kind of pushed me away. But…he did have a great speaking voice…and he really could handle Stanwyck in “The Furies.” Hmmm…let me think about this.

Okay!! I’ve settled it in my mind.

I am now totally coming around to Wendell Corey. ( Welcome to CineMaven’s Van Heflin Club, Mr. Corey. Step right up .) Now, maybe not with lust in my heart, ( I’ve got to see him in a t-shirt ) but with some hard core respect for this fine Actor, I’m coming around. With “I Walk Alone” I do think he was the heart and soul of the movie. My heart goes out to him, Corey’s Dave, the bookkeeper…and he’s really caught in the thick of things between these two old friends. Dave was torn between his heartfelt loyalty to Frankie…and the “hooks” Dink had into him: forgery. Corey plays Dave wonderfully. We see a beaten man, heavy with the weight of guilt and resentment. It is weighing him down. Frankie says,

“You’re two years older than me and I’ve been in jail. You look ten years older than me!!”

When the inevitable happens, ( and you’re a movie buff…so you know what will happen), it springs Frankie into action. It takes him OUTSIDE his Self to think about someone else. And goes to action he does. I think this is a testimony to how Wendell Corey plays Dave. ( Kent Smith would’ve played him differently and we might’ve cheered for his demise…but that’s for another thread ). 

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I really like “I Walk Alone.” Kirk Douglas is the son of a bitch you love to hate. Burt Lancaster is the hero you want to root for. And Lizabeth Scott ~ the girl you want to love. When the movie finished it felt like a satisfying meal. The film feels to me like the quintessential nineteen forties movie in style and dress and dialogue. It has all the archetypical characters you could want to have; all the characters that were perhaps already old hat by the late forties: The Big Lug, The Girl, The Smooth Operator, The Strong Arm, The Snot-Nosed Up & Comer, The Bored Socialite, The Erudite Servant/Restauranteur. Is this movie officially a film noir…I’ll leave that to wiser movie buffs to define.

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I think audiences knew they had a tiger by its tail with this intense young actor. Kirk Douglas would prove his star power time after time in film after film. Click on the blogathon’s banner to read accounts of others’ favorite Kirk Douglas films. Not many people live to be one hundred years old. Douglas is one of them. He’s tough and tenacious. I think he will give Father Time a real run for his money. Kirk Douglas is someone still with us, that is a connection to the golden age of Hollywood we love.

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You know, after I got my autographed book by Kirk Douglas, I couldn’t wait to go up to my parents house and show them the book. My father is more the movie buff. Maybe this was his reaction when I brought home from school, an ashtray I made of clay in the fourth grade…but I cant quite remember my father ever smiling so broadly and with awe before.

“Whaaaaaaat?!! You met Spartacus???”


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THEY WON’T FORGET ( 1937 )

THERESA and ED JOHNSON

IMAGINE. A big cheese like the former Mayor of Asbury Park, Ed Johnson, asking a small fry like me to introduce a classic film. So I am…and am flattered and honored to do it:

THEY WON'T FORGET Presentation

I have to admit, my blood runs cold as soon as this movie’s music starts underneath the Warner Brothers’ shield – “Dixie.” With the theme song, the Confederate flag and the gray of Johnny Reb’s uniform … – << Shiver! >> – … I picture strange fruit and feel the pain, fear and terror of peoples’ past. Mervyn LeRoy’s film THEY WON’T FORGET is relentless in driving home the point that the South is, well…the South.

Now when we see these old codgers, there’s a modicum of sympathy for them. You feel their regret and their shoring up their last bit of pride to represent their role fighting for their beliefs in the Civil War. Past glories, triumphs and pride surface as they march in their town’s parade. But what they represented does separate me from them.

THEY WON'T FORGET ( I-A ) THEY WON'T FORGET ( II ) THEY WON'T FORGET ( III )           THEY WON'T FORGET ( III - A )

To help me be at least six thousand degrees of separation from our painful collective past, I have to put on my historical cap and focus on the cinematic lesson of a movie that shines a light ( or lights a torch ) on the flaws and injustice of a culture and a system. This is a movie about what it means to be un-American. Or perhaps “too American”. ( Is that a thing? ) This is a movie about what happens when things go terribly horribly wrong. Here we see a democratic system bastardized that, on its face, is a pretty ideologically sound system to aspire to. In classic films, there were a spate of “Message Movies” that dealt with the miscarriage of justice and mob rule. There’s Fritz Lang’sFury” (1936) and “You Only Live Once” (1937). There was “Black Legion” (1937) with Bogie, and “Storm Warning” (1951). The press gets its hands dirty in “Ace in the Hole” (1951), and there’s the full-frontal insanity of “Paths of Glory” (1957). And let me not leave out the still devastating “Ox Bow Incident” (1943). “They Won’t Forget” is in league with these films; its story is based on the Leo Frank / Mary Phagan murder trial. Leo Frank is accused of killing thirteen-year old Phagan back in 1915 Atlanta. The story has been realized four times in movies, with names and locations changed. Oscar Micheaux tackled the story twice with his silent: “The Gunsaulus Mystery” (1921) and its 1935 remake: “Murder in Harlem”. Then there was the 1988 tv-movie starring Jack Lemmon – ( “The Murder of Mary Phagan” ). The way LeRoy unfurls his film feels like riding a train rolling inexorably towards a cliff. There’s no stopping it, no explaining it, no reasoning with it.

The thing is, this is a man-made thing. This is no immutable Law of Nature. But once the hate-lust is put in place, nothing on earth can stop it. The campaign of injustice is a three-pronged assault, aided and abetted by:

  • The Media
  • Mob rule
  • Politics / The Law

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At least two of the three elements are supposed to be arbiters of the truth. I’d say especially the press has a duty to factually report what’s going on; keep things honest. Checks and balances and all that sort of rot. But different factions are in bed with each other that blur those lines of objectivity:

THEY WON'T FORGET ( XXII ) THEY WON'T FORGET ( XXXX )
The Press and the Police                The Press and Politics / the Law

In this instance all three ( The Media, Mob Rule and Politics & The Law  ) beautifully work together in concert with one another like cogs in a wheel, to railroad and destroy one man’s life.

* * * * * * * * *

THE MEDIA:

THEY WON'T FORGET ( XXIII )Allyn  Joslyn – plays Bill Brock, reporter. He’s bored. There’s nothing to do in this bohunk town. And then a young woman is murdered. He comes alive; has a job worth doing. But instead of reporting a story…he creates the story.  He starts to collect bits and pieces of information. He crafts a tale…not based on cold hard evidence, but on gossip, hearsay, how HE wants to spin things. ( Sound familiar, Fox Ne…I mean, folks? ) One of the more despicable things he does is visits the Accused’s wife, take pictures without her permission, gets another reporter to pump the wife for ‘her side of the story’, search through her apartment without a warrant. He does have one infinitesimal moment of sympathy for her…but it quickly passes. Once Joslyn gets through reporting, his slant sensationalizes everything beyond beyond.

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The freedom of the press. I don’t think it means what he thinks it means. Teletype flies fast and furiously…frantic calls go to the paper’s front desk to scoop other newspapers. Events are embellished, situations metastasize. Joslyn’s now giving blow by blow courtroom descriptions via loudspeakers, to a crowd…a throng…the mob, in front of the courthouse.

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They’re not solely to blame, but much of the destruction lies at the press’ feet. If only it had sought out the truth; report the shady goings on of the Prosecution, and the low rumblings of the mob. That might be the story. That might be a Pulitzer. But he takes the easy route and picks the low hanging fruit of hate and headlines. Joslyn does a marvelous job in this role. He’s oily, slimy and wants more…more…MORE. You want to kill him.

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MOB RULE:

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Front and center, actor Trevor Bardette

C’mon. Let’s not pussyfoot around. They’re racists. They don’t trust the North; those old Civil War resentments come into play. They’re also racists. Did I mention racists? In particular the Clay Brothers. Yes, they have a dog in this fight with their sister being killed.

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 The Clay Bros played by Elliot Sullivan,  Wilmer Hines and Trevor Bardette.

But as this movie rolls along you sort of forget that this is about her. ( Lana Turner makes her auspicious screen debut as Mary Clay ). I could stretch my empathy to feel their pain, but there’s something ominous about those Clay boys.

THEY WON'T FORGET ( -I )Larger forces come into play. The brothers’ presence is a heavy shroud over everything. They inhabit a parallel world…a shadow world. They have a hold over the townspeople. Hell, they are the townspeople and the townspeople are them. When the dead girl’s boyfriend is questioned by the police he quivers and quakes and protests his innocence. NO ONE does that better than Elisha Cook Jr., who’s made a career out of being ‘that guy.’ When he’s with the boys in the poolhall, his bravado comes out. But when one of the Clay Brothers visits, Cook is weasly again. Clay says little; he doesn’t have to.

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He has an ominous and threatening presence. No man stands up to him. They all cave. You think they’re protecting Southern womanhood? Well, that’s a good excuse as any. You wouldn’t want to meet this mob in a dark alley. Their creed hangs over these proceedings.

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“We know how this is gonna end.”

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( Continued on page 2 )

NIGHT AND THE CITY

 THE BRITISH ARE COMING! THE BRITISH ARE COMING!

BRITISH INAVDERS BLOGATHON ( II )I greeted the British invasion with swoons and shrieks.

When John, Paul, George and Ringo sang “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on the Ed Sullivan Show, I was right there with all the girls in class picking out my favorite Beatle. ( Paul, of course. The Cute One ). I hadn’t realized back in 1964 that the first British Invasion first landed in Hollywood. The Brits made their mark on Hollywood in a number of ways, with actors (Laughton, Olivier, Leigh, Niven, Rathbone, Colman, et al) directors ( Hitchcock, do we need more? Okay okay, Lean ) but most importantly with film. So with this 2nd ANNUAL BRITISH INVADERS BLOGATHON hosted by Terence Towles Canote of A SHROUD OF THOUGHT, I present my contribution with some gritty tea and crumpets…

NIGHT & THE CITY ( VI ) - Widmark

RICHARD WIDMARK is nothing less than spectacular in 1950’s NIGHT AND THE CITY. He holds the screen for the entire ninety-plus minutes. Whether begging, pleading, laughing, needling, cajoling, wheeling and dealing…he is magnificent. High praise, you think?? An understatement, I say. In this film, Widmark is like a shark that cannot stop moving and must keep swimming. Or an alcoholic…a junkie looking for a higher fix…just one last fix…until the next time. I cannot tear my eyes away from him, but there are many in the cast who are worth watching as well.

NIGHT & THE CITY - VIII ( Tierney )

We follow the journey of a man with high ambitions; but he doesn’t do the work to achieve them. He’s a bit of a “get-rich-quick” kind of guy. Short cuts. He’s come to the idea of promoting wrestling due to some other shenanigans he’s involved with. He’s always reaching for that for that carrot…that brass ring. Always reaching.

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It’s a tense scene when Widmark goes to his boss for the money and his boss laughs at him. The boss is wonderfully played by Francis L. Sullivan. He’s a Sidney Greenstreet- Laird Cregar girth of man. It seems that Widmark was always coming up with a plan or a scheme…so much so that his boss tells him:

“Been having a pleasant holiday in Cannes or spending the weekend at Windsor Castle? Mr. Fabian is reported to be suffering from a highly inflamed imagination coupled by delusions of grandeur.”

When Widmark cries wolf ( again ), this time with a plan ‘guaranteed not to fail’ his boss laughs and Widmark laughs with him…until he realizes he IS the joke. His laughter turns imperceptibly into a pitiable whine. The transition is so slight and subtle. Widmark has the market cornered. “I’LL SHOW YOU!!!” cries Widmark. How many times have you said that to family, friends, co-workers or ex-lovers. Widmark was like a little boy talking to his father. He has something to prove.

NIGHT & THE CITY - IX ( Marlowe )Gene Tierney playNIGHT & THE CITY - XIX ( Tierney & Marlowe )s Widmark’s lover in this movie. At first I thought she was too much fire power for such a small role; but now I’m thinking BECAUSE of her cachet as Gene Tierney, it might make it worse Widmark’s throwing away a swell gal and relationship. Yes, anyone could have played her. ( What are these two Americans doing here in London anyhows old Chap? Old Bean?? ) But Tierney is fine in the part. There’s Hugh Marlowe who’ll be the man waiting-in-the-wings for her.

TELL ME LIES, TELL ME SWEET LITTLE LIES

NIGHT & THE CITY I - ( GOOGIE )

NIGHT & THE CITY - VII ( Googie ) NIGHT & THE CITY - XIII ( Googie-Sullivan )
Uhhhm, she’s just not that into you…

There was a sad little scene with Tierney and Sullivan, both framed by different doorways while they both espouse and lie about their relationships with their partner. We’ve already seen Sullivan rudely rebuffed by his wife; she can’t bear to even be touched by him. That bought Sullivan some sympathy from me. They both try to save face. This is my first introduction to Googie Winters. I am thunder-struck!

WRESTLING vs NIGHT CLUB

I love films with opposing goals. You know…that ‘Irresistible Force Meets The Immovable Object trope’. This happens when Widmark comes up against his boss’ wife Helen, played terrifyingly wonderful by Googie Withers. Googie. The name sounds soft and cuddly doesn’t it? This ain’t Dodie Goodman folks! My God she is withering in HER ambition; but really no less than anybody else wanting what they want. It’s not worse, because she is a woman. She can give Widmark the money he needs. ( No one else will lend it to him ). But she has her OWN reasons; she wants to open up her own club and leave her husband. I loved the scene between Widmark and Withers. She holds out hope for our poor wretch of a rat and then snatches the cheese from him. Withers reminds me of Judith Anderson. She is sexy as hell. Widmark is no match for her. It’s like watching them play a game of tennis; only she’s Serena Williams and he is a three year old boy with a hole in his badminton racket:

NIGHT & THE CITY - XIV ( Widmark & Googie )

“I’ve got a night club. Bought it a year ago…I got it on credit. In another year all I have to do is to put five shillings for a license and I’m in business. But I can’t wait another day. One more year living with that– I’ve got to get away from it Harry. I must get away before I– that’s what the money’s for, a license and you’re the only man I know who can get it. You’re going to bribe, steal, murder, I dont care WHAT you do with that money. You’re going to get a license for that club now!!”

Withers’ ambition has been thwarted perhaps because she’s a woman. It’s five years after the war. She might’ve even married Sullivan for his money/security. But that’s pure speculation on my part. Is there any question that Widmark and Withers might have had a brief fling? For good measure, she adds:

NIGHT & THE CITY - XV ( Widmark & Googie ) NIGHT & THE CITY - XVI ( Widmark & Googie ) NIGHT & THE CITY - XVII ( Widmark & Googie )

“Now telephone that wrestler. Tell him you’re set. You’ll string him AND Phil along. But night and day you’re going to do one thing. Rip London apart if you have to but you’re going to get me that license!”

Bone chillingly cold..clenched…fury! Her intensity takes my breath away. Widmark’s des-peration is no match for Withers’ ambition. I was more afraid of her than any of the men in the film.

YOU WANNA WRESTLE FOR WIDMARK OR WRESTLE FOR LOM?

NIGHT & THE CITY - XXI ( Herbert Lom )

Herbert Lom. I’ve always loved that guy. Methodical, always working. Maybe not “A” list like Attenborough  or Mason or Trevor Howard but he’s reliably good. His eye twitching in the “Pink Panther” movies is enough to wipe me out. I didn’t look at the credits at the beginning of my YouTube viewing of “Night and the City”, but when I saw him and heard his voice…I knew it was Herbert Lom. And he was riveting. Unwavering, unblinking, flat affect. < SIGH! >. And Lom doesn’t mince words with Widmark:

NIGHT & THE CITY - XXII ( Herbert Lom )

“Go away, Mr. Fabian. Go to Montreal which is in Canada. There you can promote wrestling. In London, you cannot. I say it, Mr. Fabian.”

Jules Dassin does this cool thing twice: once with Lom standing still and looking and secondly when Sullivan discovers his Googie’s silver fox fur is missing. Dassin lets Widmark spins his web, talk fast, act frenetic all the while ( Lom / Sullivan ) just stand there watching or saying very little. Wonderful juxtaposition of acting…of purpose. They’re calm while Widmark is spinning.

The movie’s plot is a relentlessly spinning web. Widmark keeps climbing down deeper and deeper into the well, all the while thinking he has the answers and is climbing up.

THE ENEMY OF MY ENEMY IS MY FRIEND

An interesting turn of events occurs when Husband ( Sullivan ) and Promoter ( Lom ) team up in cahoots AGAINST Widmark. I want to feel sorry for Widmark’s poor rat-like troll. But I just can’t. I can summon up no sympathy. What’s his excuse? Does not even having Gene Tierney to share life with, make him think about what he’s getting himself into??? Have you ever seen someone spin a web so tightly noosed around one’s own neck?? That’s Widmark…the beauty and pity of it.

OEDIPUS REX: GRECO-ROMAN STYLE

NIGHT & THE CITY - XXIII ( Lom )
Lom, Raymond and Zbyszko

Director Jules Dassin throws a dastardly father and son monkey wrench into things. As dead-sounding as Lom sounds, he melts at the feet of his father. I loved the actor who played Gregorius: Stanislaus Zbyszko. ( Go on…pronounce it. I dare ya! ) Stan is a big bear of a man, and has his surrogate son in the guise of cutie-pie Ken Raymond playing Nikolas. It’s all mixed up with my son is a gangster…now you be my son. Aye yi yi. Another wrinkle to cross up fate for Widmark’s character. In  “Night and the City”, everyone wants a relationship they cannot have: Tierney with Widmark, Sullivan with Googie, the Wrestler and Lom. Oh and how could I forget: Widmark with Money & Success.

CLASH OF THE TITANS: GRECO – ROMAN STYLE

NIGHT & THE CITY - XXIV ( Wrestlers )

My God, that fight between the great Mike Mazurki and Stanislaus Zbyszko was fantastic, both wrestlers in real life. No music, just the grunts and groans and fists and forearms of two mountain men…titans. I winced and bobbed and weaved and felt every blow, more than anything Scorcese did in “Raging Bull.” And in the end…father and son reuniting broke my heart. Dassin allowed them to have this quiet touching last scene together. I’m telling you, this is not a Hollywood movie; its sensibility is so mature.

NIGHT & THE CITY - XXIV ( Lom )

“Night and the City” is a movie about ambition; the clash of ambition. Everyone wants to achieve something. These ambitions intersect on a collision course. Widmark makes me think of Andy Griffith in “A Face in the Crowd” – the big ego and ambition and the fall. Widmark plays Sisyphus. We watch with fascination as the boulder of his dreams comes rolling and tumbling inexorably past him.

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CINEMAVEN’S GASP-WORTHY MOMENTS  << SPOILER ALERT!! >>

YES… “Night and the City” made me gasp. Now these moments won’t mean anything to you if you haven’t seen the film, and if you haven’t seen the film ( but want to ) don’t read this:

NIGHT & THE CITY - III ( Googie )

  • Helen ( Googie Withers ) goes BACK to her husband…SMH!

* * * * * * * * * * *

  • When The Husband is dead and the old lady shows Googie the box of papers, I gasped the way Googie recedes into the darkness to the sound of an accordian which was coming from the next scene.

* * * * * * * * * * *

NIGHT & THE CITY - V ( Wrestlers )

  • During the wrestling match, my mouth was agape. It was brutal to watch. Someone got the better of Mike Mazurki with that Heimlich Maneuver??
    ( “Iwantyoushouldfindawrestler!” )

* * * * * * * * * * *

NIGHT & THE CITY - XX ( Sullivan )

  • When Widmark shows up with the money to Nosseross (Francis L. Sullivan) and he quietly listens to Widmark’s dreams and plans while he sees that the fur coat is gone…AND TEARS UP KRISTO’S CARD! 

* * * * * * * * * * *

NIGHT & THE CITY - II ( Googie )

  • Folks, I can’t even…see the movie. See the movie!

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NIGHT & THE CITY - IV ( Widmark )  NIGHT & THE CITY - X ( Widmark Tierney )

  • When Mary (TIERNEY) shows up on the waterfront and Harry makes her that final offer re: a reward, yup, my jaw dropped. I had no air left to gasp.

A THIRD British Invasion is underway ( read here ) and maybe our xenophobia is surpas-sing our Anglophilia ( jobs hard to come by ). But looking back in nostalgia always feels more comfortable. Again, click on the banner below for some more fascinating contributions the British made to film:

BRITISH INVADERS ( II )

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My friend  ( and sometime contributing writer ) Wendy T. Merckel had some great insight into the movie with some pithy capsulations of the characters. I’d like to share them with you. You can click on the photo to refresh your memory on who each actor is:

 

What a movie! I’ve now seen a couple of different versions, including a nitrate copy on the big screen. No matter which version you see, this film has such incredible depth and tragedy, on all levels, from the top of the criminal pile to the lowest of flower sellers. Everyone pays….and every actor gets their moment. ~ Wendy T. Merckel


Harry Fabian realizes for the first time how corrupt people are.

I LOVE this shot. When it came up in the film this time, I wondered why I hadn’t noticed it the other times I’ve seen the movie. Probably because I was into the plot and characters so much. Harry’s listening to Beer rat him out on the phone, and the camera comes up over his shoulder and alongside his face. It’s wonderful and captures Harry’s paranoia.

* * * * * * *

Molly, the lowest of the low, will make her “betters” pay.             

* * * * * * *               

Max Beer, on the make, here watching his dreams go up in smoke.

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     Nosseross knows his weakness.  

* * * * * * * 

 Helen has her eyes opened.

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 Kristo reconciles with his father, but it’s too late.

 * * * * * * *      

Anna O’Leary is just about the only person in the film who is neutral. Not kind, but not touched by corruption. She sees it. Perhaps that’s why she lives on the outskirts of the city.

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The Strangler destroys everything and everybody in his path, including himself. Mike Mazurki in a grueling role, that only touches on his abilities as an actor.

* * * * * * * 

God is Merciful to Gregorius. He only loses his life, not his dreams. A great performance by Stanislaus Zbyszko.

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NIGHT & THE CITY - IV ( Widmark )

Mary’s tragedy is not realizing two people can live in the same house,
but not in the same world.

 

 

(  H O M E  )
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ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1952)

ON DANGEROUS GROUND - TITLE

ON DANGEROUS GROUND  is a good solid little movie. I’ve read a bit of discussion on “tone” in films; what works…what doesn’t work. “ODG” doesn’t have a big grandiose sweeping story. It has a simple one, in fact. But THIS is a good example of what it looks like when tone is handled right. This movie has two halves and I think they mesh seamlessly and the tone for each half is appropriate.

 ON DANGEROUS GROUND ROBERT RYAN ( ON DANGEROUS GROUND - I )

ROBERT RYANCLEO MOORE ( ON DANGEROUS GROUND ) plays Detective Jim Wilson who works the night shift and catches The Bad Guys by any means necessary. And most times, what’s necessary…is a beat-down. When Jim asks rhetorically, “Why do you punks make me do it?!!!” My answer’d be: “…because you want to do it Jim, that’s why.” And when Jim gets the come-on by blonde bombshell Cleo Moore you just know that their dalliance will not include a bed strewn with rose petals. Jim can work out any uhmm…“kinks” and societal rejections suffered via his line of work, with this soft hard blonde. Who’d have thunk redemption would come to our hero through actually catching a murderer.

Director NICHOLAS RAY  draws us into the second half of the movie with a savage murder in a tight-knit, rural community upstate. He does this slow and easy with a car ride from an urban jungle to a snow-covered bucolic setting. He lets us get our bearings slow and easy, just as Jim gets his. We watch Jim’s heart melt in the snow. His brutishness is washed clean in the face of a blind woman.

ON DANGEROUS GROUND ( III )

My God, IDA LUPINO…I think she’s just fantastic here. Forget her brittle sexiness as the crazed ‘Lana Carlsen’ in They Drive By Night or her conniving manipulativeness as Helen in The Hard Way or her “questionable” prison warden in Women’s Prison. ( Well actually don’t forget it. That’s what makes me Ida…Ida Ida…I idolize ya! ) Here on dangerous ground Ida gives a heart-full performance. She’s as gentle as can be. She has strength… but it’s a different kind; not hard and brassy, but one filled with trust & faith ( “I have to trust everybody. ) And not in a saccharine way either. By the sheer force in her belief and her goodness, she gets tough hard brutal Jim Wilson to make her a promise; a promise to bring her brother, the young girl’s murderer, to justice safely. And he doesn’t commit to this promise easily.

WARD BOND ( ON DANGEROUS GROUND )

As Robert Ryan’s detec- tive’s heart and point of view shifts, we have Ward Bond  as the grie- ving father ( Mr. Brent ) of the murdered girl. Let me tell you, his anger and grief are ferocious. Right off the bat it’s Country vs. City Slicker. Actually, Ward Bond seems like the Detec-tive’s former self: brutal, wild, shoot first and ask questions later…maybe. ( Ha! At that moment I thought the only actor alive not scared of Robert Ryan would be Ward Bond ). Bond is where Ryan used to be. When they tussled, it felt to me like Ryan was fighting his former self. I’m trying not to put any spoilers in my blog post, but your safe bet is to watch this classic before you read my entry. There’s so much that goes on that causes a man to go from that to this and Nicholas Ray eases us through his process. We go through the process too.

 ON DANGEROUS GROUND ( I )  RYAN - LUPINO ( ON DANGEROUS GROUND )

I’m not sure which side of the musical metronome Bernard Hermann falls with you, but my heart strings will always follow Bernie’s violins anywhere. But besides his music, which I think underscores and enhances the plot, I felt I was led by events; …Ryan’s promise to Lupino…Ward Bond’s venge-filled intent…a boy…a chase…a promise.

ROBERT RYAN - IDA LUPINO ( ON DANGEROUS GROUND )

Out there in the cold, white snow…there’s forgiveness and redemption. I think Nicholas Ray handles it seamlessly in “On Dangerous Ground.” As for Robert Ryan..wellllllll, the man is a chameleon. He plays good guys. He plays bad guys. He plays good bad guys and bad good guys. And I might say the same for Lupino to some extent. Ryan’s had such a variety of roles throughout his career. If you want to get a handle on ROBERT RYAN’s screen persona \/  you just have to remember one thing:

ROBERT RYAN IDA LUPINO

He will make you believe anything.

 

(  H O M E  )

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T-MEN

“Did you ever spend ten nights in a Turkish bath looking for a man?”

T-MEN ( IV )

Why if I had a dime….

I thoroughly enjoyed T-MEN.” And I’ve made a discovery. I think I might be becoming hooked on the procedural docu-drama. I’m pondering why I have this new-found interest in that genre. Perhaps it’s because it’s a kind of a…sort of a minimalistic approach to filmmaking…in a way. You use a sonorously authoritative voice ( like Reed Hadley’s ) to tell the story…he sets up all the action and the whys and wherefores; and then you cut to the scene and just show the meat and potatoes of the action. Simple…easy.  But what might set “T-Men” apart from the grand-daddy of all docu-dramas, THE HOUSE ON 92nd STREET ( 1945 ) is John Alton.

John Alton<< (( Sigh!! )) >> As a filmmaker, I want to have his baby. He doesn’t so much paint with light as he paints with darkness. Our introduction to Charles McGraw sets the tone immediately. The silver sheen of the film made my fillings ache.

T-MEN ( III )   T- MEN ( I )

Steam baths, the camera shots from the floor looking up into a lamp, O’Keefe bowing his head as the shadow of his fedora covers his face, the Schemer on the phone in the forefront with just his eyes showing and the other guy in the background. It’s all these touches and more that makes this docu-drama visually ‘arresting’ while we’re going through all the procedures.

Dennis O’Keefe – Never crazy about this oatmeal-faced vanilla actor. But in “T-Men” he’s done an 180-degree persona switch, he plays a G-man playing a tough mobster a la Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe. Big and brawny. He sounds very natural and believable. Don’t tell me I have to give this actor a second look? ( I did. Raw Deal.” Mama Mia! )

T-MEN ( XII )   T-MEN ( IX )

Alfred Ryder – Poor guy. He’s got a soft tough guy look. Married. He sees his wife on the street during his assignment and can’t acknowledge her. He won’t give away the mission. He faces his end with honor. If O’Keefe brings the grit, Ryder brings the pathos.

T-MEN ( VI )

 

T-MEN ( VII )Wallace Ford ( ‘Schemer’ ) – Good performance from good ol’ Wally. You know the type…loser, the wannabe. I still felt bad for him in the end; trying to scheme his way out of the inevitable. With no luck. Saaaaay, when did Ford get that ‘character actor’ look? I just saw him with Joan Crawford – (remember him in “Possessed”) – no match for Gable of course, but he looked like callowed youth. This is now about ten years or so later; he’s pudgy…paunchy. Ahhhhhh, the better to Act with my dear. ( “Shadow Of A Doubt” ).

 

T-MEN ( XIV )Art Smith – I love that guy. He’s the Department Chief; gives the boys their assignment. I almost didn’t recognize him. For a hot nanosecond I thought he was Harry Von Zell. Flat affect. Love that guy. Who is he? You know him…Bogie’s agent in “In A Lonely Place” – Ryan’s psychiatrist in “Caught” and Jourdan’s butler in “Letter from an Unknown Woman.” He’s an asset in whatever he’s in. Shall I mention he gets the final shot in “Brute Force”??

T-MEN ( XV )

A Mac Truck would be less brutal

T-MEN ( XI )Charles McGraw – Quick, where can I hide? He’s the pin – up boy for assassins! Cold, unfeeling, unblinking, McGraw makes Charles Bronson look like sisssy. He makes me think of Robert Shaw in “From Russia With Love.”  He’s ice. He’s a single-minded shark. If you ever see this man, I promise you…you are about to die.
( Quick Draw McGraw. )

 

T-MEN ( X )Jane Randolph – Is she the boss? No, but you’ve got to get past her to SEE the boss. “The nature of the business is business Mr. Harrigan. Strictly.” I was surprised to see a woman involved in it, much less Randolph of “Cat People” fame. She was wonderfully haughty in this, calling on the spirits of those tall jobs like Eve Arden, Jayne Meadows, Hope Emerson, Andrea King and Kristine Miller. She’s the perfect way a woman in a noirish crime drama should be.

Love her long cigarette holder and the matter-of-fact spiderwoman way she says:

T-MEN ( VIII )

                 “About Schemer…get rid of him.”

“T-Men” is well-acted, populated with character actors who do what they do…and do it well. Gritty. What I call a man’s movie. ( Violence and black ‘n white. ) Of course; it was directed by the master: Anthony Mann.

ANTHONY MANNHe needs a blog post all his own. You can check out this IMDB listing for the films that illustrate his career.

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…And speaking of “THE HOUSE ON 92nd STREET”  I watched the Extras that came with that DVD and they said the house on 92nd Street, was actually filmed on 93rd Street in Manhattan. I found it on 93rd Street near Madison Avenue. Check out the movie and then check my pix against them. The building is virtually unchanged since the 1945 film:

IMG_1233 IMG_1237 IMG_1235

If any of you have any interest in seeing this film, please check below. Enjoy!

(  H O M E  )