3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This fifth volume in Warner's "Film Noir Classic Collection" includes 8 crime films that were made between 1945 and 1956. Only three of the films could reasonably be called "film noir". Those are the three that were made in the 1940s: "Cornered", "Desperate", and, to a lesser extent, "Deadline at Dawn". Film noir fans have to buy the set to get those, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. It offers a virtual smorgasbord of mid-century crime film styles, and most are of high quality -the exception being "Armored Car Robbery", which is mediocre. "The Phenix City Story" is a docu-drama about a real battle against corruption and organized crime in an Alabama town. "Dial 1119" unfolds in real time. "Crime in the Streets" is a social conscience film about youth gangs. "Backfire" is an entertaining, though straightforward, mystery.
Unfortunately, Warner has cobbled together yet another set of films without scene menus, making it nearly impossible to use these discs for study. There are two films per disc, on four discs. There are no audio commentaries. The only bonus feature is one theatrical trailer (2 ½ min) for "Dial 1119". Subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish, and French. Prints and sound are not restored but are generally good, with some qualifications. The sound on "Cornered" is not quite clear. The print of "Crime in the Streets" has some minor flaws. But a nice collection of crime films, featuring some impressive talent behind and in front of the camera. The films are:
"Cornered" (1945) exhibits the great noir ethos of identity confusion and a disordered universe that cannot be conquered or understood by its protagonist, but this is an unusual film noir in that it does not take place in the United States or involve any American characters. Lt. Laurence Gerard (Dick Powell) is a Canadian veteran of World War II determined to track down the man responsible for the murder of his French wife: a Vichy official named Marcel Jarnac (Luther Adler). He traces Jarnac's wife Madeleine (Micheline Cheirel) to Buenos Aires, Argentina and hopes she will lead him to his quarry. But the first person Gerard meets off the plane is a "guide" named Melchior Incza (Walter Slezak) who imposes his services. And the society surrounding Mdm. Jarnac is a cast of characters whose motives and place in the drama Gerard cannot grasp. 4 stars.
"Desperate" (1947) is a surprisingly cynical and brutal film noir considering that the protagonists are an innocent young couple, Steve (Steve Brodie) and Anne Randall (Audrey Long). Steve is called away on a trucking job just as the couple is about to sit down to their anniversary dinner. When he gets to the warehouse, he is surprised by Walt Radak (Raymond Burr), a crook who insists Steve drive on a heist. Steve refuses, but when Radak's brother is arrested for killing a cop, Radak threatens to disfigure Anne if Steve does not confess to the crime. Convinced that the police won't believe in his innocence, and in danger of his life from Radak, Steve flees with a pregnant Anne. Steve must navigate unscrupulous citizens, a callous police detective, and obsessed, violent Radak in a hostile world that has spun out of his control. 4 stars.
"The Phenix City Story" (1955) is a docu-drama based on true events that led to the murder of state attorney general nominate Albert Patterson (John McIntire) of Phenix City, Alabama, known for its vice industry, high murder rate, and criminal syndicate. Made only a year after the events took place, it follows a movement to rid the city of corruption. John Patterson (Richard Kiley) has returned from Germany to join his father's law firm in Phenix City. His father has given up fighting the mob, but John is so outraged by the murders of some acquaintances that he vows to bring law and order to the place. This time the citizens think they can win -if they can convince Albert Patterson to run for state attorney general. The film is preceded by interviews with the real people involved, so we know the outcome. It has a typical noir milieu but not a noir perspective or themes. 4 stars.
"Dial 1119" (1950) unfolds in real time. Gunther Wykoff (Marshall Thompson) has escaped from a mental hospital for the criminally insane. He heads to Terminal City to see the psychiatrist who treated him, Dr. John Faron (Sam Levene). Unable to locate Dr. Faron, Wykoff goes to The Oasis Bar. But a police bulletin, with a picture of him, appears on the bar's television set, causing the bartender (William Conrad) to recognize Wykoff. Wykoff takes the patrons of the bar hostage as the police, under the command of Capt. Henry Keiver (Richard Rober), converge on the area. The hostages are an interesting mix: an older married man (Leon Ames) and the young guilt-ridden woman (Andrea King) he planned to spend the weekend with, a bold barfly (Virginia Field), a burned out journalist (James Bell), and a young bartender (Keefe Brasselle) soon to be a father. 4 stars.
"Deadline at Dawn" (1946) is light noir, though Clifford Odets wrote the screenplay from a novel by Cornell Woolrich (as William Irish). Alex Winkley (Bill Williams) is an ingenuous sailor on leave in New York when he discovers that he has a wad of money in his possession that isn't his. He thinks he must have taken it from a woman he met earlier that night, Edna Bartelli (Lola Lane), as compensation for fixing a radio. But, in a drunken haze, he took all her money. With only 4 hours left before he leaves town, Alex asks a cynical dance hall girl named June Goth (Susan Hayward) to help him return it, but they find Edna has been strangled to death in her apartment. Alex fears he will be accused of murder, so he and June set out to solve the crime before morning. The dialogue to too highbrow for the characters, but June makes a strong impression. 4 stars.
"Armored Car Robbery" (1950) is a conventional crime film, not noir, dominated by three strong personalities. Dave Purvis (William Talman) is a very careful crook. He plans robberies, moves constantly, and cuts the tags out of his shirts. He has planned an armored car heist at Rigley Field for Benny Foster (Douglas Fowley) and two other men. Benny needs the money to keep his stripper wife Yvonne (Adele Jergens) from straying. But she already has. With Purvis. Police interrupt the robbery, but the crooks get away. Lt. James Cordell (Charles McGraw) and rookie cop Danny Ryan (Don McGuire) of the LAPD track the culprits down, step by step, until they find Purvis. It's a good cast. Dave Purvis, Yvonne, and Lt. Cordell are strong characters but without nuance or conflict. The story is also simplistic. 3 stars.
"Crime in the Streets" (1956) is a social conscience film about urban youth gangs. The gang is the Hornets. One of its elder members is 18-year-old Frankie Dane (John Cassavetes), a young man consumed by anger at everything. He is especially angry at a neighbor, Mr. McAllister (Malcolm Atterbury), who constantly derides the gangs. Frankie ropes Lou (Mark Rydell) and the younger "Baby" (Sal Mineo) into a plot to kill McAllister. But a social worker, Mr. Wagner (James Whitmore), who has made it his mission to reform gang members, is trying to dissuade Frankie from escalating the violence. The view that violent youth were a product of their environment may be passé now, but it was progressive for the time. The story is conventional, but Cassavetes' performance and those of the parents are powerful. 4 stars.
"Backfire" (1950) is a straightforward mystery with plenty of entertainment value but lacks any greater implication. Bob Corey (Gordon MacRae) was wounded in the War and must endure a long stay at a veteran's hospital. He and army buddy Steve Connelly (Edmond O'Brien) have plans to purchase a ranch and go into business together when Bob recovers. But when he doesn't hear from Steve for 6 weeks, and a mysterious woman appears in his room to say that Steve has been injured, Bob begins to worry. He learns that Steve is wanted for the murder of a gambler named Solly Blayne (Richard Rober). Bob and his paramour, nurse Julie Bensen (Virginia Mayo), try to track Steve down. They go from person to person, asking a lot of questions, trying to piece things together. The plot is a bit difficult to make sense of, but it doesn't want for complexity or glamour. 4 stars.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2012
There was a menace, a serious menace, in American society in the 1950s that threatened the whole way of life and concerned young and old rich and poor, no question. People seized up at the very mention of the idea and went screaming into some dreaded night at the thought. The "red scare" you say with all those secret agents in high places and low, working 24/7/365 for "Uncle Joe" and his commie empire? Well, maybe but this is not the right answer here. The gut-wrenching fear of every kid (and adult who worried about their kids) who had to hide under his or her desk in some weak-kneed and empty-headed attempt to fend off some coming atomic bomb blast? Close, but no cigar. No, the thing that drove terror into the hearts of every self-respecting and well-meaning citizen, and even those who were not, was the invasion of ... the juvenile delinquent (JD). Yes, JDs, usually shiftless young men, teenagers really, from the lower depths. And their hanger-on girlfriends (although the girlfriends were not as feared, not nearly as feared for obviously 1950s male-dominated society reasons).
If you came from "the projects" as I did, or from the urban slums as portrayed in the film under review, Crime In The Streets, a classic of this mid-1950s genre then the social snubs (I am being kind here) from the upper crust as the immoral, illegal, and threatening male teenager with time on his hands, a chip on his shoulder and no dough and no way to make dough was a lot more pressing that some hyped-up red scare or silly atomic bomb explosion. And as the plot line unfolds here in the small back streets world those great world-shaking problems don't even enter the horizon. Life close to the bone, angst-filled and alienation-flooded just swamped all other worldly considerations. Especially for wayward kids.
This film opens with a classic "rumble," over turf naturally, between two rival street gangs. After that audience fright as a way to get the juices flowing the rest of the film is a study in whatever sociological notions were floating at the time to identify, descript, and put a Band-Aid on the JD problem.
Frank, sensitive but totally alienated Frank (played by a very young John Cassavetes), is trying to find his place in his small world of the slums but people won't let him alone. Especially one old goat of a man (a bowler no less so you know his is nothing but a bad hombre to mess with) , who snitches to the coppers on one of Frank's boys, and is set up to take the fall- the deep fall so Frankie can feel better about himself. Aided by two fellow gang members he decides to alleviate his bad feeling but a small off-hand murder of this guy right in the neighborhood. One of Frank's confederates turns out to be Baby (played by Sal Mineo made famous as a JD movie character in Rebel Without A Cause) and another played by Mark Rydell who seems to be a pyscho (or at least seriously anti-social).
Enter one settlement house social worker (this was the uptown swells', 1950s version, notion of how to get these JDs back into society and away from dangerous weapons) played by James Whitmore who keeps prodding on Frankie's conscious and his "inner" suburban youth. Naturally since a central motif of all crime noirs, JDs or hardened criminals, is that crime doesn't pay old Frankie is made in his own way and in his own time to see the light. And to take responsibility for his actions. I think based on this plot I would have preferred to be just another punk JD than go that route. So there.
Out In The Two-Timing Femme Fatale 1950s Crime Noir Night- "Armored Car Robbery"- A Review
Forget what I ever said about the classic two-timing femme fatales. And who knows maybe three-timing, or more. Once you go down that road what is to stop a dame, any dame , and why, at any small number when you are looking, forever looking, to step up in class, to latch onto the big dough guys who will take you out of the dime-a-dance scene you are mired in. So forget frails like Mary Astor In The Maltese Falcon who was ready to make any guy, any two guys for that matter, take the fall as long as she got her damn bird, and the stuff of dreams. With dough enough to keep her in style, and the small-time grifters off her back. Forget Rita Hayworth in the Lady From Shang-hai who had half the male world, the smart guys too, lining up to take the fall, and just ask where to take it until in the end even the smart guys cried "uncle." Forget Jane Greer in Out Of The Past twisting up every guy in California, some smart guys too, and guys who supposedly knew what was what wound up hiding out until the coast was clear, maybe for about a century hiding out nursing the wounds , once she got done with them. And forget one more, just one more, that no femme list is complete without, Ava Garner trying to get some guy, her everlovin' husband no less, some supposedly badass guy, to take the fall for her on his deathbed in the film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's The Killers. Ya, forget them all as just slightly nervous misunderstood frills that had a couple of bad breaks along the way. Sweet little Yvonne (played by Adele Jurgens. Ya, I know, the name doesn't exactly ring bells in the fatale world, good or bad)in this sleeper of a crime noir under review, Armed Car Robbery (Ya, I know as well, they seemed to have run out of interesting titles on this one) puts them all to shame. I might be over- touting the thing but hear me out.
Naturally no femme fatale worth her salt is driven by anything but the desire, the very strong desire, to get out from under whatever menial labor she is stuck doing, from serving them off the arm in some hash house to beating drunks for drinks and donuts in some two bit-bar fly scene. Yvonne here is strictly an independent operator working her fanny off (no pun intended) as a stripper ( maybe today the more politically correct term would be a sex worker, or some other more exotic description, although I am willing to stand corrected on that) in a low-rent Chicago burlesque house. Naturally such places, as Damon Runyon, Studs Terkel, and a few other guys have informed us, do not draw serious high-rollers or serious smart guys. So, through this and that, Yvonne winds up married, unhappily married as it turns out, to Benny who is nothing but a small time grafter down on his uppers as the film opens. Strictly from Jump Street and strictly a guy who takes orders, not gives them.
And that is where this film gets interesting because while Bennie is nothing a but small time hood he knows a certain smart guy, Dave Purvis (played by William Talman, probably better known as the ever-losing District Attorney in the 1950s Perry Mason television series and not a classic ladies' man by any means which means he too has to keep grabbing dough), who has a plan, a big heist plan, which the reader can figure out from the title of the film, involves robbing, well, an armored car. Why? As the late old time yegg Willie Sutton has often been quoted as saying in all kinds of contexts -"that's where the money is." Big half a million dollar dough (big 1950s dough now just tip money for the big guys). Bennie (and a couple of his confederates) are in, in to get under from under in the Yvonne department, to keep her in style, some style anyway. But here is the beauty of the thing, and what puts Yvonne right up there with the more well-known fatales, she is running around, married to Benny or not, running around no questions asked, with one Dave Purvis. See Yvonne knows what every true-blue two-timing femme fatale knows-go with the brains of the operation. And so her fate is set.
Of course even a kid wet behind the ears knows that the magic mantra behind every crime noir is that crime, well, crime doesn't pay. The only difference usually is in what manner it doesn't pay (and how bad the femme fatale makes some guy, or guys, fall). Here the heist gets blown by a simple call to the police by a witness. The stick-up (at a ball park during baseball season which is probably a separate chargeable crime itself ) is blown but not before a fatal shoot-out of a police officer in pursuit. Benny also gets shot-up in the melee. And that is where Lieutenant Cordell (played by ruggedly handsome, jut-jawed, and straight-as-an-arrow Charles McGraw with the perfect police officer's face) comes in to see some rough-hewn justice is served. See the officer killed was his longtime partner and as we already know from detective Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon a guy has to do something about the murder of his partner, private or public cop. From there it is only time before Dave and Yvonne, once Benny expires from his wounds, are cornered in a dramatic airfield shoot-out. But here is the clincher- when Dave earlier , dough in hand, told Yvonne that Benny had gone to his just rewards she showed all the emotion of one who heard that a fly had been swatted dead. Didn't I tell you she was poison? Ya, I did.
Backfire, starring Edmond O'Brien, Dane Clark, Virginia Mayo, Gordon MacRae, Warner Brothers, 1950
Sometimes a woman will twist up a man so bad it is not funny. Twist up a guy like Ben Arno so bad that he is ready to give up everything, including his life, just for a whiff of that perfume, or whatever it is that drove him to it, to murder. (And guys can do the same to women, okay, but just this minute, this film noir minute, it is about what dames do to guys, seemingly rational guys, okay). And it's not like Ben (played by a seemingly sane Dane Clark), a genuine bad guy in the end, is not the only one caught up by that damn fragrance. Good guys, tough guys, guys that don't crack so easy like Robert Mitchum turned to putty once Jane Greer came within ten feet of that café down Sonora, Mexico way or wherever it was, in Out Of The Past. Hang him high. Ditto a genuine smart guy like Orson Welles when Rita Hayworth (who had her own) asked for a tramp cigarette in New York's Central park in The Lady From Shang-hai. End of story. Need I mention street-wise, hobo road king John Garfield when he spied Lana Turner coming through that diner door in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Gone. Or Fred MacMurray, a guy who should have figured the percentages better since he was in the insurance business, when he saw Barbara Standwyck (hell, saw just her damn bracelet) coming down those stairs in Double Indemnity. Hell, it hit a small, no account guy like Harry in The Big Sleep who was ready to give his all, and did, for his round-heeled Agnes. Even hard guy Sam, Sam Spade, was led a merry chase before he sobered after getting a look at Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon, but I'll bet he spent many a lonely winter night wondering, candidly wondering, whether he had played it right. So Ben join the line, the long line.
Here is why. Lysa (no sic here, that is the way she spelled it, spelled her foreign name, probably the first lure that roped Ben in), a refugee from war-torn Austria, who like a lot of men and women in that period in Europe grabbed whatever they could, with whatever they had. And what Lysa had was that fragrance, or something like that, and Ben fell, fell hard, brought her back to the states, set her up as his untamed mistress and was ready to fight tooth and nail to get her to love him, love him just a little, damn. That is literally tooth and nail. See, Ben would see red (and about six other colors) if another guy looked at her, or maybe even thought about it. And that maddened state is what drives the plot of this little 1950 film noir.
Ben was, well, let's call him a sportsman, a gentleman gambler, out in California (back East or in Chicago, less kind and exalted places he would be called a flat-out hood) and, as a favor to an old World War II war buddy, Steve (played by Edmond O'Brian last seen in this space trying to figure out how he died, and who did it, in the classic D.O.A.) in need of dough he hires him on as a high-grade enforcer, maybe gofer is better. Problem is that Steve too gets a whiff of that perfume, or whatever it is that old Lysa had, that drove both good guys and bad guys hoopy. And then Ben sees the pair one night in a lovers' embrace. Like I said he didn't like, didn't like that one bit and tried to kill Steve via the old automobile smash. He didn't succeed but in a rage he started killing off, including Lysa for different reasons obviously, anyone that could connect him with Steve, and his rage.
Well as we have gotten this far you might as well know just in case you are not a film noir fan, or if you couldn't figure things out for yourself, that Ben can't get away with all this murder stuff. Crime does not pay, remember, film noir 101. That is where his severely wounded war buddy recuperating in a VA hospital, Bob (played by Gordon MacRae), comes in, as well as Bob's VA nurse love interest, Julie, (played by Virginia Mayo). Ben has Steve hidden away recuperating (maybe) while he covers his tracks. Bob, like a good war buddy, has to find out what happened to him after he get discharged from the hospital since Steve stopped coming to the hospital to see him. And so they proceed to do just that.
I have mentioned in other film noir reviews how ordinary citizens, here ordinary citizen-soldiers, are important to the solution of certain noir crimes, of taking care of business especially when their necks (or their buddy's neck) are on the line. In film noir, as in life, solving big time crimes like murder can't be left to the cops, no way. They, the cops, are good for writing up traffic tickets and telling drivers to move on, maybe collaring you for some tickets to some police charity, cadging some coffee and crullers, and, maybe coming in at the end to brace the bad guys but to solve a murder when your neck is on the line, no, no.
Although Bob and Julie co-operate (kind of) with the local cops (headed by a Captain played by classic character actor Ed Begley) who are looking for Steve in order to pin a murder on him they figure that they had better solve this crime spree themselves. And they do, but you can watch this so-so film noir (a little too good guy cute in places, a little too pat in the dialogue, and a few too many false leads place helter-skelter to make it really work). But remember this one is about what a dame, a good dame here, can do to twist a guy up, twist him up bad.
Desperate, starring Steve Brodie, Audrey Long, Raymond Burr, directed by Anthony Mann, RKO Radio Pictures, 1947
A guy, just an average, maybe getting a few breaks here, a few knock arounds there guy, a guy who knew a few things, knew a few guys, tough guys in the old broken down neighborhood, faded since its glory days around 1910, but kept his own nose clean. Like I said, just an average guy, an average guy who did his time overseas during the war (World War II in case anybody is asking), grabbed a few medals, saw a few things, saw a few more things that maybe he didn't want to, or shouldn't have seen but kept his mouth shut just like when he saw things in the old neighborhood. A guy trying to catch a break, maybe make a couple of bucks, have a couple of kids and call it a day. An ordinary average guy, got it.
Then his world caved in. Caved in big time, and not just his, but being an average guy, having done his average guy duty overseas, he came home and got married, married to a swell girl, sweet, pretty if not beautiful, and if pretty, also pretty naïve about big city ways, and tough neighborhoods, when guys keep quiet about stuff, unless and until they can square the thing themselves. And our guy, our average guy has plenty to square. Starting with, well, starting with him trying to put a couple of nickels together in the trucking industry in order to get that white picket fence and the house that comes with it in order to shelter that pretty wife and those future kids. So he takes a certain job see, a certain job that comes with some unexpected baggage, some old neighborhood baggage, from one of those wild boys who didn't grow up to be just an average guy, but a tough guy. A tough guy who needed to move some stolen goods fast, via a truck, with no questions asked and no snitches. Our guy, our guy to a tee. But see the thing went wrong, went wrong from the start because Mr. Tough Guy has a younger brother with the itch for the easy life. Naturally younger brother got things all balled up, got it as balled up as thing can get balled, and a cop dies. And when cops die extra heat, lots of extra heat gets turned on. So that is one problem our average guy is going to have since the cops will shoot first and sort the rest, the innocent or guilty part, later. The other problem is that our tough guy is very, very fond of that younger brother of his, a younger brother who is in the hands of the police and is set to step off , step off on the big one for that cop killing. So tough guy is ready to move might and main to get his brother free, including pointing fingers at our average guy. Our average guy, let's face it, is nothing but a candidate for the frame anyway you cut it.
You could see with that set-up where a square average guy might get a little desperate, especially since he has no one to turn to except that pretty wife in order to make things right. So they flee, flee as far as they can to some Podunk farm where pretty wife, pregnant pretty wife as it turned out to complicate things for a guy trying to square things, grew up. Things got a little tense, a little tight for a while since our tough guy had this real thing about his brother and when that became a lost cause his tough guy thing said our average guy had to take the fall in revenge. And he did, almost, except, well except guys, even average guys, in film noirs are not stepping off for things that they didn't do and so once again Mr. Tough Guy learns the noir lesson the hard way- crime doesn't pay. And our average guy? Last we heard he was heading to sunny California as part of that great Okie/Arkie land giving out migration (no, not the Joad's 1930s from hunger one, but the restless westward pioneer trek that produced those alienated hot- rodders, easy riders, and perfect wave surfers and their girls after World War II) looking for that white picket fence and the great blue-pink Western night.