Railroaded

July 14, 2009 at 11:02 PM (Film Noir Reviews) (, , , )


 

Railroaded is a film from 1947 directed by Anthony Mann (He Walked By Night, T-Men, Raw Deal) that goes largely unnoticed when talking about film noir from the 1940’s. It sure fits the bill as a film noir and has many elements that make it a nice little picture to watch. 

John Ireland, playing Duke Martin, is the star and a viscous character. Ireland does a wonderful job and is by far the brightest star in the film, though most of the supporting cast do a fine job. Ireland is probably best known for his portrayal of Jack Burden, the idealist journalist in All the King’s Men. He also teamed up with Mann in another film noir Raw Deal

Duke Martin is the muscle for a rich bookmaker. He has no qualms about using force of the most deadly kind. He perfumes his bullets as a trademark. He is mostly the stereotypical small time criminal who wants nothing more than to be the big boss. He hatches a plan with the boss’s girlfriend Clara (Jane Randolph) to knock off a beauty parlor/bookmaking joint, but things get hairy when a cop shows up and gets himself shot. 

This brings in Detective Mickey Ferguson (Hugh Beaumont) who is investigating the murder of the policeman. All of the early evidence points to the young, naïve Steve Ryan (Ed Kelly) as being the one who pulled the trigger. One of the heist guys fingers Steve on his death bed to get back at Steve over a grudge. 

Ferguson grew up with Steve and his sister Rosie (Sheila Ryan) but is not going to let that stand in the way of getting the evidence to put Steve away. As the evidence unfolds and it becomes clear to Ferguson that Steve is innocent, a romance begins to develop between Ferguson and Rosie. Ferguson is then determined to prove that Duke was the one who killed the policeman and send him to the gas chamber. 

Jane Randolph as Clara Calhoun is the femme fatale and that is evident from the very beginning as she lets the final beauty shop customer out the door and then gives her a disgusted look as soon as the lady turns her back. Clara then walks to the back of the beauty parlor and you realize she is running a small bookie joint. Randolph does a good job with this character, but the script didn’t do her any favors. 

Noir Elements 

You get the feel that Railroaded is to be a noir in the opening shot. The city is seen at a distance from above as the credits are scrolling on the screen. It is the city from high above and then you delve into the lives of the main characters—little people swallowed up by the massiveness of the city around them. 

Anthony Mann does a nice job with this film. The almost pitch black darkness works well in the foreboding and tension filled scenes. Particularly the climactic scene where there is only a bit of key light on the faces of those involved. 

You have a femme fatale, a smooth older gentleman running a criminal enterprise, some muscle who wants more, a patsy, a cop who is looking for justice and another cop who is bitter, brutal and distrustful of everyone he picks up. The noir story elements are their even if they feel contrived in a lot of instances. 

The most impressive of the noir elements are visual in Railroaded. The shadows of the film work well and certainly give you an uneasy feeling in many scenes, even if the reason for the darkness in many instances is budgetary. There is a nice contrast between the bright scenes inside the Ryan home and the dark, shadowy scenes throughout the rest of the movie. 

Recommendation 

I would recommend you to give this film a chance. It is not in the upper echelon of film noir by any means, but Mann’s style is interesting and Ireland is surprisingly good as a bad guy. Hugh Beaumont as Ferguson is dry and uninteresting but not enough to make the entire picture uninteresting. 

Railroaded has one particular scene that it is most noted for. There is a rather extensive chick fight between Rosie and Clara. It is something you have probably never seen in another film of this period and definitely gets your attention at a point when you think the picture is dragging a little. 

There are some scenes that are contrived. The first kiss between Ferguson and Rosie comes out of nowhere and makes no sense whatsoever, even in the noir world. The suave older criminal mastermind citing Oscar Wilde all the time is a bit annoying, and I don’t really care for the perfumed bullets of Duke. 

Railroaded gives you a pretty good story, some decent acting, very good visual imagery and takes you into a different world for 72 minutes.

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The Best of Film Noir

July 2, 2009 at 10:08 PM (Film Noir Documentaries) (, , , )


The Best of Film Noir is a very elementary introduction to the genre. It mentions some of the most notable films, such as Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, Touch of Evil and Out of the Past. It also gives you brief glimpses of Bogart and Robert Mitchum, but it doesn’t go into any great detail about the elements of noir or a history of how it came about.

The Best of Film Noir does provide a few interesting archival interviews, especially in the bonus section that includes quick studies of Rod Steiger, Bogart and Orson Welles. There is also some archival footage of Bogie and Bacall at the 1955 Oscars and a funny story of Bogart starting a fight at a party that had to be broken up by John Wayne.

 After the one hour documentary, there are condensed versions of D.O.A. and Detour, which I don’t understand. If you want to see those films, you should just watch the whole movie. Also in the extras after the documentary is a quick commentary by film critic Jeffrey Wells, which is informative for newcomers to the film noir genre.

 If you already have a healthy understanding, you will not get much from this documentary that you don’t already know. The best thing about this documentary is the archival footage and interviews. If you are new to film noir, it is a good place to get a few recommendations as to films you should check out.

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14 Hours

July 1, 2009 at 8:09 PM (Film Noir Reviews) (, , , , , , )


14 Hours is a lesser known film noir released in 1951 and directed by Henry Hathaway that follows the 14 hours that Robert Cosick (Richard Basehart) stands on the ledge of a New York City high rise hotel threatening to jump. The cast includes a long list of film noir stalwarts, such as Paul Douglas, Howard Da Silva, Jeff Corey, Basehart, Agnes Moorehead, Frank Faylen, though there is only one big name, Grace Kelly, who is making her first film appearance. Also, the cinematographer Joe McDonald was a film noir veteran who worked on films such as Panic in the Streets, Pickup on South Street, and The Dark Corner long with several other notable noirs. Hathaway himself was virtually the inventor of the docu-noir, which is where 14 Hours fits in snuggly. 

Hathaway had a long history directing noir films, but the docu-noirs such as Call Northside 777 and The House on 92nd Street is how he really put his stamp on the noir genre. 14 Hours is very similar to these films in that police or journalistic procedure, realism and a lack of excessive expressionism forms the foundation of the style.

 The film begins with a nice view of New York City circa 1951. The streets are empty and ominous and you certainly get the feel that something is about to happen. This emptiness is quickly contrasted by a large busy crowd as soon as it is found out that Cosick is out on the ledge and could jump at any minute. A traffic cop, Charlie Dunnigan (Paul Douglas) is the first policeman to see Cosick and is rushed up to his side as the rest of the police force, complete with psychiatrists, make their way up to the 15th floor of the hotel.

 Dunnigan becomes the one guy that Cosick feels he can trust and most of the film consists of Dunnigan’s balance between trying to keep Cosick trusting his intentions while also plotting with the rest of the police force to get Cosick down.

 This film gives harsh treatment to virtually all types of people. It shows policemen, psychiatrists, cab drivers, journalists, parents, and priests in a bad light. Virtually everyone in the film is attempting to exploit Cosick’s situation for their own benefit; particularly his mother, who is searching for her one chance at fame.

 The most scorn is saved for the media as this is one of the first to show the media exploitation of an event in which real people are involved. It is similar to another noir during the same year, Ace in the Hole, which focuses almost solely on media exploitation of and individual’s crisis.

 Noir Elements

Because this is a fictionalized documentary type of story (it is based upon a true story), Hathaway and McDonald were going for a more realistic approach to the visual style of the film. There is very little of the high contrast chiaroscuro lighting that you find in most noirs. During the day scenes, it is very bright with few shadows and contrasts, though you do see some of normal noir lighting during the night scenes at the end of the film.

What makes 14 Hours a noir film has more to do with the aspects the characters, most specifically Cosick. Psychoanalysis is prevalent and many of the theories of Freud permeate the undertones of Cosick’s problems. There is a bit of the Oedipus complex going on between Cosick and his parents. Also, Cosick is certainly isolated, rarely shown in the same frame as any of the other characters. There are numerous shots from the street looking up at Cosick which magnify his isolation from the rest of the crowd (aka society) gathered below.

 This film also takes a rather critical attitude toward anyone in a position of authority. The police chief Moskar (Howard Da Silva) is not the most likeable character and even the hero Dunnigan gets caught in several blatant lies to Cosick.

Another idea that seems to pop up in 14 Hours and other film noirs is the notion that the city separates people and reduces their humanity. When one of the cab drivers looks up at Cosick on the ledge, Cosick is barely visible and the cabbie describes Cosick as “just like a bug taking a walk.” The cab drivers then proceed to get a pool together to see who can get closest to the time that Cosick will actually jump.

 Recommendation

14 Hours is certainly a film worth watching. It is somewhat of an unknown but should not be hard to find. I was able to get a copy through Netflix. It is known more for being Grace Kelly’s first film though she plays a rather small part. It is a nice cast, and all perform well though there is no one that really stands out. The story moves along at a good pace. The real star of the film is probably the cinematography of McDonald and the excellent process shots that may be unmatched by the standards of 1951. They are masterfully done and you really get a good feel for the vastness of the city in contrast to the smallness of Basehart’s character.

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