Tag Archives: Noirvember

Four Ways Out (1951)

This exceedingly Italian noir begins with a soccer stadium robbery before following four thieves who’ve scattered to escape the police. Both deterministic and humanistic, Federico Fellini’s (et al) script not only addresses some of the social forces leading to crime– above all, poverty– but guarantees that none of the titular four ways out actually leads to a successful exit. Gina Lollabrigida receives top billing but it’s Cosetta Greco who does most of the heavy lifting as Lina, a resourceful young mother whose husband Luigi is clearly out of his depth.

Drunken Angel (1948)

An alcoholic doctor (Takashi Shimura) treats a young yakuza for tuberculosis only to see him stumble back into his old life. A very rakish Toshiro Mifune plays the doomed Matsungana, whose weakening health makes him vulnerable to his former criminal associates. Abandoned by his glamorous girlfriend, set up by his boss, his death ultimately serves little purpose. Takashi’s Dr. Sanada, the drunken angel of the title, is a curious figure, irascible, unsentimental but not callous, and pretty much disgusted with the yakuza hoods who run the show, calling them a relic of the feudal mentality. There’s a bit of art house in this movie, as with Matsugana’s fever dreams or his epic fight with the reptilian Okada. This is a fantastic early-ish film by Kurosawa.

Rolling Thunder (1977)

Operation Rolling Thunder was an almost four year bombing campaign by the United States that killed hundreds of thousands of people, rendered parts of Vietnam uninhabitable, and scattered unexploded ordinance across the country. It was probably a war crime.

John Flynn’s 1977 neo-noir– scripted by Paul Schrader– presumably takes its title from that long series of events. Its protagonist, Maj. Charles Rane (William Devane) is an Air Force pilot who was a POW for 7 years and has returned home to San Antonio, Texas. He was tortured during his captivity, his wife wants to divorce him so she can remarry one of their old friends, and his son has no idea who he is. The relative equanimity with which he responds to these developments initially seems admirable, but it soon becomes apparent that part of him is missing. As he works to adjust to his new situation he is maimed and his family is killed during a home invasion. It’s pretty clear where things are headed.

There’s so much to recommend this movie, but of particular note is an impressive performance of Linda Haynes who brings a carefully calibrated sense of authenticity to her role as Linda Forchet.

The Naked Kiss (1964)

Constance Towers slaps her way through this strange melange of pulp and sentiment as Kelly, a prostitute on the run who moves to a small town and goes straight. Director Sam Fuller’s tabloid visual style complements an often bizarre story, one that includes a “stable” of “bon bon girls,” a maudlin singalong with “crippled” children, and a dressmaker’s dummy named Charlie. Worth watching if only for the first three minutes. Here’s the whole film:

Another Man’s Poison (1952)

This thriller-melodrama isn’t a film noir and despite its clockwork plot it’s not a mystery either. Based on a stageplay, Another Man’s Poison follows mystery novelist Janet Preston’s (Bette Davis) increasingly desperate attempts to conceal the murder of her husband. The arrival of a shady associate complicates matters immensely. A great performance by Bette Davis.

Panique (1946)

Julien Duvivier’s adaptation of a Georges Simenon novel bears some resemblance to another film released just three years earlier: Clouzot’s Le Corbeau. Both stories involve unjust accusations leading to a violent end. Panique, it seems, was Intended as a commentary on those who collaborated with the occupying German authorities. Michel Simon plays Desire Hire, a wounded eccentric and amateur photographer fascinated by crime and vice. When a woman is killed her murderer sets out to frame Hire, stoking the antipathy of the locals. Palmistry and astrology lend a faint otherworldliness to the scene. Former Moulin Rouge dancer Viviane Romance plays Alice, a woman recently returned from prison, whose boyfriend exploits her affection for his own ends. Strikingly, the rest of the characters prove just as eccentric– though certainly not as noble– as Hire.

Any Number Can Win (1963)

Jean Gabin and the handsomest man in cinema, Alain Delon, star in this heist flick set in Cannes. Aging crook Charles (Gabin) gets out of prison and immediately begins plotting One Last Job. The proposition: robbing a casino with his former cell mate, the much younger and less experienced Francis (Delon). The plan involves Francis establishing himself as a playboy and dating one of the resort’s floorshow dancers in order to gain access to the backstage area. Half the fun is getting there, but the almost sensually suspenseful denouement is a surprise.

El Vampiro Negro (1953)

This Argentine adaptation of M directed by Roman Barreto is a beautiful film. Amalia (Olga Zubarry), a single mother working in a low-rent cabaret, sees the Black Vampire, a serial child-murderer, throwing a body into the sewer. Told by her drug-dealing boss to stay quiet lest people learn of her sleazy profession, it’s ultimately her own daughter who is threatened. Self-consciously Freudian, dipping into the impoverished underworld, and featuring a memorable roller coaster ride involving the killer and one of his intended victims, El Vampiro Negro is a stylish and compelling noir.

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Though John Huston’s adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s seminal hard-boiled novel no longer holds the distinction of “first” film noir it’s lost none of its punch. Bogart’s Sam Spade is ironic, even cruel at times, more or less indifferent to the murder of his partner and quick to brush off the dead man’s widow– with whom, it turns out, he’s been having an affair. And if Mary Astor bears little physical resemblance to the novel’s alluring, redheaded Brigid O’Shaugnessy, she reveals glimpses of the calculating greed that marks her as one of American crime fiction’s most notable femmes fatale. Peter Lorre probably outshines everyone else as the venal Joel Cairo whose catfight with Brigid almost queers the pitch.

Gods of the Plague (1970)

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s New Wave treatment of the noir film retains specific dramatic aspects of the genre– a heist, a recently released ex-con, a romantic triangle– even as it slows its story down to a nearly intolerable degree. Focusing on stark, chiaroscuro shots and static moments, Gods of the Plague willfully denies us the thrills of crime action in favor of listless, disaffected characters such as Franz, whose most expressive facet is often the smoke trickling away from his cigarette. Magarethe von Trotta, who would go on to become one of the most gifted filmmakers of her generation stars as Margarethe, a model attracted to both Franz and his friend Gunther. Hanna Schygulla plays Johanna, a hooker with a heart of gold who, wounded by Franz’s indifference, betrays him to the cops. Easily the most demanding film of Noirvember thus far.

Here’s a clip: