Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Glass Tomb (1955)

glass tomb2The Glass Tomb (released in the US as The Glass Cage) is one of the more offbeat of the early 1950s Hammer film noir offerings. And it’s reasonably entertaining.

Made in 1955 and directed by Montgomery Tully, it really hasn’t very much claim to being a film noir but it is a competent murder mystery with a sideshow background.

Pel Pelham is a carnival impresario who desperately needs a new act. He thinks he’s found it but it will require money, a commodity he is sadly short of. Luckily his rich bookmaker friend Tony Lewis (Sid James) is happy to lend him the money. The act is to be a Starving Man act. The idea is that a man is locked inside a glass cage for an extended period of time without being able to eat. And Pel has exactly the right Starving Man, a veteran of such acts. Henri Sapolio (Eric Pohlmann) in fact holds the world record for such feats - sixty-five days without food. This time he will attempt to go for seventy days.


Pel is a smoother talker and manages to convince a real estate agent to lease him a property in which to set up the carnival tend and the glass cage in which the Starving Man will be imprisoned. He persuades the agent to rent him the property for nothing, just for the publicity value. Anyone who can persuade a real estate agent to give them something for nothing is obviously worthy of respect.

The act is going very well and Pel and his friends are celebrating the novelty of actually having money when tragedy strikes. Tony Lewis’s girlfriend is found murdered in the flat upstairs. She had been blackmailing Tony, who had persuaded Pel to talk to her to try to get her to drop her demands for money.


Tony Lewis is the obvious suspect, having an excellent motive for murder, but are things really as clear-cut as they seem? And where does the second murder, that soon follows, fit in?

Such noirness as this movie has comes mostly from the carny background, a seedy glamorous setting which always lends itself well to noir. But it misses out on being truly noir because none of the characters could really be described as losers, nor do they give any impression of being doomed. To the outside world they might be freaks and misfits but they love the carny life and they look after each other. The movie portrays this world in a rather romantic light and most of the characters are sympathetic.


Pel Pelham is certainly not a noir hero. He has his ups and downs and often he’s flat broke but he’s a gifted showman and always bounces back. He can sell an act like the Starving Man with flair and with considerable success. John Ireland’s performance isn’t stunning but it’s very competent.

He gets good support from Honor Blackman as Jenny Pelham, from Geoffrey Keen as a showbiz kingpin and from Eric Pohlmann as Henri Sapolio, a remarkably well-fed and jovial Starving Man. But then I guess for anyone who is supposedly going to go for seventy days without food carrying a few extra pounds to begin with is a big advantage! Sid James is particularly impressive as Tony Lewis. Before he found lasting success as a comic James mostly played heavies and tough guys, and did so rather successfully. He doesn’t exactly play Lewis as a bookie with a heart of gold, but he’s generous to his friends and he’s difficult to dislike. There’s always a bit of a twinkle in his eye, which perhaps gives us the clue that this was an actor who would find his real métier in comedy. The performance works very well in the context of the movie - we’re supposed to find it hard to believe that he could really be a murderer (if he is the murderer, and to find out if he is you’ll have to watch the movie).


VCI’s DVD, like all their Hammer Noir releases, is a double-feature (this one is paired with Paid To Kill which I haven’t yet viewed, and offers an excellent transfer.

Like most of the Hammer noirs this is a fairly solid offering, well-made and benefiting from some fine character actors, and generally entertaining. It possibly gives away the identity of the killer too soon but the setting, in the world of sideshows, is a bonus and makes this movie worth recommending.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thank You, Mr. Moto (1937)

Thank You, Mr. Moto (1937)Thank You, Mr. Moto was the second of 20th Century-Fox’s Mr Moto films. Released in 1937, it was directed by Norman Foster, as were most of the movies in this series, and of course starred Peter Lorre.

This time the Japanese-born agent of the International Police, Mr Moto, is on the track of the tomb of Genghis Khan (and the fabulous treasure it is rumoured to contain). And not surprisingly so are certain other people, people with few moral scruples. The key to finding the tomb is a series of seven 13th century Chinese scroll paintings. The Chung family owns six of the scrolls, but all seven are needed in order to reveal the location of the tomb. Prince Chung does not want anyone to find the tomb and desecrate it, but Mr Moto has been ordered to find it.

A young American woman in Peking, Eleanor Joyce (Jayne Regan), finds herself caught up in the search for the scrolls as well. Her father is a collector of Chinese antiquities with a particular fondness for Chinese scroll paintings. He knows nothing of the legend that these particular seven paintings contain a secret meaning, and Eleanor’s interest in the paintings is purely aesthetic.

Thank You, Mr. Moto (1937)

Colonel Tchernov’s interest in the paintings is far from aesthetic. He is prepared to kill to get them, in fact he is prepared to kill Prince Chung, but Mr Moto intervenes. Despite their very different agendas Mr Moto and Prince Chung respect each other and both are men to whom honour is all-important and Mr Moto will find himself facing an ethical dilemma as a result.

Eleanor has attracted the romantic attentions of a young American diplomat, Tom Nelson (Thomas Beck). Both Eleanor and Tom will find themselves in great danger as the unscrupulous gang in pursuit of Genghis Khan’s treasure lay their perfidious plots.

Thank You, Mr. Moto (1937)

Peter Lorre had well and truly settled into the role by now and he’s clearly enjoying himself. Mr Moto is not a man who relies entirely on brainpower to resolve his cases - he’s quite capable of playing the action hero as well, and Lorre faces this challenge with considerable elan. Lorre was keen to take on this role which gave him the chance to be both a hero and a very likeable character as well, a welcome change of pace for the actor who was starting to get stereotyped in sinister roles. Mr Moto is a man of great charm and Lorre brings a surprising warmth to his performance, as well as sly humour.

The supporting cast is quite acceptable by B-movie standards. John Carradine is amusing as a crooked dealer in Chinese antiquities.

Thank You, Mr. Moto (1937)

Norman Foster handles his directing task with a far amount of dash - this movie moves along at a pleasingly brisk pace. One of the great strengths of the studio system was the capability of the studios to make B-movies with fairly high production values and Thank You, Mr. Moto never looks shoddy.

There’s a nice mix of action and suspense and the movie is thankfully free of the unnecessary comic relief that was unfortunately such a feature of 1930s and 1940s crime B-movies.

Thank You, Mr. Moto (1937)

This film is one of four included in the first of the two Mr Moto DVD boxed sets issued by Fox. The transfers are excellent and the movies include a few extras as well. These might have been relatively low-budget movies but they’re given a respectful treatment in this boxed set.

Thank You, Mr. Moto is terrific B-movie fun, a fine crime movie with a hint of international intrigue, and is highly recommended.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Union Station (1950)

Union Station (1950)

Union Station’s claims to noir status rest almost entirely on its style, but if style counts for anything then this movie, and especially the exciting climactic sequences, should certainly be noir enough for most people’s tastes.

Made by Paramount in 1950, as far as content is concerned it’s essentially a police procedural with thriller elements as well.

In feel it’s classic city noir. Although much of the action takes place (as the title suggests) in Union Station in Los Angeles it could be any railway station in any city of the US. The actually setting is, as it is in any good urban film noir, Noir City USA.

The story begins when a passenger on a train notices some suspicious behaviour by some  fellow passengers. She reports the matter, and thus is Lieutenant Bill Calhoun (William Holden) introduced into the story. He’s a railway cop, he’s a cop through and through, and he takes his job seriously. This report probably means nothing but he follows it up. In fact it’s far from being nothing - he has stumbled into a major kidnapping case.

Union Station (1950)

The kidnapping victim is a blind girl. Her wealthy father receives a ransom demand for $100,000. A case as big as this will obviously involve more than just the railway police, and now Inspector Donnelly (Barry Fitzgerald) enters the action. Although belonging to different generations both the young Calhoun and the veteran Donnelly are professionals and right from the start they work together smoothly as a team. Since the ransom pickup is to be made in Union Station Donnelly recognises that he will need Calhoun’s knowledge of the workings of the station.

Joyce Willecombe (Nancy Olson), the woman who made the initial report, will be involved in the ongoing investigation as well - her ability to recognise several members of the kidnapping gang is  one of the few good leads the cop have at this stage.

Union Station (1950)

Kidnapping is always a uniquely unpleasant crime but it’s made even more so by the fact the the victim is blind and the head of the gang is a particularly ruthless psychopath, Joe Beacom (Lyle Bettger). Donnelly and Calhoun know that the odds are that even if the ransom is paid the victim will be killed. In fact for all they know she may already be dead, but they have to act on the assumption that she’s alive and will remain so at least until the ransom is paid. The victim’s father clings to the belief that his daughter is still alive.

With someone like Joe Beacom involved the case can be just as hazardous for the other members of the gang as it is for the victim. He’s not a man who likes to leave loose ends lying around and his usual method dealing with such loose ends is fatally violent.

Union Station (1950)

The screenplay by Sydney Boehm doesn’t try to be too clever. The plot is a basic one and the quality of the movie depends on how well it’s executed. And in this case it’s executed very well indeed. With a man like Rudolph Maté in the director’s chair, a man who earned five Oscar nominations as a cinematographer, you’d expect the movie to look good and it does. The cinematographer on the film was Daniel L. Fapp and between them he and Maté have achieved the perfect noir visual signature for this film.

Barry Fitzgerald had played sensitive cops numerous times by this stage of his career and his performance is assured and sympathetic. He works well with William Holden who turns in a very solid performance as a hardboiled but dedicated cop. Jan Sterling goes close to stealing the movie as Beacom’s girlfriend. She thinks she’s as hardboiled as he is, but even she doesn’t know what a vicious piece of work he is. Lyle Bettger makes a splendid noir psychopathic villain.

Union Station (1950)

The DVD from Olive Films offers no extras but an excellent transfer. This is a very neglected and very professionally done hardboiled noirish crime thriller and we can be thankful to Olive Films for making it available to us in the DVD format.

Paramount productions tended to have high production values and this movie, even though it was not a major A picture, still benefits from the studio’s classy style which it combines very well with some excellent noir touches and the result is the sort of excellent mid-range movie that the studio system was so good at delivering. Railroad settings are always effective backdrops for thrillers and this movie is highly recommended.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Love Among the Millionaires (1930)

Love Among the Millionaires (1930)Love Among the Millionaires is one of Clara Bow’s early talkies. For years the legend has persisted that Bow was unable to make the  transition to sound pictures. This movie clearly demonstrates that that was not the case.

There is no problem at all with Bow’s voice. She certainly suffered from nerves at first but she overcame the problem. It’s just that Paramount lacked confidence in her as a sound star and the material they offered her was of decidedly mixed quality.

Love Among the Millionaires is a musical comedy romance. Pepper Whipple (Bow) works at a cafe run by her father, a cafe frequented by railroad men, two of whom hope to marry her. Clicker Watson and Boots McGee have been locked in a friendly rivalry for her affections for quite some time but both find themselves out of the running when brakeman Jerry Hamilton arrives on the scene. It is love at first sight for both Jerry and Pepper.

Love Among the Millionaires (1930)

What Pepper doesn’t know is that Jerry is no humble brakeman - he’s the son of the owner of the railroad. His father has put him into overalls to learn the business from the inside.

Jerry’s rich parents are not at all enthusiastic about the idea of his marrying a waitress, and Pepper’s father has a long-standing grudge against the railroad owner. True love will be facing an uphill battle in this story.

Love Among the Millionaires (1930)

The plot is strictly routine, and Stanley Smith is an unexciting although adequate leading man. There’s some reasonably capable comic relief from Richard Gallager and Stuart Erwin as Clicker and Boots, and from Charles Sellon as Pepper’s father. Child vaudeville star Mitzi Green does her best to steal every scene she’s in.

Everything really hinges on the quality of Bow’s performance and on her undoubted screen charisma. Bow proves equal to the task.

Love Among the Millionaires (1930)

The songs are less than memorable. Bow as a singer was capable enough but it’s easy to see why this was her only musical. She’s more comfortable with the comedy side of things than with the musical numbers.

Love Among the Millionaires is unusual among musicals of that era (when the backstage Broadway musical reigned supreme) in that the songs are integrated into the story, and fairly successfully so.

Love Among the Millionaires (1930)

Frank Tuttle was a reliable journeyman director who did some good movies and it’s difficult to fault the job he does here.

Like all of Clara Bow’s talkies this one is difficult to find, and just about impossible to find in any kind of decent condition.

Love Among the Millionaires did little for Clara Bow’s career which was looking rather shaky at the time but it’s a reasonably entertaining if unassuming little picture and Bow’s performance is sufficient reason to make it worth a look.

Friday, November 16, 2012

New York Confidential (1955)

New York Confidential (1955)New York Confidential is more gangster movie than film noir, but it’s a good gangster movie. It looks back to the classic gangster movies of the 30s, but it also looks forward to the gangster movies of a later era.

Made in 1955, it deals with the Mob in a period of transition. They’re still gangsters but now they’re covering it up with a veneer of respectability. They’re businessmen, but the gang violence is still there bubbling away under the surface.

Charlie Lupo (Broderick Crawford) heads the New York operations of the Syndicate. He has put the bad old days of gangland killings behind him, or at least he thinks he has. Until  Pete Androtti carries out an unauthorised hit. Androtti has broken the cardinal rule of organised crime - he has executed a hit for reasons of personal vengeance. Obviously Androtti has to be taken care of, but can this be done without setting off an old-fashioned gangland war, the very thing the modern Syndicate abhors?

New York Confidential (1955)

The hit on Androtti has to be done cleanly and efficiently. And that’s just what Nick Magellan (Richard Conte) is good at. He does the job so well that Lupo hires him as a permanent employee. Nick is no street thug - he’s smooth, he’s polite, he’s civilised, he’s educated (although one suspects self-educated). He’s the ideal man for the new respectable gangsterism of the 50s - he can make polite conversation and he knows what fork to use at dinner, but if necessary he can kill and do so very efficiently.

Of course things get complicated. Lupo’s daughter Kathy (Anne Bancroft) desperately wants to escape the stigma of being a gangster’s daughter. There is also a definite emotional and sexual attraction between Kathy and Nick Magellan, but Kathy will have to overcome both her distaste for gangsters and Nick’s incredibly strong loyalty to her father.

New York Confidential (1955)

All is going well for the Syndicate, and especially for Charlie Lupo, while Nick Magellan is steadily rising up the ranks of Lupo’s organisation. In fact Charlie has decided that Nick should do no more hits. Despite his skills as a hitman he is now too important to be risked in that manner. He is being groomed as a possible successor to Charlie’s number two man, and possibly even to take over the operation if Charlie decides to retire. Nick has both brains and loyalty, two qualities that Lupo values highly.

Then trouble strikes. An oil deal falls through. This is an attempt by the Syndicate to branch out into legitimate business although their methods of moving into the oil business are characteristically dishonest. They have various high-ranking government officials and congressmen in their pocket and they are convinced that one of them has betrayed the Syndicate. Charlie believes the best way to handle it is just to take it on the chin. Trying to take revenge on such a prominent man is just asking for trouble. But he is overruled - the other leaders of the Syndicate decide on a hit, and they decide Lupo’s organisation should handle it.

New York Confidential (1955)

Lupo’s fears turn out to be well-founded, and soon his whole organisation is imperiled. Nick will also find himself drawn into the mess as events move towards their climax.

Is this a film noir? That depends on how you read Nick Magellan’s character. We know from the start that he’s a cold-blooded killer, but by his own lights he’s an honourable hoodlum. He has always been loyal to his employer. He has never double-crossed anyone. And it’s a point of honour for him (and also a sign of his fastidious nature) that when he carries out a hit he does it cleanly. No innocent bystanders get killed. The sort of bungled hit that Pete Androtti carried out, one that resulted in the death of an innocent civilian, is anathema to Nick Magellan. It’s inefficient, it’s clumsy, and it’s wrong. Nick is a killer but he’s an oddly sympathetic character. He kills, but he only kills other gangsters, men who have transgressed clearly understood rules. As the situation spirals out of control he is, like a noir hero, dragged down into a nightmare world where loyalty can be a dangerous emotion and the stakes are very high, in fact the highest stake of all - life or death.

New York Confidential (1955)

Richard Conte gives another faultless performance. He knows when to underplay but although Nick is on the surface a cold and controlled personality we are always aware that despite appearances he is not emotionless. He is in his own way a tragic figure - as he explains to Kathy, when you’re the son or daughter of a gangster your destiny is already mapped out and no matter how hard you try you’re always a gangster’s son or daughter. Nick’s solution is to accept this, not because it’s a good solution but because there is no other. Conte gives Nick Magellan real depth in his characteristic effective but unflamboyant way.

Broderick Crawford is much more showy but just as effective. Anne Bancroft in one of her often overlooked early roles plays a complex femme fatale role extremely well. A strong supporting cast adds further strength to this movie.

New York Confidential (1955)

This is a film noir that was quite successful at the time but more or less disappeared from sight for many years until VCI’s DVD release. VCI have done a fine job with this release with an excellent transfer and an informative commentary track.

New York Confidential marked something of a departure in gangster movies, depicting the new face of organised crime. On the surface this was organised crime without the violent gangland wars of earlier decades, organised crime that seems almost respectable outwardly but beneath the veneer it is still based essentially on brutality, greed and violence. An interesting movie, and highly recommended.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Angel (1937)

Angel (1937)Angel, released by Paramount in 1937, brings together two of the great talents of 1930s Hollywood, director Ernst Lubitsch and star Marlene Dietrich. The coming together of these two outsiders, both having to adapt to living and working in a foreign country and both having done so with spectacular success in the early 30s, promises movie magic. Whether Angel delivers on this promise or not depends very much on what you’re expecting.

If you’re anticipating a typical Lubitsch light romantic comedy then you’re certainly going to be disappointed. This isn’t a comedy at all. Most of the negative reviews of this movie seem to assume that it is a failed romantic comedy but it’s actually quite obvious that it was not intended as such. Both Lubitsch and Dietrich could handle comedy (although Dietrich had not yet had an opportunity to display that talent) and both male leads, Herbert Marshall and Melvyn Douglas, were certainly adept at comedy. And yet the movie is undeniably lacking in laughs, which leads to the fairly obvious conclusion that comedy was not really what Lubitsch had in mind. That’s not to say that the movie is entirely humourless, but the humour is provided by the supporting players while the three leads play out the central plot in an entirely straight manner.

In fact it’s an attempt to apply the famous Lubitsch touch to a relatively straight romantic drama, to deal fairly seriously with adultery rather than treating it in the carefree amoral way in which the director had approached such subjects in the pre-code era, but to do so with the lightness of touch for which Lubitsch was renowned. There are situations in this movie that could have been played as comedy, but they’re played straight.

Angel (1937)

Lubitsch’s problem was how to adapt his style to the demands of the Production Code. Angel appears to be in the nature of an experiment, and it has to be admitted that it does not entirely succeed.

Diplomat Tony Halton (Melvyn Douglas) meets a woman in Paris. They have a harmless romantic adventure, an adventure that Tony takes rather more seriously. The woman refuses to tell him her name - he is simply to call her Angel. The adventure, however brief and harmless it may have been, leaves Tony obsessed by this woman. He is determined to meet her again. But how is he to find her? It will prove easier than he expects, but the results will be rather more complicated.

Angel (1937)

The scene then switches to the life of another diplomat, Sir Fredrick Barker (Herbert Marshall). He and his wife Maria (Marlene Dietrich) have what everybody assumes to be the perfect marriage. As Sir Frederick points out, their marriage is so perfect that they could not find anything to quarrel about even if they tried. The audience however knows that appearances can be deceptive, since Maria and Angel are in fact the same woman.

As luck would have it, Sir Frederick and Tony run into each other and start reminiscing about the war. Actually not so much the war itself as the leaves they both spent in Paris during the war, where they shared the affections of a woman. One assumes that these affections were the sort of affections for which a gentleman expects to pay in hard currency. In any case the two men strike up a friendship and Sir Frederick invites Tony to dine with him. And with his wife as well, of course. This is clearly going to be a slightly awkward situation.

Angel (1937)

We have here a classic romantic triangle that could lend itself to either comedy or drama and the movie elects to go for the drama rather than the comedy as Maria must choose between the two men. There will be many who will wish that Lubitsch had gone for the comedy instead but any movie has to be judged on its own terms and if you’re prepared to accept this one as a romantic drama rather than a romantic comedy you’ll find that it’s enjoyable enough.

Lubitsch and screenwriter Samson Raphaelson also faced the challenge of providing an ending that would satisfy the demands of the Production Code without seeming contrived or sentimental or moralistic, and in this endeavour they are entirely successful.

In the 1930s Marlene Dietrich was only truly comfortable when Josef von Sternberg was directing her, although she did give an impressive performance in the very underrated     1937 British film Knight Without Armour. In other movies not directed by von Sternberg she tends to appear rather uncertain. This was due not to a lack of talent but to the fact that her talent was an unusual one and most directors were unable to make the best use of it and she was frequently miscast. Lubitsch is more successful than most and her performance is generally successful. And of course she looks superb.

Angel (1937)

Melvyn Douglas is as charming as ever. Herbert Marshall approaches his role in a somewhat dour manner, his performance lacking the kind of zest that would explain why Maria married her, unless we assume (and it’s certainly a plausible interpretation) that she was attracted by his money and his social position. But that explanation won’t quite do - Maria is clearly in love with her husband and Marshall needed to play the role in a slightly more sympathetic manner. Edward Everett Horton provides the main comic relief as Sir Frederick’s opera-obsessed valet Graham.

Universal’s Region 2 and  4 DVD release is barebones but the transfer is a good one.

Visually the Lubitsch touch is certainly in fine form. This is not a movie that will please everyone but it’s worth giving it a chance. Perhaps it’s lesser Lubitsch, but it’s still Lubitsch, and Dietrich is always worth watching. Recommended.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Genius of the System

The Genius of the System isn’t quite a history of Hollywood during the golden age. As the author admits, to have tried to tackle the history of all the studios in this period would have been beyond the resources of a single writer and would have made for an inordinately long book. Instead author Thomas Schatz concentrates his attention on two major studios, one minor studio and one independent producer.

The two major studios Schataz chooses are MGM and Warner Brothers, his third subject is one of the “major minors,” in this case Universal, and the independent producer David O. Selznick.

The great strength of this book is that the author does not set out with a preconceived idea that the studio system was repressive or morally dubious, or that studio executives like Louis B. Mayer, Jack Warner or Darryl F. Zanuck were monsters. As his book makes clear, Hollywood in its golden age made great movies as a result of a fruitful partnership between  enlightened but practical studio executives, visionary producers and talented directors.

The book’s other great strength is that Schatz largely ignores the auteur theory, the theory that there is only one true creative force behind any movie and that force is the director. He argues, very convincingly, that producers had at least as much impact on the finished product as directors and that those directors who are usually singled out for auteur status were those directors who were able to combine the roles of director and producer.

The great strength of the studio system is that it created an environment in which creativity could blossom and in which a unique balance was achieved between business and art. Even those mavericks who operated largely outside the studio system needed the support that the studio system provided. The creative personnel who bucked the system, people like Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick, flourished during the great days of the studio system.

The studio system represented a unique partnership between capitalism and art, and it worked. When it was destroyed, by a combination of television and excessively zealous government intervention in the marketplace, the result was a cultural tragedy of epic proportions. A unique balance has been achieved and once that balance was disrupted Hollywood started on a downward slide that has continued to this day.

The Genius of the System is one of the finest books ever written about Hollywood and is highly recommended to anyone who loves movies.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Obsession (1949)

Obsession (1949)Obsession (released in the US as The Hidden Room) was the first film directed by Edward Dmytryk after he relocated to England after being blacklisted. Made by Independent Sovereign Films in 1949, it’s a superb British psychological thriller with a definite tinge of noir to it.

Dr Clive Riordan (Robert Newton) is a middle-aged doctor with a young and attractive wife named Storm (Sally Gray), a wife who is none too faithful. Her latest dalliance, with a young American named Bill Kronin (Phil Brown), is the last straw for Dr Riordan. He informs Bill that he has decided to murder him.

Dr Riordan has made a study of crime and he is determined not to make the mistakes that have led other murderers to the gallows. The big problem for any murderer is of course the disposal of the body. Clive has found a solution to this. He has also come up with a very clever insurance policy to make sure he can never be charged with murder. This is a great movie so I’m not going to give away any spoilers

Obsession (1949)

The murder turns out to be a kind of battle of wills, but not in the way you generally expect. In other words the battle of wills is not between the murderer and the detective. The detective, Superintendent Finsbury (Naunton Wayne), does not enter the picture until quite late in the movie, by which time the psychological battle has been underway for some considerable time. Months in fact.

Clive’s plan seems fool-proof but as Superintendent Finsbury points out to him, all murderers are amateurs. The only people in this game who are professionals are those who hunt the murderers.

Obsession (1949)

The screenplay was written by Australian writer Alec Coppel, based on his own novel A Man About A Dog. It’s an ingenious and original plot. Coppel also adapted the very underrated Mr Denning Drives North from one of his own books - and that’s a fantastic movie that is well worth seeing out. Coppel had a knack for wickedly clever plotting.

Robert Newton was a British actor renowned for his scenery-chewing but in this movie he demonstrates his ability to be both subtle and sinister. Phil Jones does well as Bill. Sally Gray is more than adequate as the straying wife white Naughton Wayne (better known for his comic performances) is excellent as the patient and rather kindly detective. The acting is strong, which is important as this is a very character-based movie (which is one of the things that qualify it for the film noir tag).

Obsession (1949)

Cinematographer C.M. Pennington-Richards gives proceedings some definite noirish touches with skillful use of shadows. The movie was shot in black-and-white. Edward Dmytryk’s noir credentials were already well established and he keep things tense and very taut as you would expect.

British noir doesn’t get the attention it deserves, even from fans of film noir. This movie of course can be described as a transatlantic noir, with both the director and one of the stars being American, but it has a distinctively British flavour to it. It’s light on action but has more than enough suspense to compensate for this.

Obsession (1949)

The British DVD from Fremantle Home Entertainment is region-free and the transfer is excellent. The only extras are biographies of the main players and the key members of the production team.

Obsession is a fine example of high-quality British film noir, well-made and extremely well-acted, and both the movie and the DVD are highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Captain from Castile (1947)

Captain from Castile (1947)

Captain from Castile was one of 20th Century-Fox’s swashbuckling adventure movies starring Tyrone Power, and this one is on an epic scale.

Directed by Henry King in 1947 it is set against the background of Hernando Cortes’s conquest of Mexico in the early 16th century.

Pedro de Vargas (Tyrone Power) is a Spanish caballero whose family falls foul of the Inquisition, and in particular of the malevolence of the sadistic Diego de Silva (John Sutton). His young sister is tortured to death and he only escapes thanks to the help of a beautiful peasant girl named Catana (Jean Peters) and a recently acquired friend named Juan Garcia (Lee J. Cobb). Juan is a slightly mysterious figure, an adventurer recently returned from the New World. He persuades Diego that that is where his future lies.

Captain from Castile (1947)

Juan, Diego and Catana all arrive in Cuba and eagerly sign up for Cortes’s expedition. Diego proves himself a capable officer but his past catches up with him in an unexpected fashion. Meanwhile the expedition proceeds through Mexico, driven by the lust for gold.

This lust for gold will prove too much of a temptation for some members of the expedition. They attempt to make off with the jewels that have been offered by emissaries of the Emperor Moctezuma. To ensure that such temptations no longer present themselves Cortes burns his entire fleet. The expedition will now continue, to either glory or death.

Captain from Castile (1947)

Tyrone Power as usual proves himself adept in this kind of role. John Sutton makes a particularly chilling villain while Lee J. Cobb is surprisingly successful as the rogueish and larger-than-life Juan Garcia. Jean Peters makes a fine heroic leading lady. All three of these characters have no future in the Old World and see the New World as not just an escape but an opportunity to make a new life, a life much better than the ones they are leaving behind.

Cesar Romero’s performance as Cortes is interesting. Cortes himself is a controversial historical character and Romero plays him as charismatic, obsessed, ruthless but also strangely human and even at times sentimental. He plays him as the sort of man that other men would follow, regardless of the risks, which of course he was.

Captain from Castile (1947)

The movie adopts an even-handed attitude towards the expedition of Cortes. It makes no bones about the cynicism and opportunism of Cortes or the injustice of his plans to steal an empire, but also stresses the heroism and daring of Cortes and his followers, and their desire to carve out a new world.

The movie was shot in Technicolor and looks magnificent.

Captain from Castile (1947)

The Region 4 DVD from Bounty lacks extras but makes up for this with a very fine transfer.

An exciting and surprisingly morally complex adventure film, and highly recommended.