Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Olive Films - ROPE OF SAND, DARK CITY, UNION STATION & APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER on Blu-ray ""

Saturday, January 3, 2015


ROPE OF SAND (1949; William Dieterle)
It's hard not to connect this movie with CASABLANCA. You've got Peter Lorre, Claude Rains and Paul Henreid to start with and that's a hoot of a good cast. Henreid kinda flip flops in ROPE though and takes on more of the Conrad Veidt-type role. Hal Wallis served as producer on both ROPE and CASABLANCA, so it's not unreasonable to think he'd be trying to create something similar to his 1942 classic. While the plots are a bit different from each other, having those actors and the isolated feeling of the locale makes me subconsciously associate ROPE and CASABLANCA. Burt Lancaster plays Mike Davis, a hunting guide who stumbled across a stash of diamonds in the "forbidden territory" controlled by an evil South African Diamond mining company (run by Claude Rains and Paul Henreid). Though viscously beaten by the mining company goons, Davis refused to give up the location of the diamonds he stole and was able to escape. The story takes place a few years later, when Davis has returned to South West Africa, presumably to recover his loot. Many of the locals are interested in getting Davis to reveal his hiding spot including Peter Lorre, Claude Rains, Henreid and Corinne Calvet (in her film debut). Calvet is absolutely stunning and makes a good femme fatale here. ROPE OF SAND is more of a hard boiled noir, but it's exotic setting makes it stand out and also draws the CASABLANCA comparisons. The isolated location (a outpost, surrounded by desert), gives it an extra sense of claustrophobia and desperation that slots well into the film noir universe. Considering the cast, I am a bit surprised that this film is not more well known. I believe it was harder to see for a while which may account for some of its lack of a reputation. This was my second viewing of the movie. I had seen it a few years ago via Netflix and it made my list of favorite discoveries at the time.
Of this recent group of noir Blu-rays from Olive, ROPE OF SAND is my favorite.

DARK CITY (1950; William Dieterle)
Seems like a lot of folks haven't heard of this DARK CITY, but rather they know the Alex Proyas film from 1998. I understand that this noir flick might be more of an obscure thing, but that it gives Charlton Heston with the "introducing" credit is something special at least. And Heston fits interestingly into the noir world for sure. His squared-jawed way of delivering dialogue makes him a great hard-boiled character. In this DARK CITY, Heston runs a gambling joint with a couple other sleazes (played by Jack Webb and Ed Begley respectively). When they fleece an unsuspecting pigeon from out of town for $5000, there are some deadly ramifications. Director of photography Victor Milner brings a nice atmospheric darkness to the nighttime in DARK CITY. I found it kind of interesting that the majority of the films on his resume that I recognized were from his collaboration with Preston Sturges and Ernst Lubitsch (for who he shot THE LADY EVE, THE PALM BEACH STORY, DESIGN FOR LIVING and TROUBLE IN PARADISE among others). Clearly he can shoot comedy, but he also has a nice knack for noir lighting as well. In a "vengeful-mystery-killer-on-the-loose" movie that's always a good thing. Also a featured as a player in this tale is Harry Morgan which makes this something of a pre-emptive Dragnet with he and Jack Webb in the same scenes together. Webb and Heston make an interesting duo and they share the most screen time of all the folks in the movie, which is cool. Heston also clocks some time with the lovely Lisabeth Scott who plays his nightclub songstress gal pal. She's not given a whole lot to do except pine over Heston, but I am a fan of hers so it's nice to see her in the flick. Overall, there's a nice sense of dread and noir fatalism hanging over the whole thing. As much as Heston's character is kind of a scumbag, his charisma makes you almost root for him to get away.
Here's an old TV spot for a 1990 AMC airing of the film:
And here's a fun quip from Heston:

UNION STATION (1950; Rudolph Mate)
The same year they starred together in Billy Wilder's classic noir SUNSET BLVD, William Holden and Nancy Olson also joined up for UNION STATION. SUNSET came out in August and UNION in October, so one could've gotten a nice double dose of the duo not pretty close together. I've always thought that Nancy Olson was quite adorable in SUNSET BLVD, so it's not too surprising that she is equally enchanting in UNION STATION. Of course the dialogue isn't quite as playful between she and Holden, but it's pretty snappy nonetheless. Holden plays a railroad station detective who gets a tip on some undesirable gun-toting types from Joyce Willecombe (Olson). They strike up a very antagonistic relationship right off the bat. There are a lot of trenchcoats in this film. It seems to be standard issue dress for both hoodlums and train station dicks. I kinda love that. 
UNION STATION was scribed by Sydney Boehm. Name ring a bell? It did for me, but I had to go look him up. He's responsible for such crackling noirs as THE BIG HEAT, VIOLENT SATURDAY, ROGUE COP and MYSTERY STREET. He's even responsible for WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (a sci-fi classic) and SECRET OF THE INCAS (a Heston movie that inspired RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK). A very solid writer. Director Rudolph Mate is no slouch either. He's probably better known as a cinematographer and worked on such  beauties as GILDA, LADY FROM SHANGHAI, TO BE OR NOT TO BE, COVER GIRL, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT and SAHARA (the Bogart one). Lots to talk about with all of those movies, but as for UNION STATION it's not bad. Overall, it's a decent police procedural which deals with a kidnapping/ransom plot. It has a few tense scenes and a solid climax set piece. The whole thing gets a nice boost from William Holden's performance. The extremely Irish police chief character annoyed me slightly, but Holden is a favorite so he helped overcome that. I would have liked more Nancy Olson, but she was good in the scenes she's in and the whole thing just made he want to seek out more of her films so it's definitely a win. Good cinematography and one particular shot of Holden in silhouette as he squeezes off a round at some guy that stood out to me.

"When a cop dies they don't list it as heart failure. It's charley horse if the chest."

This is an example of rarer thing in the world of film Noir - a postal thriller. It starts with what feels like an educational shirt film's narration that sets up the U.S. Post office. "We're proud of our post office, because we have confidence in its efficiency" says the narrator fella. He'd be proud of Al Goddard's (Alan Ladd) efficiency. He's a postal inspector investigating the murder of another government employee. The only person who can ID the killers is a nun who happened to run into them in a dark alley as they were trying ditch of the body. The movie is a mix of procedural and undercover cop in a heist plot line. An enjoyable and tense melange.
 For a relatively short man (5 foot 6), Alan Ladd could project a whole lot of cool. I sometimes think of him as a proto-Steve McQueen. Ladd was perhaps even classier and more articulate than McQueen. While McQueen's approach was often to talk as little as possible, Ladd was an actor who was more at home talking a bit more and delivering snappy dialogue in a smooth and charming way.  I hadn't honestly thought about the similarities between the two actors until seein Ladd again in this movie. 
As with DARK CITY, this movie happens to also feature the Dragnet duo of Jack Webb and Harry Morgan. This go round they fall more into the heavy category and play straight up murdering thugs. Webb's ornery nature and terse dialogue delivery style works well within the context of being a nervous, agitated goon. It's neat to see that his no-nonsense personality can function equally well in the world of cops or crooks. He and Alan Ladd have a lot of amusing verbal sparring. Also of note is Jan Sterling who's pretty good here too. She plays a great moll and has nice flirtatiousness with Ladd. I forgot to mention that she also had a small part in UNION STATION, but is given more to do here. She's a darned alluring gal and I've kind of had a crush on her since ACE IN THE HOLE. This transfer is alright, but the source material shows some scratches and wear especially in the first reel or so. Looks good otherwise though.

These four films are available separately or as part of a 4-Pack:


dfordoom said...

Four terrific movies.

David Pascoe said...

I'll be interested to see Dark City thanks to a new project the BBC have launched called the Genome. It shows what was shown on British TV and radio on the day of your birth. On my date in 1976, Dark City was one of three films shown on the 2 BBC channels together with the Gary Cooper western, Dallas (also 1950) and the Joan Crawford musical, Torch Song (1953).

Have either of those films shown up on this blog, I wonder?

Rupert Pupkin said...

I feel like TORCH SONG may have at some point, but not DALLAS.