Ivan Infante is the former manager of Laser Blazer and a longtime failed screenwriter. Recently, he is the author of two pulp novels (FALSE RANSOM & FIXED FIGHT) about grifters in the Los Angeles of 1938. Follow him on Twitter @EddieMarsAttack.
THE UNFAITHFUL (1947)
I came to this film because of Vincent Sherman. His WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD? ranks as one of my all-time favorites. This one doesn’t quite match it, but comes close. The story is based on a play called THE LETTER by W. Somerset Maugham. It was already filmed under that title by William Wyler. This version is more subtle.
In THE UNFAITHFUL, Ann Sheridan kills an intruder that attacks her in her home. When the police arrive, she claims not to know the dead man. In fact, she does. She had an affair with him. Soon her lawyer, Lew Ayres, figures it out. As the police close in, she tells her husband played by Zachary Scott.
Vincent Sherman directs with his usual craftsmanship, using some great old L.A. locations. Places like Angel’s flight, MacArthur Park, and the Ambassador Hotel are showcased. Sherman takes great advantage of these setting.The transitions between these scenes are also quite clever. The only hindrance is the bombastic score by Max Steiner.
Another highlight for me was the cast. The three leads do great work and are supported by Eve Arden, Jerome Cowan, and Steven Gerry (who I almost didn’t recognize from GILDA which I had watched the night before.) A lot of small scenes with the secondary characters stand out and allow the story to get deep into some complex social issues.
For starters, Ann took a step down when she got married. There’s reference to her being a successful fashion editor before her marriage and how she left that behind.She’s not enjoying sitting at home waiting for Zachary Scott. As for Zachary, Eve Arden lays into him for how he married Ann after only two weeks because he didn’t want to go to war and not have a wife at home. Also how he took off as soon as the war ended to work on distant building projects in a drive to get rich. He never took any time to get to know his wife after he came home from the war.
This case for Ann is casually discarded by Lew Ayresa few scenes later. He plays a divorce attorney and family friend who complains about “cheating conniving women” and tells Ann at one point that he “only wants to know what else you’re guilty of.” The movie really lays out what people thought in this era and is fairly self-critical. Of course, the best part comes at the end. Ann gets what few actresses get in the pictures from this era. She gets away with it.
THE CROOKED WAY (1949)
I picked this film to watch because of John Alton. I was not disappointed. Even the briefest shots are beautifully lit. Scenes set in hallways. Shots looking out from darkness into light. Close ups on shadowed faces. Spectacular.
The story is basic. A soldier played by John Payne hasamnesia from a piece of shrapnel in his brain. Army doctors try to find his family, but there’s no information about him from before he enlisted. All they know is that he enlisted in Los Angeles. So, in a last ditch attempt to revive his memory, he returns to that city.
He’s greeted by the cops when he gets to Union station. Turns out he’s a gangster that betrayed his partners and skipped town. He made a big mistake by coming home. The head gangster, played by wooden actor and Johnny Carson punch-line Sonny Tufts, hears about the traitor’s return and sets out for revenge. Another performance worth mentioning comes from Percy Helton. He’s a great character actor and delivers the goods in a small role.
Payne stumbles along on a mission of self-discovery. Irritating everyone and getting frustrated at every turn. He plays it well. He starts out as an amnesiac in a fog, then gets even more confused as he learns more about his past. Ellen Drew plays the woman that he loved when he left. They fall in love again. There’s a great scene where he first confronts her in the gambling joint where she works for Sonny Tufts.
This is a surprisingly dark film from Robert Florey, director of THE COCOANUTS. In fact, the NY Times review contains the following quote: “The human family may not be perfect, buy why subject it to so-called entertainment that is only fit for savage beasts.” I must be a savage beast. I loved it.
FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE (1970)
I had wanted to see this for a long time because of Robert Shaw. I didn’t realize at the time that he wrote this picture too. He did a fine job. The real credit here goes to the director Joseph Losey. The music and visuals create incredible menace as a helicopter flies over a barren landscape searching for fugitives played by Malcolm McDowell and Robert Shaw.
The movie does a masterful job with ambiguity as well. Although the film was shot in Southern Spain (where I’m from, so awesome to see it), it is never made clear where they are. Only that they are prisoners on the run from this helicopter. The movie opens with them running with hands tied. They don’t get their hands loose for a good third of the film. I found this excruciating to watch and very effective.
The helicopter is one of the stars and highlights of the film. The long helicopter takes over the sweeping barren landscape go on and on and add to the tension and fear.This combined with a dynamite score by Richard Rodney Bennett elevate the film above the norm for me. I definitely will check some other scores he did in the near future.
McDowell and Shaw are great to watch together. McDowell was not quite yet a huge star and seems very young next to the road weary Shaw. They play out a standard generation confrontation. The old man is violent and pragmatic and full of real experiences. The young man is idealistic and naïve and over-educated. In the end, it’s Shaw that bears the ultimate burden. McDowell might be a stupid kid but he can escape his destiny. Shaw is too wrapped up in it.
BEAST OF THE CITY (1932)
The great Jean Harlow came up in a conversation the other day when I was discussing tragic deaths of great actors. She died so young. Four years after this movie was released. It’s tragic knowing that while watching the film. She’s so dynamic and alive. She makes the movie great.
The movie was basically a propaganda piece cooked up by Hoover and Mayer in a reaction to the popular gangster pictures coming out of Warner Bros. This one was meant to highlight the police and demonize the gangsters. For starters, the opening scene is a gang killing where four bodies hang from the ceiling. Despite these efforts at propaganda, I’m not sure they succeed. Even Mayer didn’t really want to release it in the end and it ran as the second picture on double bills.
This is a pre code film with sparkling dialogue and some pretty startling actions by the characters, especially the police. One stand out scene is Harlow’s seduction of Wallace Ford and her implication that she likes it rough.The finale is also pretty shocking and downbeat. It surprised me.
Another great performance come from a young Mickey Rooney who shows up as Walter Huston’s kid and steals every scene he’s in. Crazy to see him work. I know he started as a toddler in vaudeville, but he’s such a consummate pro at the age of ten it’s kind of hard to believe.
The director, Charles Brabin, had a long career in Silents. He does amazing work here. There’s a very sophisticated tracking shot through the police precinct that flows in and out of conversations and some deft handling of courtroom scenes. I will definitely look into his other films. This one is fantastic.
THE CAPTIVE CITY (1952)
I watched this because it was directed by Robert Wise. Not that I love Wise, in fact, I am not a huge fan. Still I am a completist, so I rented THE CAPTIVE CITY. This is another propaganda picture disguised as a film noir and itwears the disguise well. It was one of many exposé pictures inspired by the Kefauver hearings on organized crime. Kefauver himself makes an appearance in this one to lecture the audience.
The story is straight forward. John Forsythe plays a newspaper man struggling to expose a corrupt gambling syndicate in his town. He gets on the case when a Private Investigator that had been discussing it with the paper gets murdered. This is the opening scene of the film and a great one. The editing of how the car chases the guy down and crushes him against the wall is quite well put together.
As I watched, I became intrigued by a parallel between the way the communities react in CAPTIVE CITY and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. The blindness and denial of the evil in their midst. The paranoia of the alien other somehow controlling behind the scenes.
Another standout feature of this film is the depth of focus shots. The movie was filmed entirely on location in Reno and they took advantage. I particularly liked the newsroom production line stuff, but most of the cool stuff was outside. For one thing, a new camera lens had recently been developed by Ralph Hoge and they used the hell out of it. Hoge had worked with Wise on CITIZEN KANE and he worked on THE CAPTIVE CITY as well. The lens adds deep realistic visuals that heighten the documentary feel. Shout out to Eleanor Quinn who wrote up a review of CAPTIVE CITY for TCM for that tidbit.
Interestingly, the film never gives you a real ending. When Forsythe shows up to report the gangsters to the Committee, the door is shut in the audiences face and the assassins disappear into the crowd.
CAPTAIN APACHE (1971)
This acid Western also goes by the title DEATHWORK which intrigued me and led me to it. I loved the movie. It is one of those movies that might not be great, but is definitely great to watch.
It gets started with one of the best opening songs ever as Lee Van Cleef pensively raps about his character and the situation he finds himself in. He plays an Apache captain on the hunt of his commanding officer’s killer. His commanding officer’s last words were ‘April Morning.’Van Cleef spends the rest of the movie looking for the meaning of those words while wearing a hilarious wig.
A series of overplayed murders follows as Van Cleefcloses in on the meaning of his those last words. This journey is often derailed. For one, there’s an awesome trip out scene where Van Cleef drinks a psychedelic and things get weird. Later it gets even weirder. Van Cleef strips down to a loincloth to prove he’s a real Indian with red skin. Then he spends an uncomfortable amount of time oiled-up and half-naked, sucking in his gut. It’s an astounding moment for the Cinema.
The cast is rounded out with quality: Stuart Whitman, Carroll Baker, Percy Herbert, and Elisa Montes. All of whom have some good screen time in a movie that can’t have made much sense to anyone involved.
Still, the plot meanders along beautifully with cool music and strange atmosphere. My mind wandered a little bit to the Kennedy assassination. There’s lots of strange correlations between the stories, because the words April Morning play a part in an assassination plot. Watch the film to see exactly how.