Monday, May 16, 2022

National Classic Movie Day: Four Favorite Noirs Blogathon

UPDATE: This was my 500th blog post!

The National Classic Movie Day Blogathon hosted by the Classic Film & TV Cafe every year is one of the highlights of every blogger's calendar. This year the topic is Four Favorite Film Noirs

Not long after the very first National Classic Movie Day Blogathon, I wrote a post on my top 5 Film Noirs. A month later I lengthened it to ten (#6 and 8 would no longer have any chance of being on that list). However, at the time, I had hardly seen any, as it wasn't particularly my favorite genre - some of them were a little too violent or dark for my taste. As I got older though I discovered that they were actually really good. Like, REALLY GOOD. Becoming a Robert Ryan fan also helped ;) Anyway, without further ado, here are four of my favorite Noirs.


I loved Act of Violence (1948) so much I rewatched it again a month later and took over 300 screenshots (you can see them here on my blog Facebook page - don't go all the way to the end if you haven't seen the movie). On the surface, war hero Frank Enley (Van Heflin) has a great life. He has a beautiful young wife (Janet Leigh) an adorable baby, and is well respected by his community. But when a mysterious man with a limp begins to stalk him, Enley's life quickly unravels and his dark secret is exposed. He confesses to his wife that during his time in a POW camp he became an informer in exchange for food. The man who is following him (Robert Ryan), was his friend Joe, who suffered torture because of Heflin's actions. Joe is out for revenge, intent on killing Enley and punishing him for his actions. Enley tries to run from Joe and even hires a hit man, with the help of a woman he meets in a bar (Mary Astor). Of course, being a Noir, the viewer already knows that Enley is doomed to his fate.

The deft cinematography of David Surtees is a visual depiction of Enley's worsening nightmare. It "shimmers with sunlight" at the beginning of the film and gradual descends into something "straight out of a Freudian nightmare"(Film Noir FAQ, David J. Hogan, p. 343). This is also aided by on-location shooting. The director, Fred Zinnemann, had "learned the value of authentic locations, and this new picture gave him and Surtees a chance to photograph the real LA, where Enley flees and descends into the criminal underworld." This "sense of realism extended to the actors as well. 'No makeup of any kind was used on any member of the cast,' wrote Surtees. 'We tried to maintain on the screen a high standard of skin texture.' This technique heightened the hard set of Ryan's face, with its lined brow and sneering mouth" (The Lives of Robert Ryan, J.R. Jones, p.84-85).


Nightfall (1956) is what I call a "snowy noir." There's something about black and white cinematography and snow that I just love. Also, this film stars Aldo Ray (anybody else think he has a sexy voice? lol). Vanning (Ray) is a commercial artist who has been wrongly accused of murdering his friend while on a hunting trip in Wyoming. Not only that, but he's also accused of robbing a bank. Following from town to town is an insurance investigator for the bank and the two real bad guys, the pistol whipping, trigger happy Red and John (Brian Keith), the brains of the outfit. Vanning meets a model, Marie Gardner (Anne Bancroft), at the bar one night and let's his guard down a little. As they exit he is intercepted by John and Red, who intimate that Marie was helping them. He manages to  escape and heads to Marie's apartment to confront her but she assures him of her innocence. He tells her his story and then the two of them take the bus to Wyoming to try and find the money that can clear his name. The movie climaxes with an epic shootout/fight involving a snowplow. You can watch it on YouTube. It was directed by Jacques Tourneur(who directed another favorite of mine, Cat People) with cinematography by Burnett Guffey. 

Love this shot of Brian Keith.


In Phantom Lady (1944), a man is accused of murdering his wife. The only person who could provide him with an alibi is a "phantom lady" with an unusual hat. His secretary, Kansas (Ella Raines), sets out to clear his name. I was blown away when I first saw this movie and Raines became an instant favorite. Rather than me try and describe it, please just do yourself a favor and watch it. 

My favorite shot from the film.

Elwood Bredell was selected as cinematographer. He was advised by director Robert Siodmak to "study Rembrandt's paintings as an example of how dark shadows could attract the eye of the viewer toward a certain portion of the composition." There is a "contrast between the bright, well-organized business world inhabited by Carol and her boss and the city's distorted, menacing underworld, as Carol slides even further down the rabbit hole," and a "nightmarish atmosphere through highly stylized moments, rich textures, and claustrophobic settings... Siodmak favored low-key lighting, which would lend itself to sharply contrasting shadows and large areas of black" (Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, The Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock, Christina Lane, p. 147-148). 


Nobody Lives Forever (1946) stars one of my favorite actors, the ever-troubled John Garfield. It is unusual in that much of the film takes place in the sunlight instead of the typical Noir darkness and on the beach instead of the city streets. Even then, the dark scenes are shrouded in mist instead of bathed in garish neon lights.

I'm going to cheat a little here and link up a post I wrote on the film several years ago. There are lots of great screenshots on the post.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Movies I Watched in April

Out of the Past (1947). The lighting of this scene is breathtaking. You can't get this in color films.

Had some pretty good rewatches this month. When I first watched Out of the Past (1947) I didn't know any of the actresses and kept getting them confused (I also watched it over the course of two days which didn't help). And when I first watched The Horizontal Lieutenant (1962) I was expecting more Where the Boys Are (1960). Also noticed the exterior of the house in Invitation (1952) was also used in Executive Suite (1954).

Invitation (1952). There's a pond and bridge off to the right.

William Holden's house in Executive Suite (1954). The interior was modern, whereas in Invitation it was New England country style. The exterior worked with both!

Movies with an * indicate a rewatch:

  1. Edge of the World (1937) - Niall MacGinnis & Belle Chrystall, Finlay Currie
  2. *The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) - Errol Flynn & Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Vincent Price
  3. *Out of the Past (1947) - Robert Mitchum & Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming, Virginia Huston, Dickie Moore
  4. My Dear Secretary (1948) - Kirk Douglas & Laraine Day, Keenan Wynn, Rudy Vallee
  5. *Invitation (1952) - Dorothy McGuire & Van Johnson, Ruth Roman
  6. *Roman Holiday (1953) - Audrey Hepburn & Gregory Peck, Eddie Albert
  7. Man with the Gun (1955) - Robert Mitchum & Jan Sterling, Angie Dickenson
  8. *The Ten Commandments (1956) - Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, John Derek, Yvonne De Carlo, Debra Paget, Edward G. Robinson, Vincent Price, Nina Foch, Martha Scott, etc. 
  9. It Happened in Naples (1960) - Clark Gable & Sophia Loren 
  10. *The Horizontal Lieutenant (1962) - Jim Hutton & Paula Prentiss 
  11. Fools’ Parade (1971) - James Stewart, George Kennedy, Strother Martin, Kurt Russell, Anne Baxter
  12. Charley and the Angel (1973) - Fred MacMurray, Harry Morgan, Cloris Leachman, Kurt Russell 
  13. The Final Countdown (1980) - Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen, Katherine Ross
  14. Why Would I Lie? (1980) - Gabriel Macht (as Gabriel Swann)
  15. Executive Decision (1996) - Kurt Russell, Halle Berry
  16. Breakdown (1997) - Kurt Russell, Kathleen Quinlan
  17. Life as We Know It (2010) - Josh Duhamel & Katherine Heigl
  18. Fire on Fire (2012) - Josh Duhamel, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis 
  19. Lost in the Sun (2016) - Josh Duhamel 
  20. The Lost Husband (2020) - Leslie Bibb & Josh Duhamel, Nora Dunn
Churchill and the Movie Mogul (2019)
Elvis in the Raw (2015) - uncut interview footage

Least Favorite Film: Something about Charley and the Angel just fell flat. Breakdown and Fire on Fire were a little too disturbing/violent.

Favorite Movie: You could take any still frame from Edge of the World and turn it into an art print. My Dear Secretary was very funny, especially Keenan Wynn. I watched Fools' Parade for Kurt Russell but it was actually really good! James Stewart had a great scene on the train involving his character's glass eye. You can watch it for free on Tubi right now. It has never been released on dvd or VHS so now's your chance!! It's also on 

Errol Flynn is ridiculously handsome in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939).