This post was getting a bit long for one post, so here is 20-25, which will be followed by one more concluding the month with the final six movies. I only have four more movies to watch, which is crazy. I can’t believe it went by so fast.
#20 – White Heat
White Heat brings James Cagney in on the noir month fun. I actually expected Cagney to be a bit of a John Wayne type situation, where I watch a particular sort of megastar from the past and can’t get into it at all. Yet, that wasn’t the case. He was actually pretty fun most of the time. White Heat is a great crime film, and far more violent than most movies from the time. There is violence in all these films, but it is more casual in this film. Four people are dead in the early moments just to show how bad the gang of thieves is.
It was tense, had an enjoyably intelligent cop as the hero, and Cagney was a wonderfully deranged villain. This is also a film with an iconic movie moment from film history, with Cagney’s final line, “”Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” It was a pretty great moment for our insane bad guy. It’s also pretty early on in heist film history, influencing those which came after. The heist film is something near and dear to my heart (even though it is so rarely done well).
Thumbs up all around!
#21 – The Sweet Smell of Success
This movie is damned near perfect. The dark story of a press agent trying to get back in the good graces of a powerfully influential, maniacally egotistical columnist. It works on every level: it’s a small, realistic, perfectly acted noir film; it’s an engaging time capsule of 1950’s New York; the jazzy score is far and away the best soundtrack so far this month; and it is a gripping and tense look at the interaction between corruption and innocence, power and weakness.
After a week or so of underwhelming films earlier in the month, the recent string of great movies has noir month back in a big way.
#22 – Scarlet Street
It was hard to watch this film much of the time, because I wanted to punch all of the characters in their faces regularly, especially the young paramour of the film’s leading lady. The plot developments didn’t feel particularly believable to me, and much of the time there wasn’t much basis for how characters were getting away with their stupid and immoral decisions.
I enjoy immoral characters who are complex, complicated, interesting. These characters just felt like stupid people to me.
However, the last fifteen minutes were much better than the rest of the film.
#23 – Touch of Evil
Ramon Miguel Vargas is a Mexican drug cop on a honeymoon with his American bride. A car bomb explodes, killing two people, just across the border into America. Worried about what this could mean for Mexico and border relations, Vargas uses his status (he’s kind of a big deal) to become involved with the case as an observer, but finds both his own life and that of his wife in danger as events continue taking one sinister turn after another.
To get the negative out of the way first: Right off the bat, the primary problem is that this movie was made in a time where a studio wouldn’t cast an actual Mexican-American actor to play the Mexican hero, so Charlton Heston painted brown did it instead. This is odd, because the movie actually has a pretty solid stance against racism, with the truly noble, heroic, honest, brave character being a Mexican police officer who spends most of this working hours trying to take down a major drug ring in Mexico, as well as a villain who was casually racist throughout. Also, the inclusion of an interracial marriage was no small matter at the time. It’s just disappointing this was the route they took. Charlton Heston playing a Mexican will always be absurd, and an embarrassing mark on American history, regardless of how strong his performance was.
However, beyond that, Welles takes over. He reworked the screenplay, directed the film, and costarred as the film’s villain. Right away, with the film’s three minute and twenty second single shot to open the film, you know this is turning into something special. It’s truly an amazing bit of filmmaking, with so many moving parts.
Welles was so remarkable. Even shots I didn’t like were impressive, they were all so bold and decisive. Also, Welles is a master of the noir style, so it was fun to watch him play in it for the duration of Touch of Evil. This film is a visual delight throughout.
The narrative was compelling, albeit with a few weak links here and there. I was genuinely worried for characters several times.
Another great example of what noir could be as a film style. As is the case with many of these movies, I haven’t seen Touch of Evil for the last time.
I’ve embedded the opening crane shot, because it’s worth just over three minutes of your time to see one of the greatest shots in film history.
#24 – The Asphalt Jungle
For the most part, The Asphalt Jungle is a solid, ordinary film noir. The story centers on a group of men who plan and carry out a jewel heist. Watching it from the lens of 2012, everything in it is pretty boilerplate, but this film was influential in the 50’s, thus it is largely responsible for what stands as boilerplate these days, especially in heist films.
Each character had their eye on something that the payday of this massive jewel take would provide. A way out, a way home, or a way to Mexico for retirement, each had a reason to undertake the venture, while each also had a vice that handicapped them from realizing their dream. At times, it goes a bit too far in hammering home a point. I also think more could have been done to increase the tension and desperation we felt in the characters, but this film really stands out for its cinematography anyway. Huston fit right in with that noir tradition that no shot should be ordinary. He would throw off an angle, or change the framing, or alter things just a bit to add noticeable style to each shot. I’d say it’s worth watching just for that, and the engaging story adds an extra bonus.
#25 – Mildred Pierce
Another great film, this one was recently remade as a miniseries for HBO starring Kate Winslet, Evan Rachel Wood, and Guy Pearce.
It begins with a murder, then the story unfolds from there as we learn what led up to the murder. It features a woman who is quite possibly the most hate-worthy character in the history of film. She is awful! Effectively so, of course, the character is supposed to be awful.
Great acting all around, as well as a compelling story which offers an enjoyable slant on noir tropes, make for a really great noir film.