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Underdeveloped plot (once again) highlights indie director's idealized portrait of nomadic lifestyle
I saw director Chloe Zhao's first two films at Spirit Award screenings in 2015 and 2017 and at that time complained that they were both lugubrious with paltry plotting. I am sad to report that despite displaying her consistent technical prowess as a director, Zhao still is unable to come up with a clever story that hits all the marks for a successful three act screenplay. Based on a non-fiction book of the same name by Jessica Bruder, Zhao taped interviews with various "Nomads" (self-described as "houseless" as opposed to "homeless" by the film's protagonist, Fern, played by Frances McDormand), and incorporated some of their stories into the film. Some of the actual non-actor Nomads Zhao interviewed are cast in the film and perhaps provide the most colorful moments as we follow the protagonist's journey.

The plot focuses on Fern, who after losing her job as a result of the 2008 economic downturn (the gypsum plant she worked at closes) decides to put most of her possessions in storage and go on the road, living out of a run-down camper. It's noted that the town where she's from-Empire, Nevada-faces a mass exodus of its inhabitants, eventually leading to the elimination of the town's zip code from the postal service directory. To add insult to injury, shortly before she goes on the road, Fern's husband passes away, leaving her at first bewildered, only to take solace later on by embracing (by what some may call) "rugged individualism."

We learn that because the Nomads are unable to subsist on their social security checks alone, they're forced to take seasonal employment to support themselves. Thus we follow Fern first as she takes a job at an Amazon Fulfillment Center and later other jobs including a camp host at the Cedar Pass Campground in Badlands National Park, a restaurant job in South Dakota and later at a sugar beet processing plant.

As we keep following Fern, we're introduced to various real-life characters such as Bob Wells, a sort of self-help guru for the Nomad community, who runs a desert rendezvous in Arizona. Wells proves to be an interesting father figure to the community but has little to do with the plot involving Fern, possibly with the exception of a heartfelt conversation they have together at film's end in which he reveals the pain he experienced following his adult son's suicide.

Less successful in terms of developing Fern's story, is a subplot involving another nomad, Swankie, who's facing a cancer diagnosis and decides not to spend her last days in a hospital and instead to go on one last vacation (it should be noted that Swankie's cancer is a standard fictional construct and Zhao uses it to manipulate our emotions-a completely unnecessary strategy given the rich backstories of the various real-life nomads).

The Nomadland plot basically revolves around whether Fern decides to continue on the road or not. There's the friendship with Dave (David Strathairn) who eventually opts to stay with his son and daughter-in-law who have a new baby. Toward the end of the film Fern visits Dave at the son's house but declines to accept his invitation to live there in a guest house.

Perhaps the crisis of the second Act is when Fern's camper breaks down and she's forced to take a bus to California to borrow money for repairs from her sister. All's well that ends well when the sister obligingly gives her the needed funds. The scene with the sister is indicative of Zhao's persistent desire to idealize her protagonist's situation-the worst the sister can say to Fern is that she was always "eccentric"-nonetheless, she praises her, again for the previously alluded to "rugged individualism."

In a sense, Fern is the updated version of the "noble savage." In the days when Native Americans were castigated as savages, there was (if I may utilize a Freudian term here), a reaction formation in which certain writers in the 19th century went to the opposite extreme and depicted them as uncorrupted outsiders, emphasizing an innate, essential goodness. The same could be said for certain individuals today of a more liberal, progressive bent who seek to help the "homeless" in all ways possible, ignoring other aspects of their self-destructive behavior and threat they may present to the social order.

Indeed we only see Fern get angry once (when Dave breaks some of her dishes by accident) and the reality of community opposition to the nomad lifestyle is only hinted at occasionally. When Fern clings to her camper and refuses to sell it because she's constructed it as a special "home away from home," it becomes painfully obvious that her possessiveness is akin to a tried and true hoarder which many of us are familiar with from a fairly well known cable TV program. Indeed the unhealthy interior of the camper is only hinted at also occasionally (Fern complains about ants in the van as well as having to relieve herself once into a bucket after experiencing a bad reaction to something she eats).

Ultimately Zhao leans a little too much toward idealizing her protagonist and unfortunately McDormand can do little with a script that emphasizes a monochromatic personality. Fern is simply bland and seems to relish in avoiding conflict. And that's what Nomadland perhaps lacks the most: conflict!

In the end, Zhao has her heroine Fern returning to the road, afraid to suggest that maybe everything is not peachy keen in Nomadland. Despite some beautiful cinematography and use of music, Zhao appears content to remain in her indie niche, lucky to win an Oscar for Best Picture but probably the last time that will occur.

The Mask of Dimitrios

Mildly interesting tale of international intrigue featuring trusty Greensreet/Lorre duo
A few years after his film debut at the age of 61 in the Maltese Falcon, Sydney Greenstreet was paired again with Peter Lorre and the duo went on to make nine films together. The Mask of Dimitrios is a bit of an oddball film in that the two principals are not really directly involved in the action until the very end of the picture.

Lorre plays a Dutch mystery writer, Cornelius Leyden, who learns of the murder of a long-term criminal Dimitrios Makropoulos (Zachary Scott) from his friend, the Istanbul police chief Colonel Haki (Kurt Katch). Haki and his crew dubiously conclude that Dimitrios has been murdered after his purported body washes up on an Istanbul beach. The deceased is wearing a suit with Dimitrios' name sewn into the inner lining along with some other identifying papers.

The police immediately close out the case without even speculating whether the suit belongs to someone else. Cornelius becomes fascinated with the case of Dimitrios and is determined to write his next novel based on the information he garners from various informants who had dealings with this bad actor. He gets his first taste of Dimitrios' long, heralded career as a psychopath from Haki, who recounts (in the first of a number of flashbacks) how Dimitrios murdered a man in cold blood during a robbery in Istanbul.

So Cornelius goes from person to person and passively collects stories that may or may not help him write his novel. The flashbacks are mildly interesting and consist of a number of semi-involved tales including one told by Dimitrios' ex-lover, Irana Preveza (Faye Emerson) who reports he was involved in an assassination attempt on the Bulgarian prime minister. Irana never hears from Dimitrios again after he (completely true to character) takes money from her and never pays it back.

A bit of mystery is injected into the proceedings when Mr. Peters (Greenstreet) begins following Cornelius around and eventually reveals that he was involved in a smuggling ring with Dimitrios. Because Peters went to jail on Dimitrios' account, he later concocts a scheme to blackmail Dimitrios after he informs Cornelius that Dimitrios is still alive. Cornelius declines to become involved in Peters's scheme but nonetheless partners up with him in order to learn more about Dimitrios.

Wladislaw Grolek is next on the list, a shady character who hired Dimitrios to steal state secrets from Yugoslavia. Dimitrios manipulates a meek bureaucrat, Karel Bulic (Steven Geray) who becomes beholden to him over a gambling debt. The hapless victim eventually steals some charts about minefields for Dimitrios and then kills himself (off screen) after confessing. Dimitrios ends up double-crossing Grolek after he makes off with the aforementioned state secrets.

The climax finally features some action (mostly missing during the flashback sequences). There is a direct confrontation with Dimitrios who seemingly has agreed to Peters's blackmail attempt. But he double-crosses Peters by shooting him and then grapples with Cornelius who is no match for the stronger Dimitrios. But during the struggle, Peters manages to get a hold of Dimitrios' gun, sends Cornelius out of the room and then dispatches Dimitrios. While being escorted out by the police, Peters asks Cornelius to send him the book about Dimitrios once it's completed.

One wonders right away how Peters is so easily able to walk out after being shot more than once. The "Mask" proves to be a mildly interesting tale of international intrigue. Certainly the scenarists do well in playing up the dastardly nature of the antagonist. Scott however, with his American accent, does not convince as someone who is of Greek extraction.

Greenstreet and Lorre are entertaining as sleuths joined at the hip and it's a nice touch that Greenstreet's character also turns out to be a rogue of sorts (but paling in comparison to the fiendish Dimitrios). I give this a tepid 6 out of 10 rating despite the lack of proactivity in regards to the principals. I suppose it does keep your interest to the end and for that is worth watching at least once.

The Devil Next Door

Fascinating exploration of the legal fate of Ukrainian-Nazi prison camp guard later turned US citizen
This three hour and 49 minute documentary series is a fascinating chronicle of Jon Demjanjuk, the Ukrainian Nazi extermination camp guard who later came to the US, became a naturalized US citizen and then was deported to Israel where he was convicted (and later acquitted) of being the notorious Ivan the Terrible at the Treblinka extermination camp--only later to be deported to Germany where he stood trial for other crimes as a guard at another extermination camp.

The directors, Yossi Bloch and Daniel Sivan, manage to present both sides--which include Demjanjuk's family, his defense team along with the prosecutors -- in a balanced fashion. The central question the film attempts to answer: was Demjanjuk the notorious Treblinka guard, Ivan the Terrible.

The directors culled an extraordinary amount of TV footage from the original Israeli trial beginning in 1986. In it, Demjanjuk maintains that he was taken prisoner by the Germans after being conscripted into the Soviet Army and remained a prisoner until the end of the war. Substantial evidence proved that Demjanjuk was lying about his experience during the war. The main piece of evidence against him was an ID card with Demjanjuk's picture on it, listing his status at the Trawniki concentration camp in occupied Poland, a part training camp run by the SS who mainly trained Ukrainian prisoners of war who volunteered for duty as extermination camp guards.

Demjanjuk's team never contested that the picture on the ID card was not of him but maintained it was placed on the ID card which was a KGB forgery. It was rather convenient for the defense to argue that this document was a forgery simply because it came from an unreliable source (i.e. The KGB); but when new evidence emerged from KGB archives following the fall of the Soviet Union, they were quick to use that new evidence, to exonerate their client.

The directors could have done a bit of a better job presenting the mountain of evidence substantiating why the Trawniki ID card was legitimate. The ID card established that Demjanjuk was transferred to the Sobibor extermination camp and other camps after that. While on the stand however, Demjanjuk denied ever being a guard at Sobibor or Treblinka or any other camps. He was cross-examined as to why the ID card principally showed he was at Sobibor, along with earlier statements he made to American immigration investigators that he had been at Sobibor as well as naming a few obscure towns located near Treblinka.

Demjanjuk's family members (including his son-in-law Edward Nishnic) as well as residents of the Cleveland suburb where he came from, are steadfast in their belief that there was no way that a law-abiding, (in their eyes) docile man could have been the notorious Ivan the Terrible. Their convictions really mean little in light of someone like the notorious BTK killer, an American serial killer, who for many years was a well-respected church council president and Cub Scout leader.

Demjanjuk's comes off as arrogant especially when he boasts during the first trial that he's a "hero." Much more damning however is how surveillance footage taken before his deportation to Germany proved that he was faking being a cripple and needing to be in a wheelchair.

Just as those who knew Demjanjuk could not believe he could be guilty, neither did the judges in the first trial ever doubt the Treblinka victims' testimony absolutely identifying Demjanjuk as Ivan the Terrible. Two of the surviving judges to this day still are convinced of his guilt not only as the Sobibor camp guard but also as the notorious Ivan.

Perhaps the most fascinating character in the film is the Israeli Defense Attorney, Yoran Sheftel, who comes off as both hero and rogue. Committed to the idea that all defendants are entitled to a credible defense, it's through his persistence that Demjanjuk's appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court was successful. Sheftel almost was blinded by a fellow Israeli who regarded him as a traitor to Israel, defending the monstrous Ivan.

Nonetheless, Sheftel's arguments in defense of Demjanjuk only last as to the accusations against him as Ivan the Terrible. He really has no answer to other hard evidence placing Demanjuk at Sobibor and other death camps.

It wasn't until studying this case in further detail that I concluded that Demjanjuk was almost certainly NOT Ivan the Terrible. Nonetheless, given his subsequent deportation to Germany--approximately 20 years after the Israeli Supreme Court's decision--and having been found guilty as an accessory to murder by the German Court, one could argue that Demjanjuk got his just desserts. Because Demjanjuk died while the case was being appealed, technically his conviction was thrown out in Germany. Perhaps this is some consolation to Demjanjuk's family, but in the eyes of the public, he was clearly guilty, at least as having been a guard at more than one Nazi extermination camp.

The Devil Next Door is like a murder mystery with many twists and turns. If you love history, this is a series you should see as soon as possible.

Deadline at Dawn

Extrajudicial murder investigation with corny dialogue slightly redeemed by clever twist ending
Clifford Odets was considered one of the great playwrights of the 30s. But once he arrived in Hollywood and mainly worked as a screenwriter, the quality of his output began to go downhill. This couldn't be more evident than in Decision at Dawn, written more like a melodramatic stage play than a gripping film noir.

I can't say whether it's the script or the incredibly poor acting by Bill Williams as the protagonist U. S. Navy Sailor Alex Winkley that turned me off but Williams is just so grating as the incredibly naïve sailor that I dismissed his part as mere Hollywood artifice from the beginning.

The plot kicks off when Alex can't remember why he's carrying $1400 in cash-he finally realizes he got the money from Edna Bartelli (Lola Lane), a woman he had been with earlier in the night. Alex receives an invitation from dance-hall girl June Goffe (Susan Hayward) to come up for a sandwich at her place after they meet at a dancehall. Don't ask me why she invites this total stranger up to her apartment and why she accompanies him back to Edna's apartment where they find her murdered.

All the while June has been hostile to Alex but Inexplicably she decides to help him solve this woman's murder despite ignoring the reality that she could be identified as a prime suspect (or Alex's accomplice). As Alex must return to his ship by dawn, both he and June decide to take it upon themselves to try and solve the murder before Alex must leave the city. They're joined by a cabby, Gus (Paul Lukas) , drawn to incessant philosophizing and we wonder why he too decides to join this extrajudicial investigation.

The bulk of the film consists of various red herrings Odets throws in to distract us from figuring out who the real murderer is. Along the way we meet the gruff Val Bartelli (Joseph Calleia) who tries to rough up anyone he suspects killed his sister. Then there's Edna's ex-husband, the blind nightclub pianist Sleepy Parsons (Marvin Miller), whom we meet at the beginning of the film and who appears to be the number one suspect until being ruled out right before the climax.

Other quirky New York characters are thrown in including Hornick (Steven Geray), a Hungarian refugee who wears gloves due to a skin condition and whom has been stalking June at the dancehall. While creepy, he too is eventually ruled out as a suspect.

Decision at Dawn is rife with the corniest dialogue you'll ever find in film noir. The convoluted plot is slightly saved by the twist ending in which Alex is about to be charged for the murder (after admitting he couldn't recall what happened at the scene of the crime) but it's Gus the cab driver who steps forward with an unexpected confession. It seems that Edna was blackmailing various men she had affairs with, including Gus's son-in-law. Gus took it upon himself to kill the blackmailing Edna in order to save the marriage between the son-in-law and his daughter.

The fine actress Susan Hayward here is only treading water as she's saddled with an insufferable script that calls for her character to do ridiculous things. Paul Lukas, who three years earlier received an Academy Award for Watch on the Rhine, proves to be an annoying presence as Gus, with all that philosophizing, uncharacteristic of an average NY cabby.

Decision at Dawn is a difficult film to sit through given the aforementioned corny dialogue. But at least the ending is something you don't expect. You can wait for that but everything before it is decidedly quite hard to swallow.


More rom-com than cowboy yarn, film noir icon steals the show
Roughshod begins out on the range in the old west as three convicts who have just broken out of the penitentiary are on the loose and murder three cowboys in cold blood. They are led by a psychopath, Lednov (John Ireland), and you might surmise at this juncture that the film is about their actions and eventual capture. But actually the plot about these criminals is only tangential to the story.

Instead, Roughshod covers two themes: the relationship between a cowboy named Clay and his younger (teenage) brother Steve (Claude Jaman Jr.). They are on their way to their ranch in Sonora, California and have a herd of ten horses which they must deliver there. The second theme involves a group of four "saloon girls" (presumably women of ill repute) who have just been expelled from a small town and end up stranded after their wagon breaks down. Clay and Steve agree to take the four women to the first ranch they come to on the trail.

The stories of the four women are a mixed bag. Marcia (Martha Hyer) is soon picked up by a boyfriend and leaves so we find out nothing more about her. Elaine (Jeff Donnell) is depressed for unexplained reasons and is dropped off at the first ranch run by Ma and Pa Wyatt which turns out to be the home of her parents. While we learn nothing more about the nature of her depression (possibly homesick without wanting to admit it), the Wyatts have a troubling encounter (prior to Clay and Steve's arrival) with Lednov and his dangerous gang.

Helen (Myrna Dell), who one can describe as the unlikable "angry one," ends up staying with an Irish prospector who's eventually murdered by Lednov. That leaves the star of the film, Mary, played by the always enjoyable Gloria Grahame (known mainly for her femme fatale film noir roles). Here she's thoroughly sassy and goes up against Clay who really doesn't want her along on the trek to California. Halfway through, Mary tries to drive off in a wagon and wrecks it, almost getting killed in the process.

Clay basically agreed to have Mary come with them since she was helping brother Steve with his abc's. After the wagon incident, he has no choice but to put her on a stagecoach to the next town. The climax comes when Clay and Steve finally confront Lednov and company-there's a shootout, all the bad guys are killed but Steve sustains a flesh wound.

Back in town where Steve is being treated, Mary shows up to comfort the teenager. Clay obviously appreciates it, realizes that she's really the woman for him and they end up in a sensual kiss at film's end.

Roughshod is a mildly entertaining rom-com with enough violent scenes for (mainly) male western aficionados. Grahame has such magnetism that it's worth watching this film just to see her welcome performance. Sterling (who was primarily known for his stint on the Topper TV back in the early 50s) does well as the reluctant romantic foil to the iconic, energy-laden Grahame. Special mention for Claude Jaman Jr., a noted child actor who later ran the San Francisco International Film Festival for 15 years until 1980.


Realistic, taut chronicle of Treasury Department operation against counterfeit ring despite early-on stilted voice-over narration
There's seems to be a consensus about this film that the heavy-handed narration and wooden performance by a Treasury Department chief who introduces the story definitely detracts from the overall rating. Nonetheless, the excellent direction by the expert noir director Anthony Mann and the as usual superb cinematography by John Alton still allows us to consider this noir as up there with the good ones!

T-Men is based on a true story chronicling an undercover operation that eventually uncovers and busts a counterfeit ring operating out of Los Angeles. The film features a great deal of realistic scenes and performances, particularly Dennis O'Keefe as Treasury Agent Dennis O'Brien (aka Vannie Harrigan) and Alfred Ryder as Tony Genaro (aka Tony Galvini).

Some of the film's highlights include the agents prepping for their new identities as mobsters infiltrating a gang in Detroit; the uncovering of the identity of The Schemer-a mysterious middle-aged man involved in the counterfeit operation back in Los Angeles-O'Brien's trip to Los Angeles and Genaro being roughed up by the Detroit gang, but successfully covering for the now missing O'Brien; the technical aspects as to how the Treasury Department provides bona fide engraving plates and the trade involving the plates O'Brien arranges with The Schemer for realistic looking paper.

Eventually O'Brien makes contact with one of the main players in the gang Shiv Triano (John Wengraf) along with his tough guy enforcer, Moxie (played by a menacing Charles McGraw). Wallace Ford steals the show as the health-plagued Schemer who eventually is bumped off in a steam room by Moxie upon orders of a higher up, Diana Simpson (Jane Randolph).

The narrative here is completely unsentimental as there's a scene in which Agent Genaro's identity is almost given away when he actually runs into his wife and her friend, who unwittingly gives away his identity to a mobster he's with, before the wife denies it. Eventually, that encounter with the bad guys leads to Genaro's death after discovering he's a treasury agent and end up murdering him.

There is an exciting climax in which the gang and ringleaders are either shot or captured on a tanker. Before this happens, the Treasury Department manages to substitute the gang's engraver for one of their own who vouches for the plates which the head man has rejected, buying O'Brien enough time until his fellow agents arrive at the scene.

The film's verisimilitude is enhanced when O'Brien is seriously wounded but manages to survive. Despite the limitations of the annoying early-on narration, T-Men depicts a realistic government law enforcement operation, that takes down a dangerous gang of criminals who create havoc perpetrating a clever counterfeiting scheme.

Two Rode Together

Miscast Stewart, and partially inane comic tone, compromise otherwise thoughtful chronicle of Native American subjugation
John Ford didn't like the finished product here mainly due to its poorly written screenplay. He was right about that and apparently confessed that he ultimately "did it for the money." The film mixes tragedy with comedy and it's the comedy aspect that turns us off from the get go.

Ford's first mistake was casting the 53 year old James Stewart as Marshall Guthrie McCabe. Not only was he too old for the part, but playing against type Stewart just doesn't know how to imbue the character with any charm. Maybe Stewart was drawn to playing this type of character because it perhaps gave him a chance to act in a role that he wasn't usually known for playing. But Stewart (with his "aw shucks" wholesomeness-even on display partly in a dark film like It's a Wonderful Life) simply doesn't know how to inhabit the body of a curmudgeon which is essentially what McCabe is pretty much throughout the film.

Everything McCabe does is motivated by the almighty dollar. He even gets a percentage of the profits of a saloon run by a local madam Belle Aragon (Annelle Hayes). The plot takes an interminably long time before it really gets going-and that involves the appearance of Lt. Jim Gray (Richard Widmark), tasked by his superior Army Major Frazer (John McIntire) to conscript McCabe to negotiate with Comanche Chief Quanah Parker (Henry Brandon) for the return of relatives kidnapped by the Comanches years earlier.

This part of the film-involving the negotiations with the Native American chief-actually is interesting and leads to some sad revelations about the tragedy of the subjugation of Native Americans by the "white man."

Most of the townspeople are under the illusion that somehow McCabe will be able to find their long-lost loved ones. But the world weary McCabe makes it clear that even if he could find any alive, they would be assimilated into Native American culture and have no desire on their part to return to the white man's world. And when McCabe and Gray arrive at the Native American camp, that's exactly what they find. The small number of remaining assimilated whites have basically forgotten English and have no desire to return.

The Native Americans here are not treated stereotypically and an internecine battle is highlighted between Chief Parker and the more militant Stone Calf (Woody Strobe). Trading for rifles, Chief Parker gives up the teenaged Running Wolf (David Kent) whom McCabe plans on giving up to the wealthy Harry Wringle (Willis Bouchey) after McCabe was promised a large amount of money by Wringle. Unbeknownst to Stone Calf, the Chief gives up his wife, Elena de la Madnaga (Linda Cristal), a Mexican national, abducted by the Comanches five years prior.

Stone Calf comes looking for his wife but is shot dead by McCabe. When Lt. Gray, followed by McCabe, returns to camp, Wringle wants nothing to do with Running Wolf who hates whites and can't speak English. A distraught woman claims the boy as her son and tragically he kills her after she tries to cut his hair with scissors.

In a great scene, a lynch mob grabs the boy and just before they string him up on a tree, he hears an old music box that belonged to him as a child playing and attempts to grab it; the music box had been in the possession of his sister Marty Purcell (Shirley Jones) all the while. She can only watch in horror as the mob kills her brother, despite now knowing that this was her little brother Steve all along.

The denouement is a bit anti-climactic. Widmark as Lt. Gray continues in his role playing a "softie," and proposes marriage to the saddened Marty. Now McCabe (in a scene a little too late) suddenly becomes somewhat heroic. He first dresses down the Army Major and his men at a dance for shunning Elena, who is regarded as "damaged goods" as a result of being Stone Calf's concubine. So upon return, McCabe has lost his job and sets out for California intending to shack up with Elena for the rest of his days.

The weird comic tone, long-winded exposition and miscasting of Stewart in the role of the protagonist, significantly impacts this otherwise thoughtful film's overall rating. Linda Cristal perhaps steals the show as the noble Elena who must endure the ostracization by an unforgiving, racist white culture.

The Sellout

Ahead-of-its-time noir as special prosecutor goes up against corrupt sheriff
A well known newspaper editor gives a ride home to a guy who works in his building selling sandwiches. To get home the publisher must drive through an adjoining county and is pulled over by a police officer and promptly informs him that he forgot his license. The editor and the man he gave a ride to are hauled before a judge who jails both of them as they are unable to pay the bail. Inside the jail, the publisher is robbed of the little money he has on him and his passenger is assaulted by a gang of miscreant criminals.

Thus begins the harrowing narrative of The Sellout. The publisher is Haven Allridge (Walter Pigeon), who once released from jail (after a lawyer recognizes him at a bail hearing and bails him out), vows to use his newspaper to start a campaign against the corrupt town sheriff Kellwin Burke (Thomas Gomez), responsible for his bogus imprisonment.

Allridge is warned by his son-in-law, county DA Randy Stauton (Cameron Mitchell), not to take Burke on since he is "dangerous." Nonetheless Allridge goes through with his pledge to try and bring Burke down in spite of the fact that the sheriff has been duly elected by the townspeople on three occasions. At a certain point, Allridge disappears.

Meanwhile, a special state prosecutor, Chick Johnson (John Hodiak), is sent down from the state attorney's office upstate to find evidence implicating Burke and his confederates including a slick attorney, Nelson Tarsson (Everette Sloane). He's aided by a police officer (outside of Burke's county), Captain Maxwell (Karl Malden).

There is a subplot involving a woman, Cleo Bethel (Audrey Totter), who initially is conscripted by Burke and crew to get information on Johnson. Totter has little to do in the role and disappears before the climax after Johnson saves her--after she's been roughed up by Burke's law enforcement thugs, in the county jail.

The Sellout doesn't exactly have much "action" in it but concludes in a neat courtroom scene. Allridge returns suddenly only to inform his family that he's moving to Detroit where he's obtained a new job. He tells Johnson he won't testify at the preliminary hearing in which the judge must rule whether there's probable cause to bind Burke, Tarsson and company, over for trial. All the witnesses Allrdige had found initially, who were going to point the finger at Burke, clam up.

Bennie Amboy (Frank Cady) agrees to testify that he was a witness to Allridge being beaten by Burke's deputies while attorney Tarsson was present. But it's reported that Amboy was found murdered. The only witness who will testify for Johnson is the sandwich guy Wilfred Jackson (Whit Bissell), who is still in prison after being incarcerated at the beginning of the film.

The judge is about to dismiss all charges when there is a neat twist: Allridge's son-in-law Stauton confesses he suppressed evidence regarding a murder of a truck driver who was going to spill the beans on Burke. Ambition made him do it and Allridge decided to clam up in order to protect his daughter and granddaughter, who would obviously lose Allridge's son-in-law, after being imprisoned were he to confess. Now with everything out in the open, Allridge does indeed testify and Burke and his associates are bound over for trial.

The Sellout may not have the typical dark lighting of film noir and requisite murder scenes, but the revelation of government corruption on such an extensive scale marks the film as progressive and ahead of its time, Gomez steals the show as the menacing and intimidating Sheriff. Pidgeon does a serviceable job as the "Sellout" who finally sees the light. Hodiak too is good enough in a part that's a bit too one-dimensionally heroic.


Despite plot contrivances, Robinson shines as DA turned corrupt defense attorney
Based on a 1929 play The Mouthpiece, Illegal was the third film adaptation (prior ones being in 1932 and 1940). Full of plot holes and implausible machinations, Illegal still manages to entertain due to Edward G. Robinson's strong performance as Victor Scott, a successful District Attorney who resigns after an innocent man is executed as a result of Scott's aggressive, "win-at-all costs" courtroom demeanor.

At first Victor takes to the bottle, much to the chagrin of his legal assistant Ellen Miles (Nina Foch) whom Scott took under his wing years before in deference to her father who was his mentor. Victor sees himself as a father figure to Ellen and encourages her to marry a co-worker in the DA's office, Ray Borden (a miscast Hugh Marlowe).

You might anticipate that Scott overcomes his alcoholism after the debacle of an innocent man is put to death and becomes a defense attorney. That's exactly what happens but here's the twist-using his legal acumen, Scott becomes a corrupt attorney!

You will have to suspend your disbelief as you follow Scott's courtroom antics until the dramatic climax. Right away it's hard to believe that Scott could have gotten his first client's case dismissed after slugging the main witness against his client in the face and knocking him out, with a concealed roll of nickels in his hand. He does this after the witness claims his client couldn't knock him out nor anyone else. The judge promptly dismisses the case and Scott unbelievably is not charged with assault.

Then there's the second case Scott handles: the defense of an embezzler with a gambling problem named Parker (James McCallion) who embezzled $90,000 from his employer Art Smith (Howard St. John), a corrupt businessman affiliated with crime boss Frank Garland (Albert Dekker).

Scott offers to return $50,000 to Smith who signs an agreement fearing bad publicity for his firm (I wasn't convinced he would have agreed to eat the additional funds Parker stole from him all because of "bad publicity"-an event that the firm could have probably weathered). But when Smith discovers Scott withheld an additional $10,000 as an "attorney's fee," he goes straight to the new DA Ralph Ford (Edward Platt) reporting the malfeasance.

But again we're treated to another questionable turn of events. Ford declines to prosecute Scott after Smith admits that he illegally signed an agreement letting the embezzler off the hook and excusing Scott's conduct. Even though it appears the DA declined to prosecute Scott due to Smith's illegal conduct, wasn't Scott's conduct still illegal which the DA could have used against him? The only explanation I can surmise why the DA failed to prosecute Scott was because the witness against him was corrupt himself and unreliable.

The third courtroom imbroglio concerns Scott (now working for Garland) incredibly getting the crime boss's close associate off after drinking the prime evidence against him: a bottle of poison. Scott survives by arranging for a doctor and nurse to pump his stomach before the poison takes affect. Exciting but it's something that I doubt anyone would do (despite the $15,000 check Scott receives from Garland in gratitude for getting his associate off).

The climax involves a mole in the DA's office who's been tipping off Garland. When Ellen learns it's her now husband Ray who's been the rat, he tries to kill her but in self-defense, she shoots and kills him. The DA mistakenly believes Ellen was feeding information to Garland and charges her with murder.

Now Scott defends Ellen much to the chagrin of Garland who sends his main thug to shoot Scott. The DA's cops (who have been tailing Scott) shoot Garland's thug after he seriously wounds Scott.

Now for the part I just don't get at all. Scott, though severely wounded, shows up back in court and calls Garland's girlfriend Angel O'Hara (Jayne Mansfield's first film role) and she testifies that she answered a call from Ray who had called Garland with important "information" from the DA's office. How did Scott get Angel to testify against Garland? Wouldn't she have been scared of him just like everyone else? And when exactly did Scott contact her? After he was shot and before he arrived at the courthouse?

Illegal keeps your interest despite some of the desperate plot contrivances. Robinson clocks in with a performance that shows his versatility as an actor-he is both a rogue and one who ultimately redeems himself (note that being wounded is his "punishment" for embracing the dark side). Despite being a bit of a low budget production, the excellent pacing here will pretty much keep you glued to your seat!

Gun Crazy

Poor man's Bonnie and Clyde features some nifty cinematography
Gun Crazy, a "B" list film noir, managed to attain cult status over time and is now registered in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. The iconic screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, blacklisted at the time by the House Un-American Activities Committee, was one of the writers but listed under another name. Due to being distributed by United Artists, the film received a wider release and proved profitable.

The film begins with the childhood exploits of Bart Tare (John Dall), a kid obsessed with guns who ends up before a judge in juvenile court and is sent to a reform school for stealing a gun from a gun store. We then see Bart after doing a stint in the Army and now back home, still enamored with guns but no longer with a rebellious streak.

When Bart meets Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins), a sharpshooter at a carnival, he concludes he's found his soul mate. Laurie is a classic femme fatale who wants the "finer things in life." Cummins, a classically trained actor from Ireland, steals the show as an attractive psychopath who turns good guy Bart towards a life of crime. It's Laurie who convinces Bart that she'll only fall for him if he proves "he's a man" by agreeing to go with her on an unrelenting crime spree.

What's so unusual about the portrayal of Bart here is that he actually has moral scruples-he refuses to murder anyone, and abides by those scruples despite participating in a series of armed robberies with Laurie. She on the other hand admits to Bart later on that she killed a man before meeting Bart and as their life on the lam transpires, she commits two additional murders.

Once they start committing their crimes, Gun Crazy basically becomes a simple tale of two criminals on the run and being chased by the police. They agree to pull one last caper by robbing a payroll office of a meat processing plant. The getaway was filmed in one exciting take and a good part of it is quite realistic as it appears the camera was mounted in the car and shot live without any rear projection.

Dall's role as the victim of a femme fatale is typical of these type of pictures. Can one really believe there are guys out there who are so pathetic that they will be led around by a woman who is so obviously demented? You could also probably make an argument that Bart is too nice of a guy to end up participating in such despicable behavior (the screenwriters even have him admitting as such when he bemoans "acting in concert" with Laurie). Cummins is much more believable probably because her part is better written-this is especially true when we learn of her inability to control herself when placed in stressful situations.

The climax isn't half bad as the hapless criminals first return home for temporary refuge with Bart's sister and then attempt to escape up in the mountains inside a National Park. Ironically, Bart must shoot Laurie to death to prevent his two childhood pals (one now a sheriff) from being shot by her. They in turn have no choice to return fire and kill Bart.

I guess the moral here is "crime doesn't pay." It's a pretty standard story-a sort of poor man's Bonnie and Clyde-but features some very nice cinematography which has probably led to it being somewhat overrated with accolades heaped upon it through the years.

The Secret Fury

Ludicrous payoff ruins tale of fiancée framed for murder
What can you say about a film where everything depends on the final payoff which turns out to be ludicrous? That my friend is not a very good film any way you cut it. The Secret Fury stars a much too old miscast Claudette Colbert as concert pianist Ellen Ewing, who is on the verge of getting married to the much younger architect David McLean (Robert Ryan) when the wedding ceremony is interrupted by a stranger who claims that Ellen already had gotten married a couple of months earlier to a man named Lucien Randall.

The wedding is called off and Ellen, David, her aunt Clara and longtime guardian, lawyer Gregory Kent, attempt to verify the claims that Ellen indeed got married to someone else. There turns out to be a marriage certificate signed by Ellen confirming her marriage to this Randall character, in-person confirmation by the Justice of the Peace who married them and by a hotel maid Leah (Vivian Vance) who is wearing a pin that Ellen supposedly gave to her.

When Ellen and David seek Randall out at a private party, we arrive at the point in the film when plausibility begins to fly out the window. Randall is shot to death as a gun falls to the floor right in front of Ellen-she's immediately charged with murder. Obviously we (the audience) know that Ellen has been set up, but if that's the case Randall had to be part of the setup. But here he's suddenly killed so how does the killer escape so easily from the scene of the private party? Not so easily obviously but at this point we're asked to suspend our disbelief without question.

Ellen is put on trial and in the middle of it has a nervous breakdown, and Kent (acting as her attorney) re-pleads to not guilty by reason of insanity. Subsequently Ellen is institutionalized in a mental hospital. How the stalwart Ellen suddenly comes to believe that she has "amnesia" and is insane is not at all believable.

Meanwhile it's left to David to unravel the mystery of what we find out is a grand setup to implicate Ellen for murder. He confirms from the clerk who issued the marriage license that it was a different woman with a scar he married; the justice of the peace never lived in the house they had gone to earlier where this man claimed he married Ellen. David arranges a meeting with Leah the hotel maid who is about to reveal she was paid to lie about Ellen when she's strangled by a mysterious man.

David extracts a confession from the man who killed Leah after a protracted fistfight. David and Gregory then visit Ellen to tell her that she's going to be cleared of all charges. The next thing you know Ellen somehow flees the mental hospital (how she escapes is not shown) after recalling that she noticed Gregory's distinct mannerisms at the scene where Randall was killed.

The payoff is completely out of the blue and the film scenarists don't bother to foreshadow who the killer is. It turns out it was Gregory all along. It's revealed that Ellen's father sent Gregory to an insane asylum for four years only to rehabilitate him later after misgivings. Somehow (and quite inexplicably) Gregory wants to exact revenge on the now deceased father by going after daughter Ellen. He goes after her hoping that she'll kill him and then she'll be permanently sent to an insane asylum for life. As it turns out, Gregory is killed by a falling mirror after a struggle with David, who fortunately for Ellen's sake, is a witness to what happened.

The problem of course is this entire backstory is never revealed before so Gregory's actions seem completely out of the blue. And how did Gregory actually arrange for all these people to participate in the conspiracy to falsely accuse Ellen? Once he killed Randall, the others involved could have reasoned they could be Gregory's next victim. Of course Gregory really would have had to have other accomplices working with him to pull off ensuring everyone participating would keep quiet. No such group of accomplices are ever shown to exist.

Even before the ludicrous payoff, so much of The Secret Fury fails to ring true. It's a shame since one is curious how the mystery is eventually solved. But once we get to the resolution, the narrative ends up as a titanic let-down.


More rom-com than noir, Trevor and MacMurray entertain as unsuspecting law enforcement agents who fall in love
This 1950 film noir could better be described as falling into rom-com territory. It concerns an LAPD officer Madeline Haley (Claire Trevor) who is assigned to infiltrate a gang of narcotics smugglers led by a hardened criminal Pete Richie (Raymond Burr) down in Mexico. There are some good scenes at the beginning in which Haley poses as a showgirl in a Mexican nightclub and almost has her cover blown when Richie arrives back at his apartment while she's casing the place.

Unbeknownst to Haley, Johnny McEvoy aka Johnny Macklin (Fred MacMurray), a US Customs Inspector posing as a gangster working for Richie's rival Harry Gumblin (Roy Roberts), ends up in a confrontation with Richie (who is wounded by Madeline in self-defense). Believing that Madeline is Richie's girlfriend, Johnny escapes with her and then heads to Los Angeles after Gumblin assigns him to smuggle drugs.

The two principals pose as a honeymoon couple. The bulk of the picture revolves around their burgeoning romance, despite their ignorance about one another's respective missions. There is some suspense as Richie and his gang almost catch up with them along the way. Two significant events occur during this trip: McEvoy's driver Miguel is killed and they must find a way to dispose of the body; and McEvoy and Haley end up traveling in a small plane to get them close to the US border---only to have the plane run out of gas, land on a beach and then finally make their way to Ensenada where there's an exciting scene where it looks like McEvoy will be killed after Richie brings him up to his hotel room at gunpoint.

In a twist, Custom Agents are waiting for Richie and place him under arrest. When McEvoy and Haley do reach the border, McEvoy coldly orders Haley placed under arrest for narcotics smuggling. This is after Haley has fallen in love with him and she's miffed that apparently his feelings for her weren't genuine enough. McEvoy must eat crow after Haley's boss shows up and informs him that she too is in law enforcement.

Haley however is forced to continue the assignment with McEvoy despite h er antipathy toward him. There's a meeting at the LA Zoo and a final showdown in which Gumblin is revealed to be the head of the smuggling ring. Haley changes her mind about McEvoy after he's wounded but stands his ground inside Gumblin's house while the gangsters return fire with the police. McEvoy this time is quite grateful to receive the attention of the smitten Haley, after realizing he's in need of tender loving care from a woman while recovering from his wounds.

Borderline is a decent enough crime picture with more of a focus on the romantic entanglements. The action slows down often to pause for all the romance. Trevor and MacMurray are enjoyable in their roles as unsuspecting law enforcement agents who have fallen for one another. I wouldn't say this is a trifle of a movie but more a breezy footnote in the pantheon of film noir.


One-note tale of tormented man with chip on his shoulder fails to end soon enough
If this is film noir, then it is decidedly of the melodramatic variety. A hard-boiled crime picture it is not. Rather its focus is tangentially on the denizens of a town who are drawn for the purpose of only furthering the one-note story of the protagonist, Danny Hawkins (Dane Clark). Through flashbacks to his childhood at the beginning of the narrative, we see Danny has been tormented--first by childhood peers, and later into adulthood, due to his father who was hanged for murder.

The premise appears viable and our interest is immediately piqued when Danny is forced to kill his #1 tormenter, son of the town bank president, Jerry Sykes (Lloyd Bridges), after Sykes tries to kill him with a rock. Danny (the loser that he is) decides not to hand himself in and claim self-defense as he believes the police won't believe him. So he hides the body in the bushes, taking his chances it will not be discovered.

Danny is an unlikable character with a tremendous chip on his shoulder and it's hard tolerating his constant outbursts of anger throughout the film. Thus one wonders what Gilly Johnson (Gail Russell), a school teacher and Sykes' girlfriend, sees in him. Danny is constantly grabbing her and today he probably would have been accused of sexual harassment. Nonetheless Gilly falls for the schnook and ends up trying to convince him to give himself up.

The only real thing of interest in this film is the character of Mose Jackson (Rex Ingram), an elderly African-American man who lives out in the woods and acts as Danny's voice of reason and conscience. The role marks an improvement for African-American actors who were relegated to Stepin Fetchit characters (comic servants) in films prior to World War II. Here Ingram as Mose at least is not denigrated as a stereotype, although his all-knowing "wisdom" character role is hardly what you would call a part that is multi-dimensional.

But that also might be due to the melodramatic style of the film-in fact we learn little about ALL the characters in the film. Harry Morgan (of MASH fame) does have a good part as a deaf mute whom Danny at one point tries to strangle after he finds Danny's pocket knife in the woods.

Probably the least believable character is the town sheriff, a bleeding heart liberal whom you will never see in real life. He's especially careful not to allow Danny to walk back to town in handcuffs so that he can walk back "as a man." Do you think any sheriff would do that?

With Danny deciding to "do the right thing" and give himself up, our suffering finally ends after being subjected to Danny's "angst" throughout the film. Sadly the fiction of Danny's torment could hardly equal the real-life torment of Gail Russell, who sadly died an alcoholic at the age of 36.

The Hoodlum

Poor man's "White Heat" still has its worthwhile moments
In the days of noir, anytime you needed an actor who really exuded pure psychopathy on the screen, you would call on Lawrence Tierney. Why is that? Because there was not much difference between the characters he played on screen and his real-life persona. Indeed Tierney was pretty crazy in real life and eventually because of his out-of-control temper, lost a number of parts through the years, particularly due to fistfights and bar brawls he was likely to get into. Nonetheless he did make somewhat of a comeback in his later years--mainly in television--and was always in demand as a character actor.

In The Hoodlum, Tierney plays Vincent Lubeck, who is up for parole for the first time after serving a 5-10 year sentence following an armed robbery conviction. The Parole Board head argues against early parole maintaining that he's still a dangerous criminal and does not deserve any leniency. Following a heartfelt plea by Mrs. Lubeck, Vincent's mom (Lisa Golm), the majority on the parole board (consisting primarily of bleeding heart liberals) decide to approve his early release.

After returning home, Vincent resents having to go to work for his brother Johnny (played by Tierney's real-life brother, Edward), who owns a small gas station. The story gets interesting when Johnny's fiancée Rosa (Allene Roberts) initially resists Vincent but then falls for him. She ends up jumping off the roof and it's soon subsequently revealed that she was two months pregnant with Vincent's child. How this development got past the production code at the time should be a story in itself.

Later the Mom gets wind of what happened to Rosa and blames Vincent for the suicide. Vincent's defense regarding this matter actually seems plausible. It was Rosa who was under the illusion that she could turn someone like Vincent around (and have him marry her). It was also completely on Rosa who threw Johnny under the bus without a thought by falling for "bad boy" Vincent. And finally, no one told her to jump off the roof--as Vincent adroitly points out.

Vincent's hold over women makes him a little more than a one-note hothead. He uses Eileen (Marjorie Riordan), a secretary at the bank across the street, to gain information as to armored car pickups. Later Eileen turns out to have a lot more back bone than Rosa and throws Vincent out of her apartment at gunpoint when he's on the lam following the botched bank robbery (which we will discuss in a moment).

Indeed the weakest part of the picture is the bank robbery itself. Vincent selects a bank which is right across the street from his brother's gas station (not a very good idea since the police and his parole officer know where he is most of the time). He conscripts accomplices but unlike Cagney's Cody Jarrett in White Heat, Vincent is such a hothead that he doesn't know how to manipulate the gang members to his advantage. As it ends up, they all double cross him and steal his share of the bank robbery loot.

There is only one real twist involving the robbery and that's Vincent's idea to escape by pretending to be part of a funeral procession (emanating from a mortuary which is also across the street from the bank).

The Hoodlum's third act resolution is pretty good: there's a scene where Vincent, while being hunted by the police, returns to his mother who turns on him while on her deathbed. The mother finally admits that she deluded herself about the prospects for his rehabilitation and tells him point blank that he deserves to end up dead in the city dump. After she has a heart attack and dies in bed, the city dump is exactly where Johnny takes Vincent at gunpoint. But good-hearted Johnny doesn't have the nerve to kill his brother; the police end up performing the expected coup de grace.

The Hoodlum is not White Heat by a long shot. But with Tierney's strong performance, along with Roberts and Riordan's role as the two women who get involved with the dangerous psychopath Vincent, The Hoodlum still has its compelling moments. Special mention should be made of Lisa Golm as the mother who only sees the light after it's way too late!

Les enfants terribles

Cocteau's tale of rivalry between unlikable siblings proves trivial
The sophomore effort of Director Jean-Pierre Melville, Les Enfants Terribles is based on Jean Cocteau's noted 1929 novel of the same time. Melville conscripted Cocteau as a consultant during filming and there's been much controversy as to who deserves the most credit for the film's finished product.

The film begins with Paul (Edouard Dermit, one of Cocteau's purported lovers in real life) who is injured during a snowball fight at school. It seems he has some kind of congenital heart defect and the family physician orders him to remain at home indefinitely, no longer permitted to attend school.

Dermit who was 25 at the time the film was made in 1950, was cast in the role of a young teenager; he also had little acting experience but at Cocteau's insistence he was awarded the role of the misanthropic youth, devoted to butting heads with his equally unlikable sister, Elisabeth (Nicole Stephane). Both engage in games of one-upsmanship marked by tons of insults and desires by each to win an advantage over one another at every turn.

Also in the mix is Paul's school chum, Gerard (Jacques Bernard) who comes to stay with both sister and brother. Gerard's uncle treats them to a train trip to the seashore where the conflict between the siblings continues unabated. Soon after, Elisabeth invites Agathe, a model, to live with them. Eventually, Elisabeth briefly marries Michael, a rich businessman, who almost immediately is killed in a car crash, with Elisabeth inheriting a mansion and having her brother, Gerard and Agathe move in.

This sets up the major conflict in the second half of the film where Paul falls for Agathe which leaves Elisabeth extremely jealous. The klutz that he is, Paul pens a love letter to Agathe but puts his own name on the envelope. Agathe believes Paul to be a narcissist and rips the letter up. Elisabeth has the opportunity to advise Agathe of Paul's innocent mistake but declines to set things straight.

Paul, incorrectly believing Agathe has rejected him (she actually pines for him), commits suicide by ingesting poison. In order to fulfill the nature of their gamesmanship, Elisabeth shoots herself to death so she can achieve her comeuppance.

It's Cocteau himself who provides the narrated voiceovers for the film, which move the story along. One has trouble figuring out whether Cocteau has designed his tale as a farce, mocking the melodramatic machinations of the principal characters. When all is said and done, I would conclude that this isn't mockery but a quirky melodrama at best.

One feels a little sad watching the DVD extras featuring Nicole Stephane, Jacques Bernard and an assistant director associated with the film 50 years later extoll the virtues of Cocteau along with praising the entire enterprise as a veritable masterpiece. Despite the wholly decent cinematography, a masterpiece it is not as the principals are decidedly unlikable and the narrative (seen through modern eyes) appears thoroughly trivial.

Cry of the Hunted

Far-fetched characters highlight mildly interesting manhunt in Louisiana bayou country
This is one strange film noir. Or is it actually a noir? Set principally in the bayou country of Louisiana, there's not a lot of dark lighting and no femme fatale which would enable us to definitively call this a film noir. But since the antagonist is an escaped criminal, I guess that's how it earned the "coveted" appellation.

The film begins at a state penitentiary in an unspecified state up north. For some reason, they have a police officer, Lt. Tunner (Barry Sullivan) in charge of "maximum security." He's charged with extracting information regarding the names of the accomplices of one particular prisoner, Jory (Vittorio Gassman), who quite predictably refuses to spill the beans. Jory is supposed to be Cajun and hails from the aforementioned Bayou country.

Now can you believe this? Tunner locks himself in the cell with Jory to have a "heart to heart" conversation in which he attempts to convince Jory to give up his accomplices. When would that ever happen? It seems that this ultra-nice law enforcement official is bent on showing his charge "respect." Again, when did you ever hear of such a thing? Following Jory's refusal to name names, they get into a fistfight in which they pummel one another. Finally Jory agrees to talk with the DA in exchange for a hearty breakfast promised by Tunner. But soon afterward, it becomes clear that Jory has no intention of revealing the names of his confederates to the DA.

After leaving the prison, with Jory handcuffed to Tunner's right hand man Goodwin (William Conrad), an officer at the penitentiary who covets Tunner's job, their car crashes head on with another car inside a tunnel and Jory escapes. I'm not sure how he escaped since we last saw him handcuffed to Goodwin (Could it be that after the crash, Goodwin unlocked the cuffs which allowed Jory to escape?).

The scene shifts to Louisiana where Jory returns in hopes of hooking up with his wife. Jory is almost killed when Tunner, accompanied by a trigger happy local sheriff, nearly kills him with a number of rifle shots. Rather conveniently, Jory heads straight for his old home, a shack in the swampland where Tunner is waiting for him. Jory makes another escape when his wife Ella (Mary Zavian) knocks Tunner unconscious.

After drinking some swamp water, Tunner becomes delirious and ends up in the hospital where he hallucinates being taunted by Jory in hell. Goodwin and Tunner's wife Janet (Polly Bergen) show up at the hospital where Tunner announces he's going to continue on the case, despite Goodwin's claims that he's been relieved of his duties. Note this is the second and last time we see Tunner's wife in the film (a woefully under written part in which a charming Polly Bergen, ends up having little to do)!

The rest of "Hunted," concerns Tanner tracking Jory down again in the swamp where they have another big wrestling match (film noir expert Eddie Muller and others suggest there's a homoerotic sub-text due to these wrestling scenes) but you can read anything into a film such as this, as you wish.

The climax involves Jory ending up wounded by a protruding tree branch and then saving the lieutenant's life as he almost drowns in quicksand. Jory then falls victim to swamp fever and Tunner (who can hardly speak) lights a fire, alerting Goodwin and the sheriff, who have been searching for them in a boat.

All's well that ends well, when nice-guy criminal is released from prison following completion of his sentence (with good wishes from Lt. Tunner, who sees him off at the train station).

Undoubtedly, the characterization of a "noble" law enforcement official and the equally "noble" prison inmate, is completely far-fetched. I can't help but feel the idea to create a bond between the two characters was inspired by the casting of classically trained Italian actor Gassman, who is given an opportunity to evoke sympathy for a beleaguered criminal. While some criminals may be victims of circumstance, there is usually a good measure of self-responsibility for getting in trouble in the first place.

It seems at every turn that Director Joseph H. Lewis goes out of his way to excuse Jory's conduct. His relatively early release from prison holds no water since he probably would have been given an extra twenty years incarceration for the crime of escape. Sullivan is also saddled by his "nice guy" role and Cannon as Goodwin proves quite unlikable as a boorish tough guy.

Cry of the Hunted is worth a little peek maybe for the swamp scenes where most of the compelling action takes place. See it not for the characters, that truly hold virtually no "swamp-infused" water but for that unusual setting in the bayou.

The Square Peg

Well known British comedian stars in this unfunny British variation on 60s American TV POW spoof
The star of The Square Peg was Norman Wisdom, whom I had never heard of before. Apparently he was a very well-known British comedian who worked primarily in TV after making a number of feature length films. Surprisingly, he had a big following in Communist ruled Albania, where the government saw him as a beloved underdog, always challenging the capitalist system.

Here Wisdom plays his usual character, Norman Pitkin, a roadmender for the St. Godric's Borough Council. His boss Mr. Grimsdale (Edward Chapman) is the Borough engineer, a devoted bureaucrat whom Pitkin swears allegiance to as I guess some sort of mentor. The duo is assigned to do some road repair work on an Army base during World War II. Pitkin is the comic foil out on the base and Grimsdale is more of the straight man inside the office. The comedy is supposed to revolve around the duo's machinations as they attempt to circumvent army regulations while on the job. Much of it turns out to be slapstick of a low order.

The break into the Second Act occurs when much to Pitkin's and Grimsdale's chagrin, they are drafted into the Army and are forced to follow rules which they despise. They end up getting on the wrong lorry (truck) and promptly find themselves parachuting out of a plane into France. There's a scene where the bumbling Pitkin holds on to Grimsdale's shoes after losing his own parachute. Not funny at all!

The second half of the film involves the hapless duo's capture by German soldiers. Pitkin is a dead ringer for the commanding Nazi officer and manages to save Grimsdale, a British female spy and members of the French resistance by impersonating the Nazi officer in a heavily guarded chateau. You could liken the whole scenario as a British variation on the American 60s TV series, Hogan's Heroes, where the Germans are depicted as bumbling idiots.

Pitkin is captured at the last minute right before helping the rest of the crew to escape. The only interesting or clever moment in the entire film is how he escapes the firing squad at the last second-it seems that he's able to fall through a hole covering (which Pitkin had covered with leaves earlier) and escapes through a tunnel that leads out of the walled compound.

Amazingly this juvenile claptrap saved Wisdom's film company, the Rank Organisation from bankruptcy. I didn't laugh once during this exercise in debauched historical revisionism and urge all inveterate filmgoers to avoid this one like the plague.

Force of Evil

Soon-to-be blacklisted writer-director churns out leftist propaganda and turgid 30s-like melodrama masquerading as film noir
Abraham Polansky, writer-director, was banished from Hollywood for approximately twenty years, after being blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) a few years after the release of Force of Evil. In my opinion, on the basis of this effort it couldn't have come sooner. More like a vapid 30s crime melodrama, there is no way "Force" deserves the appellation of "film noir," which usually implies a modicum of respectability.

Nothing about this film rings true in the least. Let's start with John Garfield as high-powered attorney Joe Morse who works for a mobster by the name of Ben Tucker (Roy Roberts). Why does he have such an intense filial obligation to his brother Leo (Thomas Gomez) especially after he hasn't seen him in so long? You would think that Joe, now a millionaire, could care less about the brother who is a failed businessman, now involved in a small-time numbers operation.

Joe comes to see Leo after Ben decides to consolidate the various "banks" by ensuring that the number 776 (played by millions on Independence Day) will come out, thus bankrupting all the small-time operators (including Leo). Joe offers to put Leo under Ben's umbrella but Leo refuses, somehow arguing that he's an "honest" businessman, as opposed to Ben and his brother, whom he pegs as crooked "robber barons."

Somehow Polansky sees some nobility in these small-time crooks. Despite Joe's affiliation with Ben, he basically is depicted as a good guy, especially after he arranges for Leo's bank to close the night before July 4th. But Leo stays open anyway and goes bankrupt after the 776 number hits.

There's a sub-plot here that goes nowhere with Joe falling for Leo's secretary, Doris Lowry (Beatrice Pearson) who's constantly telling him to go straight. Why a millionaire like Joe would suddenly take an interest in a woman whom most millionaires would regard as their social inferior, is another example of the fantasy world Polansky has constructed. I should also mention that the other main female part also goes nowhere-that of Edna (Marie Windsor, usually known for some really good femme fatale roles), who has nothing to do as Ben's wife.

Leo finally agrees to work for Ben but rejects Joe's attempt to buy him out. After the accountant Bauer (Howland Chamberlain) calls the DA and rats everyone out resulting in their arrest by the police, Leo still tries to protect him but it's not enough after Ben's rival Ficco (Paul Fix) kills Bauer and kidnaps Leo. While in captivity, Leo dies of a heart attack. Joe learns of the kidnapping by reading the morning headlines and later Ficco tells him that his brother died of a heart attack.

The upshot is that Joe ends up killing both Ben and Ficco. After the climax, we wrap up with Joe finding Leo's body under a bridge. Wracked with guilt, Joe is of course determined to make amends by working with the prosecutor. All his past corrupt dealings are evidently excused and now the once corrupt millionaire has joined with the forces of good to battle the evil capitalists.

Polansky's simplistic leftist views turns Force of Evil into a laughable potboiler. None of the actors can do anything with their roles due to a script that lacks one iota of verisimilitude. Proceed at your own peril!

Démanty noci

Limited Holocaust chronicle disappoints despite impressive cinematography
Diamonds of the Night was Czech director Jan Nemec's first full-length feature film released in 1964. It's based on the true-life experiences found in Arnost Lustig's autobiographical novel Darkness Has No Shadow. Lustig was a Czech Jew who escaped from a train headed to Dachau concentration camp after it was attacked by allied aircraft. Nemec's film is a fictional account of two boys escaping from a train and hiding in the woods.

It's been my observation that successful neophyte directors usually display their potential prowess in the technical areas of filmmaking ("Diamonds" is no exception with its impressive hand-held cinematography and flashbacks-both dream-like and reality-based-chronicling the fate of the two boys who we see have little chance of escape).

Notably the film has little dialogue. It's more a tale of survival than anything specific related to the Holocaust. Nemec only seems to have a vague notion about Holocaust history. Missing is any in-depth examination of the Nazi terror, the nature and extent of the cooperation and collaboration of the occupied populace, characterization of the human faces who committed awful crimes and any sense of how the genocidal campaign (particularly against the Jewish population) took place, leading to the extermination of mass numbers of innocent people.

Much of the action takes place in the forest; one boy (whose shoes are falling apart) exchanges them for food with the other. There are flashbacks to the boys' earlier lives in Prague (as well as dream or fantasy sequences where you can't tell whether events actually transpired or not).

Desperate for food, the boys finally emerge from the forest and one of them obtains milk and bread from a farmer's wife (there appears to be a fantasy sequence in which the boy attacks and murders the woman). Why is that fantasy sequence included? Obviously to show the boy's inner thirst for revenge. But what does that prove? It seems gratuitous and completely unnecessary as the boys are in such bad shape, imagining that one of them can even dream up such fantasies while being given some food, seems unlikely.

Some reviewers have remarked that the end of the film features a "militia" hunting down the boys. The group of rifle-toting elderly men hardly seem like a militia at all. Rather they seem like a club or a hunting party. The fact that they speak German suggests that they are Sudeten Germans, an ethnic group living in Czechoslovakia during the war who were afforded favored status by the Nazi occupiers.

The fate of the two boys is left ambiguous-one scene has the elderly men pretending to shoot them and then letting them go while laughing; another scene shows the two boys shot and left for dead on the ground.

Despite the film's impressive cinematography, this first-time director only seems to grasp the true horror and gravity of the Holocaust in a superficial way. This little "slice of life" hardly begins to convey the enormity of the crimes committed during this particular time in history.

The Hitch-Hiker

Classic noir chronicling psychopathic killer holding average Joes hostage while pursued in Mexico
Directed by Ida Lupino, the only female director of the time (circa early 50s), The Hitch-Hiker is a remarkably taut, suspenseful drama based on real events. After murdering two newlyweds in Oregon and a salesman in California, ex-convict Emmett Myers (William Talman mainly known for his role as the District Attorney in Perry Mason) hitch-hikes his way to Mexico where he plans to catch a ferry to San Rosalia, 500 miles south, of his present location near the California-Mexico border. Two regular guys from Arizona on a fishing trip, draughtsman Gilbert Bowen (Frank Lovejoy) and garage owner Roy Collins (Edmond O'Brien), pick up Myers who immediately orders them at gunpoint to drive to his intended destination.

Lupino based a good deal of Myers's character (along with the two victims), on interviews with their real-life counterparts (including Billy Cook, the psychopathic criminal who eventually ended up executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin). Rarely will you see a more chilling portrait of a murderer such as Myers as you see here in this film. It appears that Myers is a highly, highly intelligent individual who covers all his bases in ensuring that his two hostages are in no position to escape or turn against him in anyway.

The tension is palpable throughout the narrative, as Myers keeps his victims at bay continually. He makes it clear to both men that if they "get smart," they'll end up like the previously murdered victims. He knows enough to make sure that Bowen doesn't speak Spanish to any of the Mexicans they encounter along the way, to ensure he doesn't tip anybody off that they are being held hostage.

We then begin to get an idea just how sadistic Myers is, when he orders Bowen to shoot a tin can from Collins's hand, who is standing hundreds of feet away. For Myers, this is just fun and games. Another source of tension, are the ongoing radio reports the trio hear while traveling through Mexico. Myers makes it clear that his hostages are finished if the authorities get wind of their location. At first law enforcement has no clue to their whereabouts-later, the FBI orders local police in both the US and Mexico to issue a false report that the authorities have given up on the idea that they believe Myers is in Mexico.

Because Myers has one eye that's paralyzed, he makes it clear to Bowen and Collins that they will be unable to tell if he's asleep after they pull off the road for the night. Later while eating lunch, we gain more insight on Myers's perspective, when he castigates the two for being "too soft." Other sources of suspense occur when the car's horn begins blaring out of the blue and Collins must open the hood to stop it. When the radio stops working, Myers accuses Collins of deactivating it and slugs him-Bowen mollifies Myers by pointing out that they were only getting static because they were up in the mountains and could not receive a radio signal at that particular location.

The Mexican police finally deduce that Myers is heading to San Rosalia after they are tipped off by suspicious Mexicans who encounter them. What's more, while getting gas, Bowen leaves his wedding ring at the gas station, which confirms for the police that the trio indeed are in the area.

The stakes keep escalating when the hostages fail in an escape attempt, almost ordered to jump into an abandoned mine shaft by Myers, but earn a reprieve after he hears the false police report; when their car breaks down completely, the three must then set out on foot!

The climax occurs when arriving at the their intended destination, Myers learns that the ferry he was planning to take has been out of commission for the next two months. His plan is to hire a boat to ferry him where he wants to go but the friend of the boat owner he has been negotiating with, soon after spies a wanted poster of Myers and alerts the Mexican police.

There's an exciting confrontation on a dock where Bowen jumps Myers in order to save Collins, who has been made to wear Myers's clothes (preventing the police from mistaking him for the killer). Collins, who was definitely the more psychologically hurt of the two hostages, gets his last licks in by punching Myers in the face after he's handcuffed and struggles with the Mexican police who are taking him into custody.

Talman steals the show as the psychopathic killer. There is a scene which I previously failed to mention where Myers describes his forlorn childhood and how and why he turned into a remorseless killer. Lovejoy and O'Brien are equally fine as the almost broken victims, but their roles are much more subdued than that of Talman, due to the circumstances of their situation.

Ida Lupino's direction is excellent especially given she is working under the confines of a low-budget production. Note here also all the Mexican characters are speaking Spanish (except for a couple of police officers on occasion), which adds greatly to the film's verisimilitude (there are no sub-titles). As a psychological portrait of a truly scary criminal and as a suspense thriller (with never a dull moment), the Hitch-Hiker remains one of the classic films in the pantheon of films noir.


Solid tale of investigation into anti-semitic soldier who commits murder
Crossfire, a film noir with anti-semitism as its theme, was based on a 1945 novel The Brick Foxhole, in which the victim was gay. When Gentlemen's Agreement, another film about anti-semitism, won the Academy Award for Best Picture (also in 1947 when Crossfire came out), it was obvious that a Jewish victim was much more palatable at that time than someone who was gay.

The film has the three Roberts as its stars: Mitchum, Young and Ryan. Young is the pipe-smoking detective Finlay who must solve the murder of a Jewish man Samuels (Sam Levene) after he's assaulted in his hotel room where a group of soldiers have gone to visit him.

Mitchum is Sgt. Keeley who is protective of the various soldiers in his unit and is reluctant to cooperate with Finlay. Keeley is particularly insistent that Cpl Mitchell (George Cooper) couldn't have committed the murder despite the fact that Finlay reveals his wallet has been found inside the murdered man's hotel room.

Keeley and his pals finally find Mitchell who is afraid to give himself up but has an alibi after leaving the hotel room before the murder occurs in an intoxicated state-he's able to recall meeting with a taxi dancer Ginny (Gloria Grahame) who is the femme fatale of the piece. The nasty Ginny doesn't want to get involved and denies meeting with Mitchell, but a strange man steps forward inside the apartment who claims he's her husband and admits that Mitchell was there earlier.

Mitchell represents the soldier who must deal with de\pression after coming back from the war. His wife Mary (Jacqueline White) represents the contrast to the indifferent Ginny, attempting to help in the exoneration of her husband.

We soon learn who actually committed the murder after Ryan as Montgomery murders Floyd Bowers (Steve Brodie), the other soldier who was in the apartment when Samuels was killed. Finlay deduces that Montgomery's motive for murder is anti-semitism after he refers to Samuels as a "Jewboy" whom (he assumed) was a loafer during the war (Finlay discovers however that Samuels was a decorated war veteran who was wounded in the Pacific theater).

No need to rehash how Finlay tricks Montgomery but suffice it to say it involves convincing a reluctant soldier, Leroy (William Phipps), to assist him. Finlay's impassioned speech about prejudice (including a description about how his own grandfather was murdered by anti-Irish hoodlums), persuades Leroy to change his mind about getting involved It's interesting that Leroy, a southerner, is initially reluctant to become involved not because of any particular prejudice but more because he's afraid he might get into trouble (especially having to deal with the violent Montgomery, who has belittled him before).

Crossfire is a solid Rashomon-like tale in which various soldiers present accounts of events from their own perspectives. The bad guy gets his just desserts and we, the viewer, learn an important lesson about the danger of intolerance.

He Ran All the Way

Implausible climax sinks iconic actor's swan song
The Desperate Hours, also a film about a family held hostage by criminals starring Humphrey Bogart, was a far superior entry in this sub-genre of film noir, released a few years after He Ran All the Way. Here it's only one criminal holding the family hostage, Nick Robey (well played by John Garfield in his last film role before his untimely death at the age of 39). Both films feature escalating tension throughout given the nature of the story but The Desperate Hours arrives at a satisfying and fairly plausible conclusion in which the bad guys get their comeuppance.

Garfield's character Nick proves to be the best part of the film. After killing a cop following a payroll heist gone bad, Nick finagles his way back to the apartment of a girl Peg (Shelley Winters) whom he meets in a swimming pool which appears to be part of some kind of health club.

Nick proves to be more than a one-dimensional character. When Mrs. Dobbs (Peg's mother played by Selena Royle) faints after pricking her finger while sewing, Nick looks like he's quite upset and beginning to panic for a moment believing that the woman might be dead. Later, in striking contrast, he humiliates the mom along with her husband Mr. Dobbs (Wallace Ford) and young son Tommy (Bobby Wyatt), forcing them at gunpoint to eat a turkey he's prepared for dinner.

Much less successful is the portrait of Peg who's actually depicted toward the end as falling for Nick, agreeing to purchase a car and making an escape with him. She's supposed to be another woman falling for the "bad boy" gangster. Given the affection she displays throughout for her family, I didn't buy the idea that she would in any way fall for him unless this was supposed to be a ruse so that the parents and her brother could finally be extricated from the nightmare of being held hostage. But it appears she does have feelings for him (confirmed by how upset she is at film's end after she guns him down!).

What keeps our interest in the film until the end is our need to see how Peg and her family resolve the situation and escape the clutches of this psychopathic bully. But when the payoff finally comes it makes no sense. It's Peg's father who shoots Nick and wounds him from across the street while he stands at the doorway of the family's apartment building. Why would the father take a chance like that knowing full well Nick could have shot his daughter right away?

The arrival of the yellow newly purchased car (albeit quite late in the day) presumably is meant as a twist in which Nick's all consuming paranoia and mistrust of everyone is brought to the fore. Indeed Peg had kept her word that she had purchased the car and was also being truthful that the delivery would be late as the headlights needed fixing.

He Ran All the Way needed a much better ending, choreographed so much better in the aforementioned Desperate Hours. See it for Garfield's swan song but not for the unlikable screenplay which features a climax not well thought out.

The Window

Modern update of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" suffers from some plot contrivance
The Window is an unusual film noir in that the main character is a child. Bobby Driscoll plays Tommy Woodry, a nine year old who lives in an old NYC tenement with his parents Mary (Barbara Hale) and Ed (Arthur Kennedy). The film was a box office success much to the surprise of Howard Hughes, who had recently taken over RKO and initially decided not to greenlight the picture's release.

The film's premise is a modern update of "The Boy who cried Wolf," one of the tales from Aesop's Fables. Tommy has a reputation for making up tall tales among his peers as well as the adult neighbors in the building. His parents are at the breaking point in getting him to behave and at one point the father nails Tommy's bedroom door shut so he will remain there for the night.

During one scorching hot night when Tommy decides to sleep outside on the fire escape one story above his bedroom, he witnesses a murder committed by two of his neighbors, The Kellersons (Paul Stewart and Ruth Roman). He tells his parents but of course they don't believe him. Tommy even goes so far as to walk over the local police precinct where he reports the incident and a detective escorts Tommy back to his mother, who promptly informs the officer of Tommy's unfortunate penchant for not telling the truth.

In a bit of a twist, the detective still decides to check on the Kellersons by posing as a building repair estimator and is able to look for clues while the Kellersons remain in their apartment, bent on not arousing any suspicion. After not finding anything, the detective returns to the precinct house and dismisses Tommy's claims as a kid believing that one of his nightmares was true.

The problem with The Window is that we must suspend our disbelief regarding the killers' behavior throughout. Firstly, we never find out why the Kellersons commit the murder. Second, they inexplicably dump the body next door in an abandoned, decaying building. Why they would do that seems not only implausible but a clear plot contrivance. The body could have easily been found and possibly identified and their association with the murdered man could have easily been established.

But even if no association could have been made with the perpetrators, the discovery of a dead body would have suddenly alerted the police that there might have been validity to Tommy's claims. And even his parents might have started believing in what Tommy had been telling them.

Of course the killers dumped the body before they became aware that Tommy might have been a witness. But once they do get an inkling that Tommy might have seen them (and this occurs initially when Mrs. Woodry takes Tommy upstairs to "apologize" to the Kellersons-and later confirmed for sure when Joe Kellerson finds Tommy's note in the kitchen of the Woodry apartment), it is highly unlikely that Joe would have even considered eliminating Tommy, given the fact that the dead body could have turned up anytime and cast suspicion on the couple.

Even without the discovery of the body, little Tommy's demise would have caused a lot of problems for the Kellersons, even if it appeared accidental. So I had trouble for most of the second half, imagining that Joe would actually even consider let alone go through with trying to kill Tommy.

Nonetheless, the final scene in which the Kellersons chase Tommy through the decaying building next door is pretty exciting. Of course Joe gets his just comeuppance by falling to his death when a rotting staircase gives way; and Tommy is saved when the police have him jump into a net, just before the tottering beam he's standing on, gives way.

Driscoll steals the show as the tall-tale teller. Sadly, the child actor turned to drugs as an adult and was found dead in a crumbling building in NYC, not unlike the one depicted in The Window in the climactic scene.

The Window is worth watching but doesn't approach classic noir status due to the implausibility of part of the narrative's basic premise.

A Bell for Adano

Despite lack of suspense, a touching remembrance of US military's administration of a post-war Sicilian town
A Bell for Adano is a most unusual picture related to World War II. There is no fighting in it (that is between enemy combatants) and it is more a character study than a film that features a suspenseful narrative. The protagonist, Major Victor Joppolo (John Hodiak), a Bronx native of Italian descent, is tasked with administering the small Sicilian (fictional) town of Adano following the defeat of Mussolini's fascist government.

Joppolo arrives with his adjutant, Sgt. Borth (William Bendix) and they are immediately met by eager townspeople who offer their services to assist Joppolo as he attempts to win over a skeptical populace, weary after years of Fascist rule. Joppolo earns the trust of Father Pensovecchio after he appears at Mass with all the townspeople in attendance. It's made clear from the outset that the biggest morale booster would be the restoration (or replacement) of the town church bell which was confiscated by fascist government officials.

In a great scene, Joppolo rebuffs a town official who has gone to the head of a bread line by sending him to the back of the line, much to the great approbation of the people. Then Joppolo pays a visit in person to Tomasino, the head fisherman, and convinces him to go back to work to begin replenishing the town's dwindling food supply (the good Major reassures Tomasino that he'll be taking no kickbacks from any of the workers).

The central conflict of the film revolves around orders Jappolo receives from his commanding officer, barring the townspeople from using their mule carts and other modes of transportation to bring food and water over the only bridge in town which the general maintains has been interfering with military convoys. When Jappolo is moved by a mass demonstration by the people in the town square and countermands the orders, Sgt. Borth hides a report written by Captain Purvis (Henry Morgan), reporting Joppolo's insubordination to the commanding officer, at the bottom of a stack of papers.

Much has been written about Gene Tierney in the role of the fisherman's daughter, Tina, who sports an uncharacteristic head of dyed blonde hair and tells Jappolo (after he's invited to her family's house for dinner) that she dyed her hair to be "different." Various reviewers have complained about Tierney's non-Italian accent but it didn't bother me at all-in fact, I felt whatever low key accent she mustered seemed plausible enough (what would have it sounded like if Tierney had actually tried an Italian accent? Maybe it might not have worked and maybe that's why ultimately she or the director decided not to use it).

Another unusual thing about the film is that Joppolo's and Tina' s relationship is strictly platonic. There is a very nice conversation that the two principals have filling in a good deal of backstory-particularly Jappolo's story (his background is complicated including mention of still being married and running a business that ultimately failed back in the Bronx!). There is a hint that Jappolo might have been interested in Tina but she reminds him of his wife and it appears he's jolted back to reality.

Tierney's part is sadly underdeveloped and the major plot point regarding her backstory really fails to work. The scene in which recently released POW Nico (Richard Conte), Tina's missing boyfriend Giorgio's friend, reveals to her the sad fate of her sweetheart during the waning days of the war. It seems that Giorgio was really an anti-Fascist but his enthusiastic enlistment into the Mussolini's fascist army, was held against him by fellow soldiers, who killed him while they were intoxicated.

The report about the Major's insubordination is once again redirected to another jurisdiction by Sgt. Bortha, but eventually Joppolo's efforts to help the townspeople come back to bite him when headquarters finally gets wind of the countermanding of the Commanding General's orders. There are some bittersweet occurrences before Jappolo is given his "marching orders," and that includes Sgt. Bortha's emotional breakdown (while intoxicated) over Jappolo's forced departure, the townspeoples' presentation of a portrait of Jappolo in the town hall and thanks to some ingenuity on the part of some US Navy officers, the replacement of the church bell effected amidst much fanfare among the townspeople.

John Hodiak was quoted as saying that A Bell for Adano was his favorite film among the many roles he took on during his career. And indeed Hodiak is magnificent as the good guy major who represents all that is good about the American soldier. It's a very human portrait of a good but tough soul whose background is certainly not squeaky clean.

A Bell for Adano is not what you would call a "high stakes" picture. There is very little suspense here and it should be better thought of as a film featuring a "slice of life" verisimilitude. The film does well in representing the John Hersey book on which it is based. Jappolo's bittersweet departure is representative of the many moments of life in occupied post-war Italy depicted in this film that ring decidedly true.

Blonde Ice

Dull, one-dimensional characterization sinks portrait of femme fatale serial killer
Blonde Ice was a "B-list" crime picture which attempted to emulate the "A-list" films noir of the time. Screenwriter Kenneth Garret assumed that if you wrote a screenplay about a femme fatale without humanizing the character, that was still enough for an audience back in 1948 to become engrossed. I have no idea what the reaction was to this picture back then, but I cannot believe most people found the protagonist here, Claire Cummings (Leslie Brooks), a society columnist for a San Francisco newspaper, at all compelling.

It's a paint by the numbers crime picture which I will not dignify by calling it film noir. Claire is a one-note serial killer who first bumps off Carl Hanneman, a wealthy businessman, to whom she just got married. Claire stages Hanneman's death to look like a suicide after he dumps her, realizing that she's been two-timing him from the get-go. The next guy to get the shaft (a non-fatality, luckily!) is Les Burns, a sports columnist, who is completely infatuated with Claire, until she makes a play for Stanley Mason, a successful attorney running for Congress.

Before turning on Mason, Claire murders Blackie, a tough guy charter airline pilot who has been blackmailing Claire after he earlier flew her back to San Francisco where she murdered Hanneman.

The scene in which Claire murders Mason by stabbing him with a knife and then pinning it on Les is ridiculous beyond belief. She's in a room with Mason right after he's won election to Congress and all his supporters standing outside. When Les walks in, she hands him the murder weapon (the knife) and he's promptly arrested for killing Mason by the police.

Leave it to all-knowing psychiatrist Dr. Kippinger, who confronts Claire and simply reiterates what everyone in the room knows-that Claire is responsible for all the murders. In perhaps the worst example of adherence to the production code, Claire simply confesses to all the killings and after firing a bullet at the good Dr. Kippinger (and missing), she accidentally shoots herself. Oy vey!

Brooks and the rest of the cast can do nothing with such a lame script, which depicts a charmless femme fatale serial killer, whose sole motivation appears to be love of the almighty dollar. Successful femme fatales always are drawn with a great deal of nuance-none of that is evident here. Instead, we are asked to applaud the characterization of this one-note killer despite all the utterly one-dimensional screen writing.

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