Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Brattle's L.A. Noir series: Criss Cross, This Gun for Hire, Point Blank, To Live and Die in L.A.

Coincidence, or something more? : When I was building the Amazon links, Criss Cross and This Gun for Hire came up as a buy 2 and save - and they were also a double feature at the Brattle. Wacky.

Have I mentioned before what a killer the Brattle's newly "horizontal" schedule is? I loved the "vertical" one, where I could look at the calendar and say, okay, Thursday is Hong Kong Action night, or Monday is Noir night. If I had a killer week at work, I wouldn't miss an entire series.Truth be told, by the time this one got to To Live and Die in L.A., I was just wiped out. I expect mid-June to cripple me, with the Coolidge's 3-D series followed immediately by the Brattle's Harold Lloyd series (and Western Week at the Brattle starts tomorrow, looking pretty daunting).

Anyway, these are some pretty good movies. I gave a pass to the ones I'd already seen - The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Chinatown and Collateral. Most of them show up in Los Angeles Plays Itself, which was sort of part of the series (it got the weekend, while the noirs the weekdays). It was interesting, seeing locations and scenes first as part of Anderson's descriptions of movies and the city, and then in context.

Also - seeing Point Blank knocked my opinion of Payback down a notch or two.

Criss Cross

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 March 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Dark Side of the Sun: L.A. Noir)

When you leave a place, it's probably best to stay gone. You left for a reason and that reason is probably still there, even if you've been elsewhere for a year or two. Ah, but if Steve Thompson (Burt Lancaster) had recognized that, then we wouldn't have a movie, so hurrah for fictional characters making bad decisions.

Steve's been wandering around the country since his divorce, but he gets homesick and comes back, getting a job with an armored truck company. This pleases his mother (Edna Holland) and old friend Pete Ramirez (Stephen McNally), an LAPD detective who meets up with him at The Roundup, their old bar. Steve says he's not going there to see if she's still around, but who's he kidding? Soon, though, his ex-wife Anna (Yvonne De Carlo) is walking in... Along with her new husband, gangster Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea). Soon, Steven and Anna are falling into old habits, and when Slim catches them, Steve recovers by saying he was looking for Slim, to help plan an armored car robbery. It should end there, since everyone knows armored car jobs are fool's errands, but Anna convinces both to go through with it. The question, of course, being which of her husbands she's trying to get to screw over the other.

Read the rest at HBS.

This Gun for Hire

* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 March 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Dark Side of the Sun: L.A. Noir)

I can get kind of touchy about genre classifications, which is odd since I like to tell people I don't really believe in them. Still, if you're going to use them, use them right. This Gun for Hire showed up in a noir series, but it feels more like pulp to me. It's not the bone-crunching Mickey Spillane sort of pulp, but it's a little more fanciful than most noir.

Early on, we meet Philip Raven (Alan Ladd), a hitman who, being a movie hitman, has a lovable eccentricity. Raven likes cats, and feeds the strays who wander into his hotel room window. He executes the job he's hired for, but the man who hired him, Willard Gates (Laird Cregar) pays him with money he has reported stolen, going straight to Michael Crane (Robert Preston), a Los Angeles Detective visiting San Francisco. Crane is there to see his girlfriend, Ellen Graham (Veronica Lake), a nightclub entertainer whose act contains some singing, some dancing, and some stage magic. Ah, but it's about to get more complicated - Gates has just hired Ellen for his club in L.A., and the Feds would like her to snoop around. And who should she sit next to on her way down, but a certain killer looking to settle accounts with the man who paid him worthless money.

Read the rest at HBS

Point Blank

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 March 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Dark Side of the Sun: L.A. Noir)

Lee Marvin's footsteps echo like gunshots on this movie's soundtrack. Bang, bang, bang, as he walks down the hall. It's a fitting image, because it demonstrates how the most fearsome weapon Walker (Marvin) has in his arsenal is his dogged persistence. Bang, bang, bang, Walker's not trying to sneak up on anybody. He's a simple man with a simple request - to be paid what's owed him. And don't be the guy who gets in his way.

That's the story behind Point Blank. A year or so ago, Walker, Reese (John Vernon) and Walker's wife (Sharon Acker) pulled a big score. Reese shot his friend in the back, though, taking all the money along with the girl, leaving Walker for dead. But he's not, and now that he's healed, he's allied himself with a representative of some unknown agency who'll act as his guide through "The Organization" which Reese has joined. It's an arrangement of convenience, though, the partnership he strikes with Reese's old girl, Chris (Angie Dickinson), isn't that much warmer.

Read the rest at HBS.

To Live and Die in L.A.

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 31 March 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Dark Side of the Sun: L.A. Noir) (projected video)

... And I'm going to skip actually reviewing this one. I saw it at the Brattle at 9:45pm, on a night when I was already pretty tired and probably drifted in and out even more than I remembered. Plus, they couldn't get a print, so they had to show the DVD, which didn't look so hot blown up. So even if it hadn't been a month, I'd still be having trouble stringing an actual meaningful opinion together.

(I really should just cut my losses on some of these, but a log's a log)

Next up - 10 Wong Kar-Wai movies. Or some more recent stuff, though after punting To Live and Die in L.A., I worry about the WKW stuff falling off the back of my brain.

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