#340- The Maltese Falcon

Quick recap: Detective Sam Spade gets caught in a web of criminals and murder and at the center of it all is a stupid bird statue.

smoke in front of the bird to show it who’s boss

Fun (?) fact: This one is an original! During the finale Joel Cairo is enraged and yells out, ‘You… you imbecile. You bloated idiot. You stupid fat-head, you’. The voice sounded familiar to me and I realized it was Ren from Ren and Stimpy. As it turns out, the voice of Ren, John Kricfalusi, was attempting a Peter Lorre impression (the actor who played Joel Cairo). Cairo’s explosion was a direct influence on the character and personality of Ren.

My thoughts: It was a sweltering June night and my dogs were worn out. I needed something nice and easy like a jorum of skee. I was behind the 8-ball on my reviews so what better way to kick off summer than with the greatest of film-noirs, The Maltese Falcon? This movie was no chippy, I’ll tell you that now. After watching it, I knew I would need someone to bump gums with, someone to check the facts with me. This cat, the guy I married, watched the movie with me as well as three literal cats. And seeing as I have run out of detective jargon, let’s get started. I’m not a dame who will make you wait.

So of course, I really enjoyed the movie. It’s been a hard few months and although I’ve looked forward to summer, the transition was a little rough. Film-noir is the chicken soup of movie genres to me. It hits the spot in all the right places. What stands out for me in the Maltese Falcon are the characters more than the mystery. Same Spade, played by Humphrey Bogart, was dashingly wonderful, although I could’ve done without all the forced kissing. Yes, it’s a trope, and a very odd one at that. This was my first taste of Peter Lorre, who was my favorite. He played the part of Generic Foreign Gangster so well, a man always on the brink of sanity. Mary Astor as Brigid O’Shaughnessy took awhile to grow on me, seeing as how most damsels in distress are young and blonde, but I warmed up quickly once Spade was on to her.

As for the mystery, I almost think it’s put there as an afterthought. When a director has to fit in all the tropes for this type of genre as well as fill a larger than life cast of characters, the actual murders just get shoved in. Let’s face it, I was mostly in it for the classic Sam Spade wisecracks, not for the puzzling clues. I enjoyed the ‘twist’ that the bird was a fake and the gangsters had fought and killed for nothing. It was like a wink from director John Huston, or actually from the writer of The Maltese Falcon-Dashiell Hammett.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: The 400 Blows

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#323- Sunset Boulevard

Quick recap: Joe Gillis is hired by an aging film star to help her get back into show business. As with most things in life, it goes horribly wrong.

me, moving closer to Thanksgiving break

Fun (?) fact: This will probably seem more ‘basic fact than ‘fun fact’, but Gloria Swanson, who played Norma Desmond was an actual silent film star back in the day and her servant Max was an actual director. All those pictures Norma has in her mansion are real life photos of Swanson.

My thoughts: How in the WORLD did Gloria Swanson not win a Best Actress award for her role in this film? People love to hate on the Academy, and although I’m mostly ambivalent about what a group of people seems worthy, this is a true outrage. There was a lot to love about this movie and believe me, there will be gushing later on, but it is Swanson who makes Sunset Boulevard into the classic that it is. Everything about Norma Desmond is so wonderfully over the top that it makes every scene pure gold. I was lucky enough to watch this movie on the big screen and every time Swanson appeared, a group of guys behind me cheered. When she said something sassy, I could hear them gasp audibly and say out loud,’ oh NO!’. Anyone who can invoke such a response 67 years later deserves all the awards and praise.

I LOVED this movie. Oh my god, did I love this movie. I loved it in the way that after it was over, I was sad for awhile because I can’t imagine how I was able to function in life up to this point having not seen Sunset Boulevard before.  It was just that good. The story, the characters, the shocking twists and turns, all of it. And not only that, but it really brought to life how traumatizing it was for the film industry to switch to sound. We see it ( or maybe mostly I see it) as a merciful thing to move to talking, but it really was an art form in its own right. It reminds me of the silent actor Raymond Griffith  in All Quiet on the Western Front. He lost his voice due to illness as a child and sound coming to film meant the end of his career, even though he was a considerably popular star. Several silent film era stars were asked to star as Norma Desmond but a few had mental issues and others had turned into recluses. For all the glamour we see, Hollywood can be a really sad scene.

Final review: 5/5. Go see it if you haven’t yet.

Up next: the Big Chill

#308- Pickup on South Street

Quick recap: A pickpocket unknowingly intercepts some microfilm that was about to be given to the Communists. Now he must decide whether he is going to stay a two-bit felon or move on up to full traitor status.

it’s a film-noir so expect plenty of sass from this dame

Fun (?) fact: In the French and German versions of the film, the dialog is changed completely and turns into a story about drug dealing.

My thoughts:Apparently, pickpocketing was one of the worst crimes one could commit in New York City in the early 50s. Skip McCoy, the thief with the heart of gold (or something) had already been convicted of stealing 3 times before and one more time would send him to the chair. When my mom’s wallet was stolen in Chicago a few weeks ago, we dutifully reported it even though we knew that sucker was long gone.

Pickup on South Street was a wild ride but overall a weak addition to the film-noir genre. There were several thrilling scenes and violence galore but a spying ring just felt like a letdown. The Communists were bad news but by the end this felt more like a propaganda film for the Red scare than a true film-noir. Part of my issue is that I never really bought into Skip McCoy as a hero. Not only was he a pickpocket but he was violent towards the girl he stole from and then made out with her too, which was I guess a thing back then. Candy, the love interest, had her own issues and I found myself internally screaming on her behalf for continuing to choose such bad guys to fall in love with. In the end, Skip and Candy end up together and we are made to believe this is a good thing but realistically we know there is no good way this relationship will go.

My favorite part of the film and the reason I liked the movie so much was because of Moe, the stool pigeon. I really wish they had cut out all of the Commie BS and mystery and focused on this woman. Moe spent her life selling ties as a front and keeping tabs on all the crooks and criminals. When the police needed help, they called her in and she set a price to give info. I loved the symbiotic relationship she had with the crooks and especially Skip. Neither were happy with the other’s life choices but both understood the need to make a living. For all this, Moe was saving up for a nice burial plot when she died. When of the Commies offed her, Skip paid for a funeral so she wouldn’t be sent to Potter’s field.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Destry Rides Again

#262-Touch of evil

Quick recap: Charlton Heston plays a Mexican officer who gets caught up in a whole bunch of stuff: kidnapping, murder, theft, corruption and lots of jaywalking.

TouchOfEvil1

Also starring Orson Welles, who has a little more than a ‘touch’ of evil going on

Fun (?) fact: Oscar winner Mercedes McCambridge is only in the film because she was having dinner with Welles. He gave her a leather jacket, cut her hair himself and gave her the line, ‘I wanna watch’.

Touch Of Evil 624

My thoughts: I think I might be suffering from Film-Noir Fatigue. Not that I’ve seen a bunch yet (there’s a LONG list), but in my mind most of them have formed a gelatinous blob of murder, mayhem and sexy dames. I really wanted to like this film, mainly because of Orson Welles, but at the end of the day, it just seemed like one more movie that fits the theme- no more, no less.

I’m going to back up a bit because it seems like I hated the movie and I really didn’t. Orson Welles in a fat suit doing an impression of Trump? Charlton Heston playing a Mexican official despite not looking hispanic at all? Marijuana benders? There’s actually a lot of camp in this movie, now that I think about it. But also some seriously good scenes, like the beginning where the camera tracks a car as it heads through the US Mexico border and then blows up. That was neat. And I also enjoyed all of the scenes with Janet Leigh because even I can’t resist a sexy dame in trouble.

But there was a lot that just didn’t work for me. The weird, creepy night manager was such an odd choice to add to the film. I guess the point was the he was scared of his drug lord boss but his odd mannerisms overshadowed everything. And the Grandi boys on a weed bender also struck me as more funny than tragic. The real beef I had with the film, however, was the plot. It was hard to follow and I’m still not sure how everything adds up. I got that Hank Quinlan was a super horrible guy who put a lot of innocent people in prison, but that seems like the sort of thing people would find out about soon enough. Add in the drug lord stuff and the car exploding and it just seems more like a cautionary tale for Charlton Heston’s character about too much on his plate.

Final review: 3/5

Up next: Trainspotting