#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.

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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’.

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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

 

 

#236- Strangers on a Train

Quick recap: Guy is a tennis star who hates his wife. Bruno is a creepo that hates his father. When the two meet ( as strangers, on a train), Bruno decides that it would be fun if the two could switch places and murder whom the other hates.

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Making small talk is difficult for some people

Fun (?) fact: Alfred Hitchcock wanted the character of Bruno to be gay but that wasn’t really something you could say back then. Instead, he and Robert Walker worked together to suggest Bruno’s homosexuality with elaborate gestures and fancy clothes without having to actually point it out.

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It was a success!

My thoughts: Strangers on a Train just might be my favorite Hitchcock film. It’s not his best, but I had the most fun watching it. Everyone knows Hitchcock for his horror films, but I much prefer film-noir Hitchcock, where he can put his dark humor to good use.

There is a lot to love about this movie, but it’s the film techniques Hitchcock uses that make Strangers on a Train so stunning. I know there are technical terms for all the camera work but I’m not even going to pretend I have a clue what I’m talking about here and just say it was really, really, really……good. There were many scenes with Bruno where he was just off in the distance, but the perspective made him seem so much more formidable. My favorite example of this was during the tennis match, where the audience moved their heads back and forth to watch the ball, while Bruno’s gaze was fixed squarely on Guy. It was beyond creepy. The scene in which Miriam is murdered is also amazing. Hitchcock somehow filmed the encounter through the perspective of Miriam’s glasses that were knocked to the grass when Bruno grabbed her.

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The dialogue and acting were top notch and although it was a very dark movie, there were many scenes that made me laugh. Like Shadow of a Doubt, many of the characters casually talk about murder and gruesome ways of dying as if it is a common hobby to do so. Which it kind of is? There has always been a fascination with that sort of thing so although it seems off-putting, it’s something we all do. As for the murder itself, I never really understood why Guy could never go to the police and explain what happened. There didn’t seem to be a lot of evidence, and it’s not like the police leading the investigation came from Manitowoc County (I’m topical!) so they probably would’ve been reasonable. The ending also seemed to be wrapped up a little too neatly. One second Guy was the number one suspect and the next second his name is cleared completely. Granted, there wasn’t much of a case to begin with but it was definitely a weak spot in an otherwise enjoyable film to have it all dropped so quickly.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Storm over Asia

#218- Detour

Quick Recap: There are many reasons why hitchhiking is a bad idea, one of them being that you might be accused of murder.

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Or it might be Rodney Dangerfield. You just never know!

Fun (?) fact: Tom Neal, who played the main character Al, was convicted of killing his wife in 1965. I’d add something witty here, but that’s just sad and Tom Neal was an asshole.

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Tom Neal is an example of someone you wouldn’t want to pick up.

My thoughts: As I have most likely mentioned before (but am currently too lazy to verify), I have an extreme fear of being accused of a crime I didn’t commit. There are some people who go so far as to save all their receipts for the sole purpose of having an alibi in case they are in a situation that would warrant it, but (as mentioned before) I’m too lazy to do that. Plus, knowing my luck, if I did keep all of my receipts and was accused of a crime, the prosecution would probably use that as evidence that not only was I guilty, but that it was premeditated. And exhibit B would probably be this entire paragraph, so it’s for the best that I get on with the review and stop incriminating myself.

So…..Detour. IMDb calls this film one of the best B-movies ever made, which, on the surface sounds like an oxymoron. I get it, though. Director Edgar G.Ulmer had a very small budget and instead of trying to create what would’ve been really bad scenery, he just had fun with it. Case in point, the beginning of the movie shows Al hitchhiking his way west and later heading east. There wasn’t a budget to show both directions, so Ulmer simply reversed the film. The result is Al hitching with his left thumb and riding in cars where the driver is on the right side. There are also many scenes where Al is staring off into the distance as his voice explains what he is thinking. Low budget, yes, but the story is simple enough to have not needed an expensive set.

The main plot of the film is about as outlandish as you might expect: Al hitchhikes to LA to reunite with his girlfriend and along the way gets picked up by a really rich guy. The rich guy dies and Al realizes that if he calls the police, it’s going to look really suspicious. So he instead buries the body, switches identities and continues on his way. Being the idiot that he is, Al picks up his own hitchhiker, who just happens to be a woman that knew the dead rich guy and now she is in on what happened. The two fight about what to do and in one of the best (worst?) scenes I’ve encountered on this list, the woman locks herself in a hotel room to call the police on Al. On the other side of the door, Al pulls as hard as he can on the phone cord and when that doesn’t work, kicks down the door. That’s when he finds the cord wrapped around the woman’s neck and she too is dead. Rotten luck, indeed. It’s such a wonderfully silly story, but somehow, it works. The acting wasn’t great but it didn’t need to be to get the point across.

Final review: 4/5. And thanks to the Hayes code which stipulates that murderers aren’t allowed to get away with their crimes, Al is picked up at the end of the movie and brought to justice.

Up next: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

#197- Gun Crazy

Quick recap: Bart Tare is into guns. Like, really into guns. But not in that way (killing people). His wife on the other hand is totally into guns AND killing people. I guess you could say they are………gun crazy!

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Fun (?) fact: During the credits it says that the script was written by MacKinlay Kantor and Millard Kaufman. In reality, there was no Kaufman, but instead a guy named Dalton Trumbo, who was blacklisted at the time.

dude REALLY loves his guns. Can't say that enough

dude REALLY loves his guns. Can’t say that enough

My thoughts: With all of the talk on gun control and me being a crazy person who thinks not everyone should have all the guns, I wasn’t expecting much from this movie. The late 40s/early 50s were a different time when guns were used mostly for recreation and not terrifying mass murders, so a young boy with a fascination with guns didn’t really register with people that this was alarming. Case in point, the very beginning of the movie has a young Bart break into a hardware store to steal a gun. The reason he stole it was because his mean old teacher took away his other gun when he was showing it off to the class. That was the punishment, by the way- bring a gun to school and it will get taken away……and that’s about it.

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The director went out of his way to show that Bart was a sweet kid (I know this because he guns down a chicken in a flashback scene and then cries about it. Aww.) and it wasn’t guns that made him violent. Instead, what caused his crime spree was all the woman’s doing. Annie Laurie Starr is the Bonnie to Bart’s Clyde and from the very beginning of their relationship, it’s pretty obvious that the reason Bart loved guns so much was because he really wasn’t all that bright. He is told on several occasions that this woman was no good and yet he couldn’t resist her. She talks him into robbing every chance they get, which is bad enough, but then (according to her), Starr has this habit of getting nervous and killing people. This, understandably, gets the two of them into trouble with the law until they are finally cornered and must surrender. In one of the more beautiful moments of the film, Bart, who hasn’t killed anyone or anything since that chicken, turns the gun on his wife, who was about to shoot his friends. Gunfire is returned and Bart is also killed. The final shot is of them in the marsh, their dead bodies lying slumped against each other.

It might be the ridiculousness of the plot or how ‘B-movie’ certain scenes felt, but I really enjoyed Gun Crazy. It was a lot of fun and didn’t take itself too seriously. I kept expecting some larger discussion about guns, but really, it just came down to an idiot in love with a woman who kills.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Little Big Man