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Posts Tagged ‘Karl Malden’

Kiss Of Death (1947) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

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Stars – Victor Mature, Brian Donlevy, Karl Malden, Richard Widmark, Coleen Gray
Director – Henry Hathaway

Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 Units
Available at Screenarchives.com and Twilighttimemovies.com

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Kiss of Death is a good Film Noir that gets catapulted into greatness by way of Richard Widmark’s stand out performance as sadistic hit man Tommy Udo. The nature of the lead character played by Victor Mature also represents a departure for the kind of heroes that would be acceptable. The film starts off with the robbery of a jewelry store. Mature is one of the guys knocking the place over. One of the robbers kills someone. So he is a crook, right? No doubt about it. Now he did not kill the guy but he was part of the crew that did. Later on when he is forced to choose between being sent off on a lengthy prison term or become a snitch and rat out his friends he sings like a canary. There are extenuating circumstances. His wife became involved in a tawdry affair while he was away. Things got so tough for her that she stuck her head in an over and committed suicide. Mature’s little boy is left all alone. However the kid’s old babysitter has eyes for his dad. Forget that he is too old for her, and that he is in jail. So this is the hero of the picture. This is the guy we are rooting for. When he has to testify in court against one of his old crew word gets around and Tommy Udo is called in to take care of him. Now Mature is still definitely a bad guy but when you compare him to Udo, maybe he’s not so bad.

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That kind of character is one of the things that is so compelling about a good Noir. People can have shades to them. The gray scale of human morality gets as much attention as the fascinating photography by Nobert Brodine. Brodine shot over 100 films starting in the silent era. In this one we frequently see a reflection of Mature in a nearby window or on a highly polished piece of furniture or door. That gleam in the reflections is so strong that you suspect they had a guy in the crew whose sole job was to take a shammy cloth to any shiny surface the camera pointed at. But it works. There are two sides to this guy and maybe he’s leaning more toward the good side of life now. Meanwhile Richard Widmark makes a film debut that just rocks the house. He has a maniacal high pitched laugh. You can trace that laugh from the Batman comics by way of Widmark being a fan to Frank Gorshin’s laugh as The Riddler in the Batman TV show. Widmark also sports a world class smirk throughout most of the picture. His dialogue is full of these hipster put downs. He calls squealers and people not up to his liking, squirts. He says it like squints at times, too. He oozes evil and looks ready to pop at any moment. The costumer did a great job with his look. He dresses like a stylish gangster with just a touch of a comic book villain.

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The intense scene that starts with Udo asking an old lady in a wheelchair where her son is has become legendary. Everything about it just builds beautifully. The old lady lies about her son not being there. Udo sees an open window that the squirt had make his escape through. Who would tie an elderly mother into her wheelchair with an electric cord he just rips off of a lamp. Udo takes her out on the landing and heaves her down the stairway. His laughter over the scene seals the deal. You could line up the people offended by that scene several times around the city of Philadelphia. After seeing this guy at work rooting for Mature’s bad guy who now may be more of a good guy just got a whole lot easier.

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Coleen Gray, the baby sitter who marries Victor Mature has a voice over that opens and closes the picture. With so many hardnosed guys doing voice overs in Noirs this has a very different and gentle quality to it. Much of the film was shot on the streets of the city which lends it an air of toughness . There is a bordello hidden in a town house in a nice neighborhood that Udo takes Mature to. The incongruity of the house of ill repute carrying on in such a nice part of town fits with Mature’s duality nicely. Kiss of Death has some melodrama to it that gets balanced well with the brutality of Widmark‘s role of Tommy Udo. The darkness of the location shoot also levels the scales. The shots inside the Chrysler building are terrific. Kiss Of Death is a stand out Film Noir that gets a great looking treatment here.

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Video – 1.33:1
This is a very satisfying presentation. Black levels are strong. There is no distortion at all. There is plenty of detail to be found in clothing, faces and backgrounds. The gleam in the frequent reflections is easily seen.

Audio – DTS HD MA 2.0 and 1.0 in English with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is easily understandable. Music and effects fit well in the track.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track, Commentary by film historians  Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, Commentary with film historians James Ursini and Alain Silver, Original theatrical trailer, Essay by Julie Kirgo

Ursini and Silver are well know for their books on Film Noir. They bring in a great deal of information in their commentary. The other new commentary is more fun and gives another take on the film.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

Boomerang (1947) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, October 23rd, 2016

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Stars – Dana Andrews, Lee J. Cobb, Jane Wyatt, Karl Malden, Arthur Kennedy, Ed Begely, Sam Levene
Director – Elia Kazan

Released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

This film falls into that category of movies that take on social issues. Warner Brothers excelled at them in the thirties with pictures like, “ I am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932). It concerns the plight of an innocent man who is arrested for a crime he did not commit. Boomerang sits alongside movies like Fritz Lang‘s Fury (1936), Alfred Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man (1956), Henry Hathaway’s Call Northside 777 (1948) and even the recent HBO miniseries, “The Night Of”. It is based on a real case and shot on real life locations that are close the where the actual incidents took place. One night a beloved priest out for his nightly walk is shot in the head on the serene and usually safe streets in a quiet city in Connecticut. A voice over gives us the solemn low down on the man who was a friend to all and a valued councilor to anyone in a time of need. There is a united cry for immediate justice from everyone. Before the narration gets too preachy or descends into a bit of a parody we are dumped into the action. Lee. J. Cobb and Karl Malden are the detectives on the case. Sam Levene is the wise cracking reporter using every angle to get at the story. Elia Kazan plays these guys as real salt of the earth types. They wear rumpled clothes are as just as apt to yell as offer up a funny snide remark. These guys and the wealth of supporting actors let Kazan pull off his drama with enough grit to make his story work.

Boomerang! (1947) Directed by Elia Kazan

Generally these stories revolve around a lot of legal procedures and investigations . While Dana Andrews as the district attorney certainly does his share of that this the script gives us an up close look at the political maneuverings. The two parties in town each have an agenda. A quick indictment followed by a swift conviction will keep those in office nice and secure. On the other hand if the case falls through the other party stands to gain. We see the press making fun of the local police and their ineffective flat footed investigation.  There is intense pressure brought to bear on the police to come up with a suspect. When Arthur Kennedy is picked out a line up he gets grilled through the night and into the next morning. Karl Malden lays into this guy. He pushes and jabs at him with accusations looking for that moment when he’ll just give in and admit he shot the priest. There is a uniform cop on hand whose sole job appears to be shoving Kennedy’s chin back up when he starts to nod off to sleep. When they finally break Lee J. Cobb has a line about just putting on a fresh tie will do instead of getting some sleep and a shower.

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Dana Andrews is consistently dependable. He’s been the lead in so many films from Noirs like Laura to the excellent war film, A Walk in the Sun. He even pulls off one of the best horror films, Night of the Demon. He has a scene at the climax of the film where he reexamines the testimony from several key witness. As he starts raising doubts and shooting holes in their stories we know that he is tempting the ire of those politicos that are promising him the Governorship if he plays his cards right. Andrews plays it well.

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Boomerang tends to get classed as a Film Noir. That doesn’t fit for me. It’s a strong drama. Norbert Brodine who shot the film shot the film also lensed 13 Rue Madeleine before this and Kiss of Death right after. He certainly knows how to create a bleak and suspenseful atmosphere with shadows. He could easily have created the classic Film Noir tapestry we all recognize so well. But that is not at all on display here. This has a much softer and brighter look to it. Perhaps Elia Kazan wanted the film to have a suburban clean feel to it that was more in keeping with his semi-documentary approach. Rather than let the photography establish a mood it is left to the actors to carry the film and they deliver in spades. Kazan would go on to tackle more social issues and toshowcase a heightened style of acting in his dramas.

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Video – 1.33:1
This film looks fine though it appears to bit a bit more on the bright side than I’d expected. There is an absence of grain which on the one hand appears very clear yet on the other hand robs us of some detail. The entire film has a lighter look to it. I do not know if that was as intended when it was shot or due to a more aggressive treatment of the materials in the transfer.

Audio – DTS Mono
All dialogue is nice and clear. Music and effects sit well in the mix.

Extras – Commentary by Film Noir Historian Imogen Sara Smith / Commentary By Film Historians Alain Silver and James Ursine / Trailers

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Good / Excellent

Movie – Good / Excellent

Where The Sidewalk Ends (1950) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, March 5th, 2016

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Stars – Gene Tierney, Gary Merrill, Karl Malden, Craig Stevens, Dana Andrews
Director – Otto Preminger

Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 Units
Available at Screenarchives.com

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

The film starts with the titles written in chalk on the sidewalk. We hear the familiar strains of an orchestral melody, Street Scene. That music by Alfred Newman has been used in several Film Noirs including Cry of the City, Kiss of Death, and I Wake up Screaming. It’s a classy opening for a story about a brutal cop who goes too far. Dixon (Dana Andrews) pushes a suspect hard for information and accidentally kills him. The guy had a metal plate in his head from the war. He was a war hero who got mixed up in the rackets. Dixon dumps the body in the river and tries to pin the job on Gary Merrill the local crime boss. The Noir web tightens around Dixon as he tries to untangle himself.

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There is a sequence which feels like it’d be right at home on one of those TV detective shows that came out in the seventies. There’s a sweet little old lady, a widow who sits at her window every night. She sees Dixon carry the body out. Only he is dressed like somebody else. She sees a taxi cab pull up and the driver go in and out of the place. Only there were two cabs. Karl Malden and his squad question her. He gets Dana Andrews to put on a rain coat and walk by the lady’s window for a test. That’s a nice touch as we know he was the guy who carried the body right by her window. The lady identifies the cabbie who happens to be the father in law of this no good guy that Dana took out. He was gonna rough him up for how he treated his daughter. Turns out he helped Dana on a case years back. Further Dana starts to fall for his daughter, Gene Tierney. You can really hear the typewriter keys in this plotting which is a bit too contrived even for a slick Film Noir. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun and full of intrigue though.

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We get a couple of very nice scenes in the local restaurant where Dana takes Gene out for dinner. He has an easy cynical banter with the owner there that feels very real. She cares for him and gives her blessing to the new couple. Andrews pulls off the bad attitude of the grizzled detective very well. The guy was a good dependable actor. We feel for him now that he has fallen for a girl whose father is looking to take the rap for his murder. How can he untangle all of this? He needs to take out Gary Merrill, free pops and try to hang on to this girl and maybe quite his low down ways. The look of the film is a mix between obvious studio back lots and some location exteriors in New York. Even though this is supposed to be a down and dirty film Preminger gives everything a nice sheen. There is a high gloss about the photography. That worked so well for his film Laura (1944) which also starred Andrews and Tierney. That was a lush and melancholy romantic noir that remains one of the best in the genre. This re-teaming of them is very enjoyable but that polish works against it here. For my taste Tierney looked much more fetching in Laura. Here her role is smaller. Her look with the exception of her scenes as a dress model is too domestic, far less intoxicating. The sequence with her as a dress model for hire feels as least to me as if it were meant to be a metaphor for her working as a prostitute now that her crooked husband has walked out on her.

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There are many supporting actors that are recognizable. It’s a kick to see Neville Brand as a tough thug who works for Merrill. In his commentary Eddie Muller, The Czar of Noir, talks about how this was one of the first in the sub genre of bad cops films. In later years Glen Ford in The Big Heat (1953) and Robert Ryan in On Dangerous Ground (1951) would mine this same vein with better results. While not a stone classic Noir Where The Sidewalks Ends is a very professionally done crime flick with some solid performances driving it. The wealth of peripheral characters are all well cast and well played.

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Video – 1.33:1 in 1080p HD, B & W.
The film looks stunning here. Almost every shot looks well photographed. The lighting has strong black levels in the transfer. The black and white scale is well managed without a lot of grain. Each shade seems to hold its own place refusing to blend at all with the other shades near it. That’s a stylistic decision. There is a purposeful sheen and a gloss to this film. Skin tones, even in close up do not show signs of excessive scrubbing or DNR. This is a gorgeous looking picture.

Audio – English 1.0 DTS-HD mono track with subtitles offered in English SDH
You may get a bit tired of hearing that recurring theme throughout the picture but it worked so well in Laura that that is very likely why they chose to repeat the idea here. Dialogue is easy to follow.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track, Commentary with film historian Eddie Muller, Original theatrical trailer, Essay by Julie Kirgo

Muller’s track, ported over from the previous DVD release is a good listen. He is full of information and clearly has an appreciation for all things Noir. I’ve heard him do better but anytime he does one of these commentaries it is well worth a shot.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Good/ Excellent

The Cat O’Nine Tails: Arrow Blu Ray Review

Friday, September 30th, 2011

The Cat O’Nine Tails (1970)

by Troy Howarth

Written and Directed by Dario Argento; Starring Karl Malden, James Franciscus, Catherine Spaak, Pier Paolo Capponi, Cinzia de Carolis, Horst Frank, Rada Rassimov, Werner Pochath, Aldo Reggiani, Tino Carraro, Umberto Raho, Fulvio Mingozzi

A blind man (Karl Malden) teams up with a reporter (James Franciscus) to help unravel a string of murders linked to a genetics research institute…

Dario Argento’s second feature didn’t generate quite the same success and critical acclaim as his 1969 debut, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, and its reputation in the Argento canon hasn’t exactly soared in recent years. Some of the cold attitude can no doubt be traced to Argento himself, who has publicly referred to it as his least favorite of the films he has directed (though undoubtedly it has since been dethroned by 2009′s Giallo). While it is true that Argento fought an uphill battle with the German co-financiers of his sophomore effort, the end result is by no means unrewarding.

On the downside, the film suffers from overlength and a scenario that hinges on a central idea that really isn’t all that interesting. Argento peppers the narrative with quirky character vignettes and sidebars that are far more compelling than the central ‘industrial espionage’ plot thread – this is telling in itself. Argento has often remarked that the German co-producers wanted a ‘jetset version of Bird With the Crystal Plumage,’ and he was so hellbent on not repeating himself that he allowed the story to get away from him. There’s little doubt that the film lacks the focus and narrative momentum of Bird, which remains one of his most tightly (and coherently) plotted, pictures. Argento also seems so fond of the various subplots that he allows the picture to drag on for much too long – it clocks in at a flabby 112 minutes, as opposed to the lean 90+ minute running time of Bird. As a giallo, it’s also not particularly successful – the central plot thread feels awfully generic, and the various red herrings are dealt out so wrecklessly that it’s impossible to get a really good fix on ‘who-done-it?’.

All of that should not suggest that the film is a failure, however. On the contrary, if one can deal with its deficiencies, it still offers a lot of the classic Argento magic. The film is carried by a charismatic pair of leading men: James Franciscus (Beneath the Planet of the Apes) and Oscar-winner Karl Malden (Patton). Franciscus brings ample charm and credibility to what could have been a stock character. He makes his nosy journalist into a likable, believably vulnerable human being. Malden is superb as the blind ex-reporter who makes crossword puzzles in his spare time. Like so many Argento protagonists, they are drawn into the mystery by a morbid form of obsession – what starts off as a lark becomes very serious indeed as they both come under attack by the killer. Malden and Franciscus compare favorably to Tony Musante’s ‘American abroad’ in Bird, and they remain among the most engaging and sympathetic of Argento’s fractured protagonists. The supporting cast is more hit and miss, with Catherine Spaak proving woefully inadequate as the femme fatale who may or may not hold the key to the mystery. Her relationship with Franciscus feels like a tacked on concession for the box office, and it never really goes anywhere; they also share a love scene that may or may not have been meant to feel as cold and awkward as it does in the context of the film. Pier Paolo Capponi (The Boss) does what he can with his stock police inspector role, while Horst Frank (The Head), Werner Pochath (Iguana With the Tongue of Fire) and Umberto Raho (Baron Blood) add color to their respective character roles.

Argento’s flair and craftsmanship are also very much on display. The film may not be so colorfully over the top as his later hits, but it shows him continuing to refine his craft. He makes bold use of split diopter to create some striking deep focus images, and continues to experiment with flashy editing as a means of breaking things up and making them more interesting. The director also begins to fully explore the possibilities of subjective camerawork, which he would mold into an artform by the time of Deep Red (1975) and Tenebre (1982). The widescreen cinematography by Erico Menczer (Machine Gun McCain) is slick and atmospheric, while Ennio Morricone contributes yet another terrific, jangly soundtrack. The film also displays Argento’s propensity for shocking violence – it may not be nearly so ‘wet’ as his later pictures, but Cat contains some moments that remain positively wince-inducing, notably a ‘rope burn’ number that has to be seen in order to be believed.

Cat may not rank in the absolute top tier of Argento’s filmography, but it is hardly the poor relation some have dismissed it as being. Thanks to the director’s stylish sensibility and a couple of terrific central performances, it transcends the weaknesses of its script and remains a well crafted, enjoyable entry in the giallo canon.

Video:

Cat was recently released on blu ray by Blue Underground in the US.  I gave that edition a glowing review, which I still stand by, but some fans on line were less than impressed with the transfer; to each their own, of course.  Arrow’s new all region release has therefore been awaited with some trepidation: would it offer a more desirable alternative for those who were disappointed with Blue Underground’s release?  The answer now seems apparent: no.  That is not to say that this is a shoddy release, a la Arrow’s last two Argento releases (Tenebrae and The Bird With the Crystal Plumage).  Far from it.  The 2.35/16×9/1080p transfer looks very nice on the whole – but it does suffer from a softness in detail at times which can only be explained by over aggressive DNR work, and the colors don’t seem quite so vivid as they were on the Blue Underground edition.  The end result is more than watchable, but once again Blue Underground emerges victorious in comparison.  Simply put: if you didn’t like the BU disc, you probably won’t be won over by this one, either.

Audio:

Audio options include both the English and Italian dubs.  Both tracks are in good shape, showing off Morricone’s wonderfully jangly soundtrack to its full effect.  The English track is preferable to the Italian (both Malden and Franciscus dubbed their own roles in English), but it’s nice to have the choice between the two – and English subtitles are provided for the latter.

Extras:

Extras commence with Dario Argento Remembers The Cat O’Nine Tails, in which the director reflects on one of his least-favorite films.  Argento speaks warmly of the late Karl Malden but essentially says that the finished film does not reflect his style or vision very well.  Up next is The Cat O’Nine Tails in reflection, in which Argento’s long time friend and associate Luigi Cozzi talks about his take on the film.  Cozzi got an insider’s view of Argento’s conflicts with producer Goffredo Lombardo and provides some nice insights into the problems the director faced on the picture; he also claims to have talked Argento out of going with a happy ending!  The last featurette is Sergio Martino: The Art and Arteries of the Giallo, in which the giallo filmmaker continues his talk on the genre which commenced on Arrow’s release of Bird With the Crystal Plumage.  Martino tips his hat to Argento and his influence over him and others who worked in the genre, discusses some of his own contributions to the genre, and tries to give some insight into what makes for a good giallo.  It’s a nice interview and a good way to wrap up the meat of the supplements.  An Italian trailer is also included, and the final package will also include the usual reversible cover art, a doubled sided poster, and liner notes from Argento expert Alan Jones.

Film: ***1/2 out of *****

Blu Ray: ***1/2 out of *****