Classic Movie Review: Laura (1944)


Title: Laura 
Release Date: October 11, 1944
Director: Otto Preminger
Production Company: 20th Century Fox
Summary/Review:

I first watched Laura about 25 years ago with a friend named Laura.  I’ve long ago lost touch with her which is sad because she was a good person.  This is irrelevant of course to the story of this film noir murder mystery.  Like many film noir movies, the plot and the actions of its characters don’t make a lot of sense upon thinking about it.  But sense is not important with the delivery of sparkling dialogue and camp theatricality delivered by its actors.

Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) investigates the murder of Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), a young woman who works at a New York City advertising firm.  Among the witnesses/suspects he interviews is Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), a self-aggrandizing columnist who was Laura’s friend and svengali who was jealous of her attention to other men.  One of those men was her fiance Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) who had been having an affair with Laura’s co-worker.  Shelby is also a kept man to Laura’s socialite aunt, Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson). As McPherson examines Laura’s personal effects and admires her oil portrait, it appears that he is falling in love with the dead woman.

Laura is full of twists and turns and mostly some terrific outlandish performances by Webb and Price.  It’s a great example of Classic Hollywood at its wackiest.

Rating: ****1/2

Classic Movie Review: The Maltese Falcon (1941) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter M

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: The Maltese Falcon
Release Date: October 3, 1941
Director: John Huston
Production Company: Warner Bros.
Summary/Review:

I watched The Maltese Falcon several years ago – maybe at The Brattle Theatre or maybe I just borrowed the DVD from the library – and I also read the Dashiell Hammett book it is based upon around the same time.  But I didn’t remember much about it, which is a good thing since it meant I could enjoy the mystery of it once again.  I also felt that I thought the movie was good but not great, so I was also surprised to find I was really enjoying it the second time around.

The Maltese Falcon is a detective story featuring Humphrey Bogart as the hard-boiled private eye Sam Spade.  The movie is considered to be one of the examples of the film noir genre, or at least a predecessor to film noir.  Spade is definitely a morally ambiguous character and it is unclear whether he is actually willing to go along with the criminals’ plans or if he is just playing them.  When he does the right thing at the end of the movie, it seems like he does it more out of spite than justice.

The story begins when a woman, Ruth Wonderly or Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) depending on which version of her life she’s telling, hires Spade and his partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan).  When Archer is murdered, Spade finds himself drawn into a plot around finding the titular MacGuffin, a medieval figurine covered in valuable gemstones.  Also seeking the Maltese Falcon are conman Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) and mobster Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet).

This was John Huston’s first film as a director, and despite the detective story, it is not really an action film.  In fact, I found it has a lot of unexpected parallels to Huston’s final film, The Dead, which is also a book adaptation about people who spend a lot of time talking but rarely speak the truth.  Subtext is key in the battle of wits among Spade, Brigid, Cairo, and Gutman.  The film succeeds because of the high quality acting of its cast.  Surprisingly, this was Greenstreet’s first film, while Lorre was just making his way into American films, and even Bogart was just becoming an A-list celebrity.  They’re firing on all cylinders in this film and the trio would reunite in Casablanca the following year, and Greenstreet and Lorre would make a total of nine movies together!

For whatever reason, this movie failed to make a big impression on my around 17 years ago.  But upon revisiting this movie I feel it has earned a spot among my favorite movies of all time.

Rating: ****1/2

Classic Movie Review: Kiss Me Deadly (1955)


Title: Kiss Me Deadly
Release Date: May 18, 1955
Director: Robert Aldrich
Production Company: Parklane Pictures
Summary/Review:

A young woman, Christina (Cloris Leachman in her film debut), runs barefoot down a highway, wearing nothing but a trench coat. She stops a passing sportscar, driven by Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker).  The credits roll from bottom up as they drive off in the night. Thus is the stunning beginning of this film noir classic.

When Christina ends up dead and Hammer awakens in a hospital days later, Hammer realizes that Christina must’ve been into something big. He’s a private detective who specializes in divorce cases but nevertheless ignores the police when they tell him not investigate the case.  Hammer questions mobsters, kisses beautiful woman, and punches stooges.  Every trope you may have seen in a film noir homage or parody is in this film.  I guess they had to start somewhere.

The plot revolves around the MacGuffin of a mysterious box which appears to have influenced films ranging from Raiders of the Lost Ark to Pulp Fiction.  Meeker’s Hammer is brutally violent, unsentimental, and representative of the nihilism at the heart of this film.  The story doesn’t make much sense upon a little reflection, but I think this movie is more about atmosphere and capturing the truth of Los Angeles in the many location shots.

Rating: ***

Classic Movie Review: M (1931)


Title: M
Release Date: May 11, 1931
Director: Fritz Lang
Production Company: Nero-Film A.G.
Summary/Review:

Continuing with German cinema, this film by Fritz Lang (who also directed Metropolis) is a thriller/procedural drama that basically invented the noir genre.  Peter Lorre, an actor I’ve always liked in his Hollywood films, had is first major role as the serial killer of children, Hans Beckert.  Depicting a serial killer on the silver screen and the way the story unravels is strikingly modern, and is about 30 years of Hollywood doing something similar.

The film begins with chilling sequences of children chanting about murder and then Beckert luring away a girl while whistling “In the Hall of the Mountain King.”  In the panic that follows, people turn on one another with suspicion, and the police crack down on the criminal underworld.  The city’s mob bosses decide that they also need to track down the murderer, and the scenes of cops and criminals preparing for a manhunt are intercut, with it being deliberately hard to tell which group is which.

Beggars are able to track down Beckert who then hides in the office building.  The criminals seek him out using all the means at their disposal, including rather comically drilling a hole through the floor to access a locked office on a lower level.  Once they’ve captured Beckert, the criminals put him on a mock trial. These scenes feel didactic as Lang’s characters overtly explain the moral message to a sick society, which is a weak way to conclude the film.  The command at the close of the film to watch our children seems torn out of the present day manual of helicopter parenting.  Nevertheless, the film on the whole is a compelling drama.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde


Author: Jasper Fforde
TitleThe Well of Lost Plots
Narrator: Emily Gray
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2012)

Other Books Read by Same AuthorThe Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good BookShades of GrayThe Last DragonslayerThe Song of the QuarkbeastOne of Our Thursdays is Missing, and The Eye of Zoltar.
Summary/Review:

I’m revisiting the Thursday Next series and struck by how Fforde can keep at least five plots going simultaneously, interweaving them, and somehow bringing them all together at the end.  First there’s Thursday’s apprenticeship with Miss Havisham at Jurisfiction and getting caught up in the Ultraword conspiracy.  Then there’s Aornis Hades’ memory worm, and Granny Next’s efforts to help Thursday remember Landen.  Then there’s the plot within the book Caversham Heights where Thursday gradually reshapes a derivative detective novel into the setting for Fforde’s Nursery Crime novels. And then there’s the the hysterical evolution of the generic characters Lola and Randolph. There are no plots lost here.  I was delighted to read this book again (in Emily Gray’s voice) and surprised to look back at my original review when I didn’t think too highly of this installment in the series.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: After the Thin Man (1936)


In 2019 I found some old Word documents with movie reviews I wrote back before I had a blog. I’m posting each review backdated to the day I wrote it.

Title: After the Thin Man
Release Date: December 25, 1936
Director: W. S. Van Dyke
Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Summary/Review:

The second in the movie series. The first is funny, witty, quotable, and even a good detective story to boot. This one is dull, plodding,the acting is unveven, the comic timing is off and even a youthful James Stewart can’t save it. I’d heard the sequels didn’t compare to the original, but I didn’t imagine it would drop off so much.

Rating: **