Day 1 - Whistle in the Night
1. The Whistler (William Castle, 1944)
2. The Mark of the Whistler (William Castle, 1944)
3. The Power of the Whistler (Lew Landers, 1945)
4. Voice of the Whistler (William Castle, 1945)
Day 2 - More Whistling in the Night
5. Mysterious Intruder (William Castle, 1946)
6. The Secret of the Whistler (George Sherman, 1946)
7. The Thirteenth Hour (William Clemens, 1947)
8. The Return of the Whistler (D. Ross Lederman, 1948)
Day 3 - The Low Rent World of Hugo Haas Pt 1
9. The Girl on the Bridge (Hugo Haas, 1951)
10. Pickup (Hugo Haas, 1951)
Day 4 - The Low Rent World of Hugo Hass Pt 2 + Interlude, with Bowling
11. Strange Fascination (Hugo Haas, 1952)
12. The Big Lebowski (JoelEthan Coen, 1998) (re-watch)
Day 5 - The Don't Make Them Like They Used To
13. Against All Odds (Taylor Hackford, 1984)
14. Mirage (Paul Williams, 1995)
Day 6 - Old Guys Still Got It
15. Twilight (Robert Benton, 1998)
Day 7 - Money and Murder in a Modern Way
16. Croupier (Mike Hodges, 1998)
17. Freeway (Matthew Bright, 1996)
Day 8 - More Gambling, the Modern Way
18. The Cooler (Wayne Kramer, 2003)
Day 9 - Back to the Classics, With Cages and Spies
19. Caged (John Cromwell, 1950)
20. 5 Fingers (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1952)
Day 10 - Peak Noir, but Low on the List
21. Second Chance
(James Tinling, 1947)
Super-cheapie from Sol M. Wurtzel Productions, distributed by Fox, and running a very fast-paced 63 minutes, about a couple of jewel thieves who meet cute sort-of while disguised as legit businesspeople, and end up allied and eventually in danger from much more serious and violent crooks. Enjoyable enough fluff with a bunch of b-stars that I recognized but certainly couldn't have names, among them Kent Taylor, Louise Currie and John Eldredge who probably made the biggest mark on the film as the most "sophisticated" of the cons. The director's name was totally unfamiliar to me - pretty rare in a noir from this period - but it looks like this is the 4th film of his I've seen - I guess that's not much praise.
(George Blair, 1950)
John Eldredge also appears in this similarly cheap programmer from Republic 3 years later, also from a director who is a blank to me though in this case my memory isn't faulty as it's the first Blair film I've seen. But Eldredge isn't the standout here, that place is amply filled by star Raymond Burr, playing I suppose his typical heavy from this period, a scandal sheet editor who is falling on hard times, only continuing to keep his rag going because of help from an ex-showgirl (Hillary Brooke) who he's having an affair with while she uses some of rich hubby Paul Harvey's dough to support him. But things go the wrong way soon and SOMEBODY'S GOT TO DIE!!! This is mostly ordinary stuff, with a dull cop and a sweet girl, daughter of the rich hubby, for him to get involved with, but it's Burr who elevates this into watchable, even modestly "good" territory with one of his most vicious and amoral characters.
Day 11 - The Low Rent World of Hugo Haas Pt 3, and a Korean detour
23. One Girl's Confession
(Hugo Haas, 1953)
Haas is one of those rare noir filmmakers whose titles usually have specific relevance to the stories, and this is no exception. In this case the one girl is again Cleo Moore, and her confession is delivered early on - she robs the owner of the restaurant she works for of $25,000, gets nabbed, confesses to the crime (but not to the location of the loot) and spends a few years in jail. When she gets out the restaurant is out of business, but there's a new guy in the same low-rent waterfront area (Hugo Haas) who gives her a job. New guy is a heavy drinker and gambler, and when he loses it all and is desperate, sweet-hearted Cleo (who only committed her crime because her ex-boss had swindled her father) agrees to help him out - but is apparently then cheated by loser Haas. Lots of cross-double-cross here and it's engaging enough but it ultimately didn't feel as compelling to me as most of Haas' other work - a little too "nice", maybe.
(Hugo Haas, 1954)
Really cool intro, with a light illuminating a bit of a staircase, as a figure walks up in total darkness - that figure turns out to be none other than Sir Cedrick Hardwicke, introducing this little morality play as the Devil himself! Alas the movie as a whole can't quite live up to this cool opening, but it's not bad, probably average or just slightly below for Haas. The bait here is a girl, of course - Haas is a prospector who reluctantly takes on a younger partner (John Agar, a mediocre 2nd-tier actor who did some of his best work for Haas) to find a mine that he'd abandoned years ago, and then takes on the help of a young woman (Cleo Moore again) and concocts a scheme whereby he'll get all the gold and not have to share with Agar or Moore. Reasonably well done in the Treasure of the Sierra Madre
vein, with a pretty cool ending, but certainly not one to push first onto non-Haas fans.
25. The Other Woman
(Hugo Haas, 1954)
Nope, the one to push first would be this one, the best of the eight Haas films I've seen so far and I suspect his best overall, though a couple of his early European films look interesting. This is really solid "pure" noir, with an absolutely riveting femme fatale performance from Cleo Moore as a would-be blackmailer, and Haas at his best as a successful - but not that
successful - filmmaker who gets on her wrong side from the get go. One of the things I love here is the portrait of how a petty insult can grow into a mountain in the mind of a psychopath, but the main virtue of the film to my mind is it's overall consistency and the near-perfection of it's plotting - no gaping, stupid holes here, no characters that don't make sense or aren't there for a good reason. Everything in it's place. It's probably the best-photographed (by Eddie Fitzgerald) of these films, and the budget looks to be a little bigger to me, with better sets and some decent LA location work. And even some well-laced humorous bit with the two old ladies who live near the murder victim (because of course there's a murder victim). A terrific film all around and easily the best of the challenge so far for me.
26. Ajeossi / The Man From Nowhere
(Jeong-Beom Lee, 2010)
Listed as "neo noir" on IMDb. While the opening shot - a cigarette being lit in the darkness - is certainly redolent of noir style, I'm not so sure about the film as a whole. Yes, we have a man caught in a noir-like labyrinth of crime and intrigue, but in this case the man is a near-superhuman special forces dude and the way the film plays out is closer to the typical revenge drama that is so prevalent in Korean, and hell, most national cinemas it seems since the 1970s. Still it's reasonably involving, and while there's a fair amount of action, it's mostly rather subdued until a big set-piece near the end. Basic story is about a bunch of dealers in drugs and organs - often taken from living victims - getting on the wrong side of our hero when they abduct his neighbor and her young child, and him going against them and police who of course don't know who he is because he is (of course) living as a low-rent pawnshop owner in his retirement from his former life of action and violence. Really, is that what cops and special agents do? Anyway, it's all right, with just a minimum of the typical melodrama, and not really overlong at just under 2 hours.
Day 12 - The Low Rent World of Hugo Haas Pt 4
27. Hold Back Tomorrow
(Hugo Haas, 1955)
Another minimally-noir film I'd say. Would-be suicide and lady of the night Cleo Moore, fished out of the river by a kindly stranger, is given the chance to make some real money - and of course a chance for "redemption" of some kind - when police approach her with the idea of having her spend a night in the company of convicted strangler John Agar, a vicious and nihilistic man who is to die the next day. Despite Agar's initial anger and violence, the film soon settles down into a mood piece about spiritual absolution, and about two lonely strangers connecting, if only for a moment. There are bits in this that feel really special but it doesn't quite gel and feels a bit too "movie" at the end; still an interesting detour for Haas, and the only film in his noir cycle in which he doesn't appear
28. Hit and Run
(Hugo Haas, 1957)
Another film where Haas plays an older, successful businessman with a young and beautiful wife (Cleo Moore of course) and a younger man who wants her, in this case Vince Edwards, possibly an upgrade from Agar though the film, despite an interesting "oh he had a twin brother who he never mentioned?" twist fails to live up to Haas' best work. It's again all fairly well done - Haas never seems to make huge mistakes in his films, the casts are always at least competent and the plots are never overly contrived or idiotic - but it just feels quite familiar at the end and like more than one of his other films seems very indebted to The Postman Always Rings Twice
Day 13 - Clown Noir, Ghost Noir, Musical Noir
(Todd Phillips, 2019)
Crazy violent semi-literate semi-functional would-be comedian Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) channels two earlier and much better Martin Scorsese films (and a side of Death Wish
) with the help of talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert DeNiro), who is channeling Jerry Lewis in one of those two Scorsese films, in both of which he played the Joaquin Phoenix part. yeah. sure. This is a beautifully shot evocation of NYC ("Gotham" of course) circa 1978-9 (Fleck has a VCR so it can't reasonably be any earlier than 1977, and that doesn't look like one of the very earliest models to me) with pretty solid acting, perhaps even stellar - I dunno, it's always hard for me to judge these over-the-top performances - that unfortunately ends up ringing pretty hollow. It's an interesting take - Joker as the flipside of Batman culturally and economically - that has probably been done in the comics at some point but not as I recall on film, but it's too sloppy and unfocused in it's politics, and at the end of the film we seem to be presented with a choice of models that is narrowed down to the billionaire class, or murderous psychopaths. "Normal" people, represented by fantasy girlfriend Zazie Beetz, social worker Sharon Washington, and dwarf comedian Leigh Gill, are just bit players with no real agency. It's ultimately too cynical even for me.
30. The Unseen
(Lewis Allen, 1945)
All right film that at first seems to be a variation on The Turn of the Screw
, with a new governess (Gail Russell) to the young boy and girl of a somewhat secretive and abrupt man (Joel McCrea) seeing and hearing evidence of goings-on in the big old house that are scary and maybe supernatural - but it fairly quickly turns out to be something closer to Scooby-Doo, with a decade-old murder in the house next door eventually becoming important to the mystery, and the kindly doctor across the way (Herbert Marshall in a somewhat uncharacteristic role) also involved. It's all right, and it's too bad Gail Russell didn't have a better career.
(John Berry, 1948)
What, a musical, set in an exotic land, and starring lightweight singer/actor Tony Martin, film noir? Well, yes, when it's another remake of Pépé le Moko
, it's directed by the guy who did Tension
and He Ran All the Way
as his next two films, and it's got noir stalwarts Peter Lorre, Thomas Gomez and my buddy Hugo Haas in supporting roles. It's been a while since I've seen the original, and the copies of Algiers
(my favorite of the three) out there are so atrocious it's hard to know what's going on all the time, but this seems reasonably faithful to the original, and if you're worried about the music, don't be - not that many songs, and most of them only 1-2 minute snippets, and just one short-ish dance sequence. Tony Martin is no Charles Boyer, but Lorre and Haas go a long way towards making up for that, and Yvonne De Carlo and Märta Torén as the female leads are both fine, and DP Irving Glassberg's work is pretty good too - it's low budget b/w exotica, but that's what we want in a noir setting in this period I think.
Day 14 - a rest from noir in the cinema
Day 15 - Between Noir and Neo - two films from 1960
32. Hell Is a City
(Val Guest, 1960)
American actor John Crawford (his nationality doesn't get mentioned here at all, a bit strange) is solid as a psycho murderer/thief and Stanley Baker fine as the rather angry and disaffected cop who pursues him after his jailbreak in this good Cinemascope pic, shot in various real locations Manchester and surrounding areas. We've also got Donald Pleasance as a book-maker for a racetrack and Billie Whitelaw as his much younger and attractive wife who had a relationship with Crawford, and lots of other nice bits of acting and local color, and an exciting chase sequence or too, but for me it didn't quite add up to really special, as it apparently does for many folks. Maybe I've just seen too much, too reminiscent of better films? I don't know but certainly it was one of the more visually exciting films of this challenge for me so far.
33. Key Witness
(Phil Karlson, 1960)
Karlson was one of the great American noir filmmakers - maybe not on the level of Welles or Mann, or immigrants like Hitchcok, Wilder or Lang, but a solid tier 2 or maybe tier 1A master with a half-dozen terrific A picture credits in the 50s, preceded by some journeyman B work in the previous decade, so it's a little sad that this mediocrity ended up as the last of his films in the cycle. There are probably some who will love it for Dennis Hopper's performance as a lunatic gang leader, but Hopper played this character what, 3 or 4 dozen times? The biggest problems are Jeffrey Hunter in the lead - too boring and also a little too young-looking to be believable as a WWII vet (he was 34 so not impossible but I guess I expect a veteran of two fronts to look a *little* grizzled by 1960), a fairly bland secondary cast for the most part, and an increasingly silly plot as the police just basically never do anything , or always arrive too late, when Hopper and his gang are running roughshod over witness to murder Hunter and his family. One bright spot is Frank Silvera as the lead detective, solid and engaging, and one of the few black cops you'd see in films during this period, though he's light enough in color to pass. His scenes with the one African-American member of the gang (Johnny Nash) are rather interesting and almost go somewhere new for 1960 - but not quite. Ehh.
Day 16 - Murder and Blackmail in 80s LA
34. Cutter's Way
(Ivan Passer, 1981)
A love triangle and a murder - though for once the murder is outside of our trio, in this case a trio of losers I suppose: bored Jeff Bridges who sells yachts sometimes, alcoholic Lisa Eichhorn, loved by both Bridges and her husband, severely disabled mad-at-the-world John Heard. Bridges is on his way home - or on his way to Heard and Eichhorn's home - when his beater car dies, and he almost gets run over by a big fancy car after seeing a guy get out of the car and dump something into a trash can. Turns out that something was a body, and turns out that Bridges sees a guy he thinks might be the guy at a parade the next day - and it's a rich oil magnate. Soon the dead girl's sister shows up, and she and the mad Heard latch onto Bridges' story and decide to blackmail the oilman on the strength of some VERRRY circumstantial evidence. So we have an obvious theme of the rich getting away with everything here, and a rather nihilistic is life worth living? mood permeating our trio throughout. Perfect noir territory though something here didn't quite click for me - it's not quite weird and dreamlike enough for the outlandish plot elements to work, and the politics, as in Joker
above, don't quite gel. Still the performances are all great, with Eichhorn especially impressive, and it's nicely shot, or seems to be on the mediocre DVD I got from the library.
35. 52 Pick-Up
(John Frankenheimer, 1986)
Seeing the Cannon logo at the beginning of this gave me pause - I love Cannon stuff, but mostly in the so-bad-it's-good way, and most of their product is pretty dumb action stuff. Still, give it a chance...and, oh well, it ends up being typical Cannon fodder after all. Roy Scheider - never a favorite for me - is all right as the rich businessman married to politician Ann-Margret, whose dalliance with a much younger woman (Kelly Preston) makes him the target of blackmail from a trio of guys involved with the porn industry (John Glover, Robert Trebor, Clarence Williams III). Vanity is also on hand for more skin, which is pretty much all the women in this film are - all three of the major female characters end up murdered or drugged and raped by the end, and Scheider is a one-man revenge squad. It's stupid and obnoxious, but what also irritates me is that Glover and Trebor are playing their characters for laughs as much as anything else, which removes a lot of the suspense here. Only Williams really has a decent and well-played part, and that's not enough.