1. Talaash (Reema Kagti, 2012)
2. Siesta (Mary Lambert, 1987) (re-watch)
3. Hero and the Terror (William Tannen, 1988)
4. Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (Cathy Yan, 2020) (cinema)
5. Ride the Pink Horse
(Robert Montgomery, 1947) (re-watch)
TCM. I hadn't planned on doing any classic noir for this challenge - I watch enough of it anyway - but this happened to be on, and I had good memories of it from a first viewing in 2013. I tend to prefer the usual big-city noir, but I also have a fondness for border-town/southwest examples, and this is one of the better examples of the latter. Director Montgomery in his second film behind the camera also plays our lead, a shifty-eyed small-time gangster named Gagin, who arrives at a dusty NM border town (exteriors shot in the Albuquerque-Taos-Santa Fe area) looking for one Frank Hugo, and getting into a whole lot of trouble. This is one of those films that treads the line between the downbeat and pessimistic, and a more cheerful, sardonically humorous very neatly - in fact
nobody is killed apart from one faceless thug, and only Hugo apparently goes to jail at the end, though Gagin's future doesn't look terribly bright, and he leaves town defeated.
The southwest ambiance is pretty nicely captured, and it's got some standout supporting parts from the Oscar-nominated Thomas Gomez (the only Hispanic player who isn't doing a bit part), Wanda Hendrix (whose Spanish is pretty good for a gringo) and Art Smith among others, and some terrific camerawork including a couple of the longer and more intricate shots that you'll see in this era in Hollywood. The only thing that keeps this form the top tier of noir for me is Montgomery himself, never an exciting actor and only slightly more interesting here than usual. Picture Fred MacMurray, Robert Mitchum or Burt Lancaster here and you've really got the makings of a masterpiece.
6. Baazi / High Stakes
(Guru Dutt, 1951)
Hindi musical-noir? You bet! This is the third Dutt film I've seen and I loved the other two so was very much looking forward to this, his first film as director. Well, it's good but it's not quite on the level of Kaagaz Ke Phool
or especially Pyaasa
, and I think a good part of that has to do with the lack of Dutt as lead actor here. Dev Anand, one of India's biggest stars for decades, is no mean actor but he doesn't for me have the director's charisma and intensity or sense of tragedy. At any rate, Anand plays Madan, a young man struggling to get ahead and lost in gambling debts, who enters the easy life that masks a world of crime, murder, etc, when he takes a position with a gambling syndicate run by a (literally) shadowed mastermind. He has to do this to take care of his sister who has TB (ah, the melodrama), and along the way he meets a beautiful young doctor and of course romance blossoms. This all works fairly well, with I suppose enough songs to please the mainstream audience but enough downbeat noir elements for fans of the director - and film noir generally - such as myself. There's a surprise reveal for a main character that probably won't surprise most people, and while at times this does go more into the typical Hindi melodrama areas, the ending could be straight out of a Hollywood crime film from the period. Overall very solid if nowhere near great.
7. Talvar / Guilty
(Meghna Gulzar, 2015)
Apparently based on a true case from 2008, this police procedural involving a double murder is a damning portrait of India's criminal justice system, from top to bottom. A young woman is murdered in her room in the family's apartment, and shortly afterwards the man who is an initial suspect, their servant, is discovered dead by the same means (blow to the head and then throat cut) on the roof of the same building, outside his own apartment. The initial "investigation" by the local police is obviously totally incompetent, and the cop at the head of it is presented as full of his own hypocritical conservative views which lead him to believe that it was, in fact, an honor killing by the parents themselves over something between the servant and daughter; when this investigation is judged to be poorly run (and is getting too much bad press in the media), the CID - I presume India's equivalent of the FBI - steps in, with an investigation led by a celebrated detective, Ashwin Kumar (Irrfan Khan, really excellent here) who is undergoing his own crisis in his marriage and is under continuous strain. And this isn't enough as new information - and new political/social concerns - continue to pile up until a messy, unfortunate and deeply dissatisfying (in terms of the narrative, not the film itself) conclusion. This is one of the best recent police procedurals I've seen, and with it's very limited (and largely appropriate) use of songs I think it would be an ideal film from the Bollywood-phobic who want to see what Indian film can do when it plays by more western rules - though as some reviews have pointed out, many of the actions of the cops on all levels do seem a bit strange given the overt moralizing that we see - which isn't present in such an overt way in western justice systems anymore.
8. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
- Episode 2 - "The Dying Detective" (Sarah Hellings, 1994)
9. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
- Episode 3 - "The Golden Pince-Nez" (Peter Hammond, 1994)
10. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
- Episode 4 - "The Red Circle" (Sarah Hellings, 1994)
I've been slowly - very slowly - going through the entire Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series for years, and I'm finally coming to the end. This last season of 6 episodes shows Brett still as angry, impulsive-alternating-with-detached, and agile of mind as ever, but the actor was in poor health, had gained a lot of weight, and was not able to do many of the more physical actions that were once part of the regular Holmes regimen in this series. Still these last episodes aren't much of a comedown from the earlier seasons and the series as a whole will go down for me as one of the most consistently excellent I've seen, with great attention to period detail and typically excellent use of undoubtedly small British TV resources.
"The Dying Detective" features the case of a young man whose sudden death prompts an investigation by Holmes, who finds out that the man's estate will all go to his cousin, an amateur specialist in tropical diseases - including the one that killed the man. The fact that Brett was practically on his deathbed when portraying a Holmes who is apparently suffering from this tropical fever himself is remarkable, but it's probably Jonathan Hyde's performance as the villainous Culverton Smith that makes this most memorable.
"The Golden Pince-Nez" offers a murder story again but with no apparent motive; a young man, the amanuensis to an elderly, sick writer, is stabbed to death with a paper knife in a study, with no sign of the criminal. This one involves one of the wilder solutions in the Holmes canon and it probably needs a better fleshing out than we can get in less than an hour; still, fairly well done as usual, and Frank Finlay as the elderly - and not as nice as he at first might seem - professor is a standout.
"The Red Circle" is one of many episodes featuring a sinister, secret crime organization - in this case the eponymous Red Circle, an Italian group that has set it's sights on destroying a young couple, all while Holmes is being sought for aid concerning a mysterious border who is scaring the landlords with his (non) presence. A good episode but this one, like quite a few others in the series, does suffer a bit in not being able to get all the details, or in rushing through them too quickly. Still it all comes together nicely in a suspenseful and violent conclusion.
11. Blue Steel
(Kathryn Bigelow, 1990) (re-watch)
above, this was a film I remembered disliking - but really barely remembered. Jamie Lee Curtis is Megan Turner, a rookie cop who on her very first day on the job (the first of many, many cliches to come) shoots a perp dead in a supermarket. But somehow when she and the other cops who rush to the scene start cleaning things up, they can't find the gun she was sure the robber was packing. And that brings us to Ron Silver as Eugene Hunt a Wall Street trader who was in the market and - this ain't spoiling anything, it's all in the first scene - grabbed the gun for reasons of his own. Soon people start turning up dead of lead poisoning, and the shell casings have "Megan Turner" carved into them. This immediately brings up one of an ENORMOUS number of plot holes - how did this guy know Turner's name, since he fled the crime scene right away (he wasn't a witness called by the cops). How is it that in a city of 7 million there are only two people with such a common name? And every scene as we go forward seems to have similar idiot-plot problems. And our bad guy is just one of those "I like to kill" people - he's got his own weird little spiritual rationale, but it does come down to him just being a cardboard Evil Monster in the end. So on the level of plot this is every bit as bad as I remembered it.
HOWEVER there is a case that could be made for this being in fact a very deliberate feminist deconstruction of the typical cop-perp crime/action flick. Turner is put down at every point by just about everybody except her best friend (Elizabeth Peña, and you know that since the best friend is the only supportive person, something bad's going to happen), and the way in which Mr. Wall Street comes onto her, stalks her etc is very much a male domination thing - and this is all I think buoyed by the rather amazing last 10 minutes or so in which
a hospitalized, traumatized Turner coldcocks another cop, takes his clothes and gun, leaves the hospital and just goes out into the streets to essentially wait until Hunt (and this name could not be coincidental) inevitably somehow finds her, so that she can wreak vengeance on him though he's already taken several bullets and been hit by a car by this point.
There are also, interestingly, some fairly obvious lifts from the score to The Terminator
, a film made by Ms. Bigelow's then-husband James Cameron a few years before and a few visual nods (the blue steel of the gun in the opening credits - the blue-on-black lettering in the Cameron film). In some ways then this is perhaps her human-scale reply to that film and that film's unstoppable bad guy.
All in all it still doesn't add up to a very good film IMO, but I think it's a more interesting work than it gets credit for, and with a little - just a little - more subtlety in the screenplay it might have been something special.