I’ve contributed a few times to Brian’s “Underrated” series over at Rupert Pupkin Speaks, compiling lists of westerns and thrillers before now. This time I submitted a few suggestions for Underrated ’55, highlighting movies from the the year 1955 which deserve a bit of attention. You can view my selections here.
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It’s been a while now since I tried my hand at compiling one of these lists. Having already covered western directors and stars, as well as noir stars (all of which can be found indexed under the Articles tab at the top of the page), I thought I’d try to round things out by taking a crack at noir directors. Once again it’s a wide field with a lot of runners, and it’s no easy task to narrow it down to ten individuals. I tried to focus on those directors I fell made the greatest contribution to the genre, be it through their innovation, their influence or their general affinity for noir. I haven’t tried to rank them in any particular order – just settling on those I wanted to include was tough enough.
In some ways I like to think of Fritz Lang as the father of film noir, the man who brought his expressionist background to bear on Hollywood from his arrival in the 30s and blended it into his dark masterpieces throughout the 40s and 50s. Pretty much every film he made in the US has a strong sense of noir, and there’s not really a bad one among them – even the weaker efforts have significant points of interest.
Another big favorite of mine, Siodmak worked on a whole variety of material before Phantom Lady set him off on the noir path. That was to initiate an incredibly strong run and resulted in his producing an enviable body of work by the end of the decade.
One of the subtlest directors ever to ply his trade in Hollywood, Tourneur came into his own as part of Val Lewton’s B unit at RKO. Those dreamy low-budget horror classics are packed with noir imagery and sensibility, and Tourneur carried that over into his work in such influential pieces as Out of the Past.
Best known today for his brooding and psychologically complex westerns in the 50s, Mann didn’t just chance on those elements. He started out working mainly on economical noir pictures, often with John Alton behind the camera, in the previous decade. While his westerns are, justifiably I think, more celebrated, his 40s film noir remains a major achievement.
A powerful director, Ray’s passionate and intense examination of outsiders spans a number of genres. but films like On Dangerous Ground and In a Lonely Place are among the best films noir produced. Watching his films can be an emotionally exhausting experience but deeply satisfying one too.
People may argue over whether Laura constitutes real film noir (for what it’s worth, I think it does) but there can be no question that Preminger made strong genre entries. A difficult man to work for by all accounts, his films with Dana Andrews and the sublime Angel Face, among others, mark him out as a prime mover in the world of dark cinema.
Even if Wilder had only ever made Double Indemnity he would still rate inclusion in this list as far as I’m concerned. Once you bear in mind he also made Ace in the Hole and Sunset Boulevard, and that his dramas and comedies frequently featured extremely dark subjects, I don’t think there can be any doubt he deserves his place here.
Joseph H Lewis
With Lewis The Big Combo and Gun Crazy are probably the standout titles, but they’re by no means the only worthwhile noir pictures he made. His sense of visual inventiveness is quite wonderful and I don’t think I’ve seen one of his movies yet where I wasn’t impressed by his pacing and use of the camera.
Only eight years elapsed between Brute Force and Rififi, but that period of time saw Dassin move from the US to the UK and then France, and the five films he made during those years make up a sold noir block on his filmography.
A genuine in your face maverick, Fuller hit his noir stride with Pickup on South Street and would return to the genre sporadically into the mid-1960s. A director who was hard to pin down or pigeonhole, aside from the brashness of his filmmaking style, Fuller brought a real burst of energy to his noir pictures.
So those are my ten picks. I had to omit names like Orson Welles, Robert Aldrich, Henry Hathaway, Raoul Walsh, Carol Reed, Curtis Bernhardt and John Brahm to mention just a handful. I’m sure some will disagree with a few of my final choices, and I’d be pleased to hear which ones anyone feels ought to be replaced.
A good piece on Fuller’s western, featured on an excellent site, which I’d urge people to pop over and read, and browse around generally.
Originally posted on Films on the Box:
When it’s on: Monday, 11 May (2.50 pm)
‘May I feel it?’
‘It might go off in your face.’
‘I’ll take a chance.’
One of the aspects of the Westerm I find most fascinating is its dying days, the realisation that American expansion has caught up with the untamed frontier, making its ways approach their ending. This is a theme of Forty Guns I really like. Both its hero, Griff Bonnell (Barry Sullivan), and rancher Jessica Drummond (Barbara Stanwyck), have long histories, complicated back stories, and know the elements that have defined their lives are drawing to a close. They’re becoming anachronisms, and their riding off in the direction of California together at the end is symbolic of the dawning new chapter in Arizona’s own tale.
But this is only one aspect of Forty Guns, a film I found very hard to pigeonhole…
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I haven’t run one of these polls for a while now so I thought I’d resurrect the idea and throw the decision of what movie will be featured next open to the readers. The options this time are Joseph H Lewis’ A Lawless Street (1955) or Richard Fleischer’s The Narrow Margin (1952) – a western or a film noir. The poll will stay open until 23.59 Wednesday and the winner will be written up some time afterwards. Take your pick, people…
Fans of Sam Fuller should be very pleased to see that Forty Guns, his 1957 western starring Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan and Dean Jagger, is coming in a dual format (Blu-ray/DVD) edition from Eureka in June as part of their Masters of Cinema line. More details on their website here. I’m looking forward to this.
Thanks to all who visited and commented – let’s all hope for good things in 2015!
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 46,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 17 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
Earlier this year I contributed a list of underrated westerns to Brian’s site Rupert Pupkin Speaks. It was kind of fun thinking about and compiling those titles and I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to submit another selection. This time it’s underrated thrillers – I’ve written about all of them at one time or another on this blog, some of them a good few years ago now, but you’ll need to pop over to Brian’s place here to see which ones I settled on. Please have a look when you get the chance.
It’s exactly seven years ago today that I put up my first post on the now defunct FilmJournal site. Although my output at this place has slowed to something of a trickle of late, I didn’t want to let the occasion pass without a mention. I hope to get back to writing a bit more regularly as soon as possible, time permitting of course. Anyway, in the meantime, let me just say thank you to all the visitors and movie-lovers who have helped keep this site going – there’s been some vibrant and informative chat over the years, and that’s what really forms the heart of the place.
Last weekend I went to the cinema to see a movie set in my homeland. I suppose it qualifies as a kind of period piece now, the action taking place over 40 years ago. ’71 is a thriller which unfolds amid the Troubles in Belfast in the titular year. Frankly, it impressed me a lot, and not only because it recreated the world in which I grew up, with its tight pacing and essentially simple storytelling. As I watched it, and then reflected on it afterwards, I was struck by how the film tapped into the mentality of the people, my people, and thus offered a very honest portrayal of the times and circumstances. The director of this movie is Yann Demange, a man of French birth. This had me thinking how some of my favorite films set in my country had been directed by those who were basically outsiders – Odd Man Out (Carol Reed) and The Gentle Gunman (Basil Dearden) – yet managed to get under the skin of the people on the screen and perhaps see us more clearly as we really are.
It occurred to me then that this isn’t some isolated phenomenon confined to films set in Ireland. Hollywood in its heyday was packed with émigré directors who shaped the popular culture of the era. Film noir is one of my own favorite styles and came to be a staple of American cinema in the golden age, yet the movement was largely dominated by those born far from its shores – Lang, Wilder, Siodmak (who grew up in Germany), Tourneur, Brahm, Ulmer and many others besides. Isn’t it a little odd that such men should wind up as the biggest movers and shakers in what was arguably a generic American film movement? The western, which is the genre closest to my heart, has fewer examples of course, but directors such as Lang, Tourneur, De Toth and Fregonese still made significant contributions to its development.
So, I guess that’s the question for the day: is it sometimes more beneficial for a filmmaker to come at their subject, or indeed genre, free of the inevitable baggage an insider brings along? Does distance in some way sharpen perspective and allow a clearer appreciation? I’m not sure there’s a definitive answer but if anyone feels inclined to offer their thoughts, they are most welcome.
As a huge Robert Siodmak fan, I just wanted to pass along the news that Arrow Films in the UK are releasing The Killers on Blu-ray on November 17. It’s up for pre-order on their website here.