Archive for the Film Noir Category

The Maltese Falcon

Posted in Crime, Drama, Film Noir, Mystery with tags on March 4, 2016 by Mark Hobin

 photo maltese_zpsesvbe4as.jpg photo starrating-5stars.jpgSan Francisco, 1941. A gorgeous but distraught woman named Miss Wonderly (Mary Astor) enters the detective agency of Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) and Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan). She says she’s looking for her missing sister. Apparently the woman ran off with a man named Floyd Thursby. Something about Miss Wonderly’s story doesn’t quite ring true. Is that even her real name? But the monetary compensation is so good, why challenge a solid paycheck?  After Archer and Thursby are found murdered, Spade realizes circumstances are a lot risker than he had originally presumed. That Spade was having an affair with Archer’s wife Iva (Gladys George) doesn’t help the situation. That’s merely the beginning of his problems.

For many historians, The Maltese Falcon is considered the first major film noir, a cinematic term primarily used to describe those stylish Hollywood crime dramas of the early 1940s to the late 1950s, roughly the decade after World War II. The strict definition of what makes a film noir can be a bit abstract. It’s more of mood or a point-of-view than an easily definable category. The lesser known 1940 picture Stranger on the Third Floor actually predated this film. However director John Huston’s masterpiece presented the detective drama in a more definitive way. It in fact was the third adaptation of the 1930 novel by Dashiell Hammett. The first released in 1931 and the 2nd titled Satan Met a Lady in 1936. That one starred Warren William and Bette Davis. The exalted reputation of the 1941 interpretation trumps them both making this arguably one of the greatest remakes ever made.  It set the bar extremely high for later classics of the genre like Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep and The Third Man.

The Maltese Falcon is highlighted by a character study of contrasting personality types. People wrestle with greed, deception, and loyalty. Humphrey Bogart is conflicted by darker desires. He’s more of an antihero as the lead.  Cynical and hard-hearted – he doesn’t seem overly troubled by his partner’s death, removing his fellow associate’s name on the business door while the body is still warm. Nevertheless Bogart exemplifies cool collected style as the self-assured gumshoe.  Mary Astor is captivating as the requisite femme fatale. She initially appears fragile, but looks can be deceiving.

Then there’s a colorful trio of shady individuals. 61 year old stage actor Sidney Greenstreet surprisingly making his feature debut here as “The Fat Man”. He was Oscar nominated for his supporting role. Yet Peter Lorre is just as iconic as the effete Joel Cairo. Joel is no match for Spade. “When you’re slapped, you’ll take it and like it,” Spade rebukes him. Elisha Cook, Jr. is the lightest heavy of the three. He provides some much appreciated comedic relief. At times, the set-bound action almost resembles a play. The movie is talky to say the least. Scenes are inundated with words, overstuffed even. But oh what dialogue! John Huston’s Oscar nominated screenplay is so meticulously composed, you’ll marvel at its construction.  It demands repeat viewings to take it all in, but it only gets better with age.

A whole review and I haven’t even answered the titular question. What is the Maltese Falcon anyway?

Why it’s “the stuff that dreams are made of” of course.


Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Posted in Crime, Film Noir, Thriller with tags on August 27, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For photo starrating-1star.jpgIn 1917 artist Marcel Duchamp took a readymade porcelain urinal signed it “R.Mutt” and submitted it for exhibition at the Society of Independent Artists. It was a controversial idea whose influence is still discussed today. Now I’m not here to take Duchamp to task for his questionable objet d’art. Nevertheless it would seem to me that beneath this move there had to exist at least a modicum of contempt either for art or the audience or both. As I sat watching Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, this idea filtered through my mind. Duchamp appropriated a urinal as art much in the same manner that Frank Miller appropriates film noir as a movie.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is the disastrous sequel to 2005’s Sin City, a successful neo noir thriller. It beautifully captured the look of a comic book. A Dame to Kill For is stylistically impressive as well. But it’s so utterly bereft of substance, as to offend the basic requirements of storytelling. This perverts the very idea of entertainment.  The narrative’s fetishizing of violence and sex would be downright pernicious if it wasn‘t so ineffectual and awkward.  Miller conveys style and visual aesthetic, but not heart.  Granted, the measure of good taste is subjective. Let’s set aside the extreme level of violence for a moment. There is no story. Just a compilation of shooting, stabbing, slicing and dicing. The misdeeds strung together as a pseudo fable that goes absolutely nowhere. It’s disgusting, reprehensible, vulgar, misogynistic and every other negative word you can use in this day and age to describe something without value.

The characters are shockingly devoid of merit, especially for a drama in these “enlightened“ times. Film noir has always highlighted the femme fatale. However these women have little to do other than display their physical attributes. The narrative unrepentantly parades Jessica Alba, Eva Green Jaime King, and Juno Temple through the production like skewered selections by waiters at a Brazilian BBQ. Women are either prostitutes, strippers, or evil temptresses.  At least one gets to be a good luck charm. Rosario Dawson literally wears what looks like metal saucepan lids over her breasts in one scene. Jamie Chung doesn’t even get to speak. Oh but she displays her knife wielding skills. Can I re-emphasize the violence? The unending obliteration of human beings is gruesome. It’s like watching a chef at Benihana chop up various meats and vegetables for 102 minutes and then calling it a drama. The men aren’t any more carefully drawn either. Their lack of humanity is disheartening. These guys are rotten to the core. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character is just a body to destroy. He serves no purpose. For the first 10 minutes, I marveled at the visual style. It’s remarkable, but soon after the ugliness beneath the production seeps through and overstays its welcome fast.



Posted in Crime, Drama, Film Noir, Thriller with tags on August 29, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketReservoir Dogs, Mission: Impossible, Ocean’s Eleven. They all owe a huge debt to Rififi. The 1955 French crime caper is considered by many to be THE heist film, the one by which all others must be judged. It’s hard to disagree. It captivates with crackerjack dialogue, a dynamic cast and a level of detail rarely found in the cinema. How detailed? Well, let’s just say the picture was banned in some countries. Not because of sex or violence, but for the burglary featured at the center of the plot. The realistic presentation on how they commit the robbery made people uncomfortable. It’s a fascinating 30 minute highlight notably lacking in dialogue or music. The actor’s faces and cinematography tell the story. It’s one of those exhibitions that while unfolding, you forget you’re even watching a film. It’s simply you and the flickering images on the screen. Time seems to stand still.

In a career of highlights, Rififi remains American director Jules Dassin’ s most celebrated work. His output spanned 4 decades that was beset with hardship in the McCarthy era. He initially made his mark in Hollywood with film noirs like Brute Force and The Naked City in the 1940s. During production of the Richard Widmark movie, Night and the City, he was accused of Communist Party affiliations in his past. After being blacklisted for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, he moved to France. Following a slow start, Rififi was his first effort there. It was a success and he won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival. His profession revived, he would later go on to direct Never on Sunday (1960) and another lighthearted thriller inspired by his own Rififi, Topkapi (1964).

Rififi is a masterpiece employing unknown, but engaging actors that bring life to a story that is endlessly entertaining. You gotta love a script that has the audience rooting for the criminal’s victory in breaking the law. What would any crime movie be without colorful characters that form our core crew. Tony le Stéphanois is a gangster recently released from a 5 year prison term. He’s the elder statesman of the group, and the godfather to the son of his close friend Jo. Jo approaches Tony for one last diamond heist. Also joining them are a likeable Italian named Mario. His compatriot, César, offers his safecracking skills. He’s played by none other than the director himself under the pseudonym Perlo Vita. The jewelry theft is the centerpiece of the saga, but it’s not the climax. The heist is only one component of this adventure. There’s a pulse pounding sequence of events that follows that makes this account a satisfying commentary on human weakness. One particularly memorable scene shows the violent consequences of betrayal. There’s honor among thieves.

So what does Rififi mean anyway? It’s adapted from Auguste le Breton’s novel Du rififi chez les hommes. The word is referenced in a song that Viviane, a sexy singer at the L’Age D’Or nightclub, sings. But the title is never said by any other actor. It’s basically Parisian street slang that roughly translates to ‘rough n’ tumble’.

Touch of Evil

Posted in Crime, Film Noir, Mystery, Thriller with tags on April 17, 2010 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketPhotobucketSensational crime drama about a narcotics agent at odds with a corrupt American cop.  They’re investigating the murder of a couple after driving their car across the Mexican-American border.  A B-movie at heart, this film noir is a potboiler dressed up with flashy  camerawork and a stellar cast.  Written, directed by, and co-starring Orson Welles, he flaunts conspicuous direction and stunning visual style.  This is exaggerated stuff, but damn if it isn’t entertaining. Dennis Weaver plays a jittery hotel manager, Marlene Dietrich dons a black wig as a fortune telling madam, and they’ve got Charlton Heston playing a Mexican!  When a gang of hoodlums terrorizes Janet Leigh in a hotel room, the scene threatens to derail the film into trashy melodrama.  Luckily the plot is so arresting it holds the viewer’s interest throughout the film until the very last frame of this tense psychological thriller.

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Posted in Crime, Drama, Film Noir, Thriller with tags on August 5, 2009 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketPhotobucketClassic film noir adapted from James M. Cain’s novel, details the relationship of a woman in a marriage of convenience and the aimless drifter she’s attracted to. Serpentine plot is riveting from start to finish, mostly due to the chemistry generated between Lana Turner and John Garfield. One might quibble over their first kiss which happens so abruptly it’s actually humorous. However, their mostly smoldering attraction and dialogue is the very definition of sexual tension. The film is a stunning reminder that an erotic thriller is often more potent for what it doesn’t show.

Body Heat

Posted in Crime, Drama, Film Noir, Thriller with tags on January 27, 2009 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketPhotobucketSexually charged film noir with Kathleen Turner, in her film debut, as the femme fatale who seduces a naive attorney into murdering her husband. Turner and William Hurt generate significant sexual chemistry as the lusty couple consumed by passion. Hot Florida coastal setting adds to the steamy atmosphere of this erotic thriller.


Posted in Crime, Drama, Film Noir, Mystery with tags on July 3, 2008 by Mark Hobin

Original updating of a “Dashiell Hammett” style noir is set in a California high school. The dialogue flies fast and witty. Pay attention, the story is well worth the effort.