Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Tiger by the Tail (1954)

A couple of years ago I started to notice something about British films of the 50s and 60s. If John Gilling’s name was mentioned in the credits as writer or director the film would generally turn out to be pretty interesting. Gilling made a lot of crime films and then in the 60s did some superb gothic horror movies for Hammer (Plague of the Zombies and The Reptile).

Tiger by the Tail, released in 1954, is an early effort.

We start with a guy in a London street and he’s in a lot of trouble. Then we go into the extended flashback that makes up most of the movie. And we get a voiceover narration.

John Desmond (Larry Parks) is a bitter depressed American reporter on assignment in London. He was bitter and depressed already but he doesn’t like England and he’s in a very negative frame of mind. He needs a drink, and going to find that drink turns out to be a fateful move (we’re definitely getting a bit of a film noir vibe at this point).

He meets a woman. Her name is Anna Ray (Lisa Daniely). Desmond is depressed and lonely and Anna is most definitely female and that’s enough to arouse his interest.

Anna offers him a deal. She won’t ask him about his work and he won’t ask her about hers. Anna is clearly a woman with secrets. She’s unpredictable and mysterious and we get the feeling that she might be dangerous. She has that femme fatale thing about her. Desmond however has become obsessed with her.

Then murder intervenes. Desmond is up to his neck in trouble, he’s too scared to go to the police and he has no idea what he has blundered into. He has a clue, a diary, but it’s in cypher. He does have one sensible idea. He needs someone to talk to and he picks the right someone, his patient English secretary Jane (Constance Smith). He can trust Jane. Probably. He has to trust someone. But then he remembers a certain vital piece of evidence that could link him to murder. He thinks he can retrieve the clue before the police find it.

And he lands himself in even more trouble and he’s even more confused as to what’s going on. People are asking him questions and he doesn’t know what they’re about or who these people are and he tries lying but he doesn’t know the correct lies to tell.

This isn’t really film noir after all, but it is a mystery thriller with some noir trappings that make it more interesting. There are a couple of amusing comic interludes on a farm and in a hospital, there’s a decent action set-piece in a railway yard and John Desmond finds himself in a chase and he’s the hunted.

Larry Parks was the kind of American actor who turned in British movies in the 50s. His career in Hollywood was on the skids so British production companies could hire such actors without having to pay them exorbitant fees. In this case it wasn’t such a bad break for him - it’s a good part in a good movie and his performance is fine.

Lisa Daniely does the femme fatale thing with commendable subtlety. Constance Smith is likeable. The supporting cast is solid.

And of course the movie has that man Gilling involved, this time as director and co-writer.

Is it film noir? I think it does just about qualify. Structurally, content-wise and even to some extent stylistically it has a fair bit of noirness to it. John Desmond isn’t quite a sufficiently flawed character to be a true noir protagonist, unless you count grumpiness and poor judgment as character flaws.

The plot has sufficient twists and turns and elaborate conspiracies to keep things fairly interesting.

The Renown Pictures DVD is reasonably good. As is usual with Renown the transfer is decent but it’s not of the quality you’d expect from a company like Network. The DVD case claims that the movie has been restored and maybe it has, but don’t expect a pristine transfer. But it’s a good interesting hard-to-find movie and they’ve made it available to us for a very reasonable price so I’m certainly not complaining.

Tiger by the Tail is a good solid noir-tinged mystery thriller which is worth 80 minutes of your time. Recommended.

Other reviews of John Gilling movies that you might like to check out - The Embezzler (which I loved), Deadly Nightshade (1953),  The Frightened Man (1952).

Saturday, March 26, 2022

The Price of Silence (1960)

The Price of Silence is a 1960 very low budget British crime B-feature staring Gordon Jackson. It was made by a small outfit called Eternal Films which flourished briefly in the early 60s.

Richard Fuller (Gordon Jackson) has just been released after serving a term of imprisonment for embezzling. He’s really a pretty decent fellow. He admits he was guilty although his crime was mostly the result of foolishness and bad judgment rather than greed (he was trying to help a friend out and the friend let him down and left him to face the music.)

He soon discovers that nobody wants to hire an ex-convict. The obvious thing to do is to change his name, which he does (quite legally). That way he might have a chance of making a fresh start. He is absolutely determined to go straight. So Richard Fuller becomes Roger Fenton.

It was a good decision and Fenton quickly lands a decent job. He turns out to have rather a flair for real estate and his boss, the elderly but shrewd and rather kindly H.G. Shipley (Llewellyn Rees), is suitably impressed. Promotion soon follows. There is even perhaps the possibility of being taken on as a partner. Roger Fenton is on the path to both success and respectability.

Things are looking up in regards to his personal life as well. He’s met Audrey Truscott (June Thorburn), a rather charming young lady artist. Wedding bells may not be far off.

There is a minor complication, in the form of Maria Shipley (Maya Koumani). She’s the very much younger wife of H.G. Shipley. She’s a bit of a vamp and she seems to have her sights set on Fenton. Fenton certainly has no intention of getting involved with her. It would be both foolish and dishonourable and Fenton is not a fool. The situation could get awkward but he thinks he can keep the predatory Maria at arm’s length.

Then Slug (Sam Kydd) turns up. This is likely to be a much bigger problem. Slug had been in prison with Fenton and of course knows his real identity.

Slug turns out to be a very big problem. He’s figured out that blackmailing Fenton should be both easy and profitable. Fenton will surely be wiling to pay to keep his past a secret.

There’s obviously the potential for things to get messy. There’s not just the blackmail angle. Fenton has aroused the seething hostility of a local councillor over a shrewd real estate deal. There’s Maria Shipley, the kind of glamorous femme fatale who could get any man into trouble. These are all situations that have been known to lead to murder. Things do get messy and there is a murder but it’s not the murder you might be expecting. Roger Fenton still ends up as the prime suspect and while he thinks he has an alibi he proves to be mistaken. And his prison record is going to make it difficult for him to persuade the police to believe his story.

The screenplay (based on a novel by Laurence Meynell) was written by Maurice J. Wilson who also wrote the excellent 1961 crime thriller The Third Alibi. The Price of Silence isn’t as good but it has a serviceable plot and some reasonable suspense.

The director was the prolific Montgomery Tully who does his usual competent job. Given the very low budget you’re not going to get a shoot-out or a car chase at the end. The budget wasn’t going to allow for anything like that and it’s just not that type of movie. Perhaps the ending could have used a bit more punch but this is a very low-key crime melodrama and the ending is low-key as well.

It’s a movie that is typical of the vast number of very cheap crime B-movies that the British film industry churned out from the late 40s to the early 60s. This was the “quota quickie” era. What’s remarkable is that so many of these cheap British crime flicks are so competently made and so entertaining.

Gordon Jackson is a likeable hero, a sympathetic character who is not without his flaws. His movie career never quite took off but he went on to enormous success on television in Upstairs, Downstairs and The Professionals. June Thorburn is fine as Audrey while Maya Koumani does the vamp thing extremely well - she really does come across as trouble with a capital T. Sam Kydd is deliciously slimy as Slug.

The Price of Silence is available on DVD as one of the films in the Renown Pictures Crime Collection Volume 1 boxed set (a value-for-money set which includes nine feature films). The transfer is acceptable. There is some print damage but it’s not a major problem and we should be grateful to Renown for making such obscure movies available at all, and at very reasonable prices.

The Price of Silence is a solid little movie and it’s good harmless entertainment. Recommended.

Other movies from this boxed set that I’ve reviewed are Passport To Treason (1956) and Death Goes to School (1953, also with Gordon Jackson).

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Five To One (1963)

Five To One is a 1963 entry in the cycle of Edgar Wallace crime B-thrillers made at Merton Park Studios in England.

This one is a heist movie. Not a spectacular heist movie (not on a low Merton Park budget), but a clever one. Larry Hart (Lee Montague) runs a betting shop. It’s a lucrative business and he does a bit of money laundering on the side. Alan Roper (John Thaw) makes an arrangement with him. Roper is going to pull off a robbery which will net sixty thousand pounds. Hart will give him twelve thousand pounds in clean money in exchange for the sixty thousand in hot money. That’s a five-to-one ratio which is the going rate, hence the film’s title.

Roper, his girlfriend Pat (Ingrid Hafner) and his pal John (Brian McDermott) are also operating a variant of the old badger game in which someone is set up for blackmail. In this case it’s a man who works for an insurance company. This man has very little money, but it’s not money that the blackmailers want.

These elements are the components of a single plan which Alan has cooked up. It’s an elaborate plan but something goes wrong. Alan decides that that’s no problem. He comes up with an even more elaborate variation on the original scheme, a variation which is based not just on meticulous preparation but also on psychology. The victim will set himself up to be robbed.

The police are investigating one crime, but it’s not the real crime. Which is part of Alan’s plan.

It’s a clever scheme but it’s extraordinarily over-complicated. Alan just assumes that because he’s so clever everything will naturally go according to plan. Of course we know that it won’t. What’s impressive about this movie is that the things that go wrong really do make sense, rather than just being plot devices. They’re the natural consequences of a plan that is too elaborate for its own good. There is one piece of bad luck but mostly the setbacks to Alan’s plan are things he should have anticipated.

Roger Marshall wrote the script. He want on to have a great career in television, most notably as the creator of the best-ever British private eye series, Public Eye. It’s no surprise that his script for Five To One is so well thought out and that it has some nice touches of irony.

Gordon Flemyng directed, and did a very fine job. He also spent most of his later career in television. In fact that’s true for most of the talented people involved with the Merton Park Edgar Wallace films. As the market for B-movies dried up they switched to television rather than making the move into big-budget feature films but an extraordinary of them were associated with the very best British television of the 60s and 70s. He directed another of the Wallace films, Solo for Sparrow.

John Thaw also had a very distinguished career in television, most famously as the star of The Sweeney. Remarkably he was just twenty-one when he made Five To One but you can still see glimpses of his future acting brilliance. He wasn’t there yet, but there are glimpses. The other cast members, as is the case for most of these Edgar Wallace movies, are very solid.

This movie is included in Network’s Edgar Wallace Mysteries volume five DVD boxed set. The anamorphic transfer is excellent (the movie is of course in black-and-white).

Five To One has a nifty plot and it’s generally a successful and very well-made crime thriller that doesn’t suffer at all from its low budget. There’s plenty of entertainment value here and this film is highly recommended.

Seriously, if you’re a fan of crime B-movies or of British crime films and you haven’t checked out the Merton Park Edgar Wallace films you should so. And the DVD sets are great value for money.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Kismet (1944)

Kismet sounds like it’s going to be tremendous fun. More of a fairy tale than an Arabian Nights tale although it has the Arabian Nights setting. It stars Ronald Colman as a beggar in Bagdad, but he’s not just a beggar he’s Hafiz the king of the beggars. At night he dresses as a prince.

The young Caliph likes to dress up as well. He disguises himself as a humble gardener’s son so he can wander about the city and find out how the people really feel.

While he’s disguised as the gardener’s son he meets Hafiz’s daughter Marsinah and they fall in love.

For her whole life Hafiz has been making plans for Marsinah. He wants her to marry a prince. He schemes endlessly to bring this about.

Hafiz gets mixed up in the power struggle between the idealistic young Caliph and the wicked Grand Vizier. Hafiz talks his way into the Grand Vizier’s palace and convinces that worthy and his whole household that he is a prince from a distant corner of the empire. Hafiz is an accomplished and shameless liar and this is part of his plan to give Marsinah what he imagines she wants - marriage to the most powerful man in the empire.

But first he’ll have to get rid of the Grand Vizier’s current mistress, the formidable Jarmilla (Marlene Dietrich).

So we have lots of people pretending to be something they’re not which should provide plenty of laughs and plenty of opportunities for romantic complications.

And it does work, sort of. After a fashion. Almost.

One problem is that Hafiz clearly lives entirely in a world of fantasy. He can be very amusing with his shameless lying and impostures but it also makes him kind of creepy and pathetic.

A much bigger problem is that we’re supposed to be rooting for the idealistic young Caliph in his power struggle with the wicked Grand Vizier. We’re supposed to want the heroine to end up marrying the handsome young Caliph. But there’s just no way we want any girl to end up with that dishwater-dull pompous nonentity of a Caliph. We just know that a woman would have a much happier life with the wicked Grand Vizier because he’s a really fun guy, he’s witty and amusing, he adores women and pampers them and indulges them.

The other problem is that Hafiz tells everyone how spectacularly beautiful and talented his daughter is and we’re apparently supposed to believe that a connoisseur of women such as the Grand Vizier would be stunned by her. But the truth is that Marsinah is a whiny bore and Joy Ann Page’s performance is just dull dull dull.

So I found myself really wanting the bad guy to win. I was really hoping that something totally horrible would happen to the hero, the young Caliph, like maybe being sold into slavery.

I suppose in a way I could get behind the idea of the Caliph and Marsinah marrying because they’re such dreary sanctimonious characters and it would be poetic justice for them to make each other’s lives miserable.

The movie looks quite impressive but it lacks the vitality and the wit and the sparkle that this type of movie needs. It needs to be faster. It needs more energy. Marlene Dietrich livens things up a little but she’s not given enough to do and she’s not permitted to be wicked enough to make things interesting.

Generally speaking I adore these Arabian Nights movies and I just love adventure romance mixed with comedy in an exotic setting. The 1944 Kismet is, sadly, the dullest movie of this type that I’ve encountered so far. It just doesn’t come to life.

To see this sort of thing done well check out Arabian Nights (1942), The Desert Hawk (1950) or Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944).

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Don Juan (1926)

Don Juan is a 1926 Warner Brothers silent film, although it’s not totally silent. It used the then-new Vitaphone system to provide synchronised sound effects and music but without spoken dialogue (the technology to allow that was of course just around the corner). It’s a romantic adventure melodrama inspired vaguely by Byron’s famous poem although in fact the original Don Juan story dates back to a 17th century Spanish play.

Don Jose de Marana (John Barrymore) is a Spanish nobleman who discovers that his wife has a lover. He takes an ingenious ands chilling revenge. He loses all faith in women. He turns his wife out of the castle. He has a succession of mistresses, whom he treats purely as objects for pleasure. One of his mistresses, driven made by jealousy, kills him. Before he dies he advises his son Juan never to trust women.

This is the prologue. When the story proper begins young Don Juan de Marana (also played by John Barrymore) has arrived in Rome and has set about seducing all the young women he can finds. Since he is rich and handsome he accumulates an impressive list of conquests. Don Juan hates women but he has no objection to using them for pleasure.

His life gets complicated when he gets mixed up with the Borgias. The problem is not the powerful condottieri and ambitious (and ruthless) statesman but his Cesare’s sister Lucrezia. Lucrezia Borgia is renowned as one of history’s most wicked women, accused of murdering her brother’s political rivals and of other assorted crimes including incest. In fact the accusations are almost certainly untrue but naturally the movie runs with the idea of Lucrezia as a bad girl on the grand scale.

Juan continues to bed every woman he meets until he meets Adriana della Varnese (Mary Astor). Suddenly Juan realises that he’s met a woman in whom he can have faith.

Unfortunately they both get caught up by the machinations of the Borgias (the Borgias are the super-villains of this movie). Lucrezia decides it would be fun to marry off Adriana to the Count Giano Donati, a renowned swordsman and a loyal ally of the Borgias.

When Juan realises that Adriana is going to marry Donati his newly restored faith in women is shattered. He goes back to his womanising. This results in the tragic death of one of his conquests, a death which will have repercussions for Juan later on.

What Juan doesn’t know is that Adriana was forced into the marriage to save her father from the vengeance of the Borgias.

As the plot complications kick in Juan ends up in prison facing the prospect of execution while Adriana is to be tortured. Will Juan realise in time that Adriana was always true to him, and even if he does will he be able to save them both?

You’re not going to have any chance of enjoying this movie unless you’re accustomed to the conventions of silent cinema. Silent movies were a totally distinct art form, bearing no resemblance to sound pictures. You also have to be able to accept the exaggerated acting style of the silent era because you’re going to see a lot of it (especially from Mary Astor) and it’s going to seem absurd and hammy if you’re not used to it. If you are used to it you’ll be able to enjoy the rollicking adventure and the romantic drama of the star-crossed lovers.

Perhaps just as importantly you have to accept the conventions of melodrama - the misunderstandings, the coincidences, the amazing strokes of good fortune. You have to accept that Don Juan suddenly switches from cynicism about the female of the species to idealising Adriana as the perfect woman, for no reason at all other than destiny.

John Barrymore certainly goes over the top, something to which his famous brother and sister were also extremely prone.

Mary Astor looks lovely and she’s nothing if not lively. Estelle Taylor oozes sexy wickedness as Lucrezia Borgia.

Look out for a very young Myrna Loy in a small part. And Hedda Hopper (later to become a notorious gossip columnist) gets a small role as well.

There is naturally a spectacular sword-fight, although not as spectacular as the ones you’d get in a Douglas Fairbanks movie. Barrymore couldn’t match the frenetic energy and athleticism of Fairbanks.

The movie looks impressive although again there’s not quite the visual brilliance of a Fairbanks movie.

This is hardcore melodrama, spiced with some wicked humour. There’s a nicely decadent atmosphere and an outrageous villainess.

If the acting style is something you can handle then this is a fun movie. Recommended.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Something Wild (1961)

Jack Garfein’s 1961 film Something Wild explores similar subject matter to Otto Preminger’s 1959 film Anatomy of a Murder (incredibly controversial movie at the time). Both deal with sex crimes against women. That’s not to say that Garfein was simply rehashing Preminger’s movie. The two directors take very different approaches. Preminger brings out the horror of the crime through lengthy courtroom scenes. Garfein’s movie is more focused on the woman’s response, on her attempts to put her life back together.

This was a time when Hollywood was becoming interested in making grown-up movies dealing with confronting and disturbing subject matter. This obviously meant dealing with sexual subject matter. It’s hardly surprising that more than one director would see rape as a valid subject for a movie. The Production Code was getting shakier and shakier and it seemed like a time when such a subject could be approached in a grown-up way.

Something Wild was based on the novel Mary Ann by Alex Karmel, who co-wrote the screenplay with Garfein.

A young college student named Mary Ann (Carroll Baker) is raped on her way home. There’s nothing the least but graphic about the scene and it isn’t particularly brutal. What makes it shocking is her obvious utter powerlessness. It takes place in an isolated spot so screaming for help isn’t going to work. The attack happens so fast and the rapist has her totally under his physical control so quickly (within seconds) that trying to run away isn’t an option. He’s clearly a powerful man so there’s no point in struggling. She just has to endure it, which in some ways makes it a lot more confronting.

Her reaction to the rape is interesting. It’s not surprising that she wants to get rid of the clothes she was wearing, and woman would. But most women would drop the clothes into the rubbish bun, or perhaps burn them. What Mary Ann does is cut them up into tiny tiny pieces and flush them down the lavatory. Nicely symbolic of her desire to cleanse herself.

Mary Ann becomes strange and withdrawn. She runs away from home, rents an apartment and gets a job. She’s tying to re-establish her identity, or to establish a new identity. She becomes increasingly isolated and eventually decides to throw herself into the river. At which point an auto mechanic named Mike saves her. He suggests that she should go back to his place, which is close by, to lie down for a while before trying to make her way home. She’s very suspicious but she’s desperately tired and has been having dizzy spells and reluctantly agrees.

She then discovers that she’s now a prisoner. Mike has no intention of letting her go. Mike goes out and gets staggering drunk and when he comes home she thinks he’s going to rape her so she kicks him in the face. He loses the sight in that eye but the next day he just assumes that he must have been in a fight.

Mike tries in his clumsy way to be friendly and kind but he’s clearly very mad and very deluded. He honestly thinks that Mary Ann will fall in love with him and marry him.

This was the era of the cult of Method Acting and Carroll Baker was one of those unfortunate enough to be swept up in the cult. Fortunately it doesn’t seem to have harmed her acting as much as it did most people’s. She gives a powerful performance that doesn’t have the contrived artificial feel that so much Method Acting has. Carroll Baker is a very underrated actress and she really is very good here. Ralph Meeker was a good choice for the part of Mike. He’s like a crazy bumbling teddy bear who goes from seeming harmless and pathetic to seeming insane and dangerous.

Alert viewers will immediately notice striking similarities to William Wyler’s 1965 The Collector. The novel of the same name (by John Fowles) on which Wyler’s film is based was published in 1963. I can’t help wondering if Fowles had seen Something Wild. The fact that Fowles began work on the Collector in late 1960 makes it perhaps more likely that he had read Alex Karmel’s novel.

In both cases we have a man suffering from an obsessive delusion that he can persuade a young woman to fall in love with him by keeping her a prisoner but the similarities go much further. The women in both stories start to feel a tinge of compassion for their captors, and perhaps even a slight trace of affection. The men in both cases are clumsy and inept but in their own twisted way they’re well-meaning (or at least see themselves as well-meaning). The relationships between the two lead characters develop in the same way, at times hostile, at times uneasy, and at times almost convivial. In both cases the man prepares a special dinner (with carefully selected wines and an attempt to create a romantic atmosphere) preparatory to suggesting marriage.

The story however plays out very differently from The Collector. The movie changes direction sharply several times. There’s no real connection between the various stages of the movie.

This is one of those movies in which characters do things because that’s what the script says they’re going to do, even when it’s something no real person would do. Director Jack Garfein studied at the Actors Studio which may be why this movie has a very theatrical feel. The characters seem like characters in a play rather than real people.

So if you’re looking for a logical story and realistic characters with realistic motivations then this movie is not for you. To enjoy this movie you have to embrace its artificiality. You have to see it as a kind of urban fairy tale. The supporting performances are of no importance to the story but they’re all bizarrely exaggerated and incredibly hammy. Maybe that’s the point. They’re the grotesque characters you’d encounter in a fairy tale. Mike’s apartment is the dungeon in which the bandit imprisons the princess. It doesn’t have to make sense in realist terms, it has to make sense in fairy tale terms. And fairy tales have their own moral framework which isn’t always in synch with conventional morality, and the central characters don’t have to behave consistently. They have to behave in a way that leads to the proper fairy tale ending (which can be a happy or a tragic ending).

If you view the movie this way it starts to make sense, and starts to become quite fascinating. You also have to suspend your moral judgments. Fairy tale characters are driven by destiny. This is a weird love story that is sure to enrage the politically correct. Recommended for its oddness and unconventionality.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

The Green Man (1956)

A 1956 British comedy with Alastair Sim, Terry-Thomas and George Cole playing the starring rôles is almost guaranteed to be fun. On that basis The Green Man sounds very promising indeed.

Hawkins (Alastair Sim) is a professional hitman. He was introduced to his vocation at school when he blew his much-hated headmaster into a million pieces. He not only realised that assassination would be his chosen profession, he also realised that bombs would be his trademark. While assassination is his livelihood it’s also his passion. He is a man who loves his work.

His latest assignment calls for him to dispose of Sir Gregory Upshott. Hawkins is working this time on behalf of a client in the Middle East. Hawkins knows that Sir Gregory will be travelling in the country and will be staying at an inn called The Green Man. This seems likely to be a good place to make the hit.

Hawkins runs into trouble on this particular job. The problem is Marigold. She’s Sir Gregory’s secretary and Hawkins had been romancing her in order to pump her for information but now she’s started to get suspicious. She’s announced that she will be arriving on his doorstep shortly to demand an explanation.

Since Hawkins is entertaining the local police sergeant this is not a convenient time to have such a discussion with Marigold.

Hawkins feels that this problem can be dealt with but he hasn’t reckoned on the sudden appearance of an irritating vacuum cleaner salesman named William Blake (George Cole). Blake has turned up at the wrong house. The lady of the house, Ann Vincent, is alarmed to find a strange man in her house but she’s even more alarmed when Blake tells her he has discovered bloodstains on her carpet. He suspects there’s been a murder.

There’s no body, but then there is a body and it becomes a classic disappearing corpse farce.

William convinces Ann that he really did find a body but then Ann’s fiancé turns up and is convinced there’s hanky-panky going on between Ann and William.

William does however have a clue to the mystery, and that clue involves Sir Gregory and the Green Man pub. But what is a distinguished statesman and pillar of society doing at an obscure country pub? The answer is that he’s planning a dirty weekend with his very young and very cute secretary.

And things go on getting ever more farcical and frenetic.

Alastair Sim was of course a comic genius and he’s in superb form. George Cole is excellent as the well-meaning blundering William. Terry-Thomas really has only a fairly minor supporting part but he makes the most of it. Jill Adams as Ann has a much more significant part. I’d never heard of her but she’s extremely good.

Look out for brief appearances by wonderful performers like Arthur Lowe and Willoughby Goddard.

There are touches of dark humour but this movie is really too good-natured to be described as a true black comedy. It’s pure farce.

Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder wrote the screenplay (based on their stage play) and produced. They were a very successful team as writers, directors and producers (most notably writing The Lady Vanishes for Alfred Hitchcock). Along with Ealing it was Gilliat and Launder who dominated British comedy in the 50s.

The Studiocanal DVD release offers a good transfer and a few extras, the best being an interview with Matthew Sweet who puts the movie in the context of British pop culture of the era.

The Green Man is totally ludicrous in an inspired way and wickedly funny. It’s an obvious must-see for Alastair Sim fans or for any fans of classic British comedy. Highly recommended.

If you are an Alastair Sim fan you might also be interested in my reviews of Hue and Cry and The Belles of St Trinians and, for a chance to see him in a more serious rôle, Green for Danger.

Friday, March 4, 2022

Rififi in the City (1963)

Rififi in the City is a very early Jess Franco film noir-influenced crime thriller.

A cop named Miguel Mora has infiltrated an informant named Juan into a nightclub called The Stardust. The Stardust is part of a crime empire run by an outwardly respectable businessman named Leprince. Unfortunately Juan’s cover has been blown and Mora is trying desperately to extract him from the Stardust in one piece.

Mora loses his cool, bursts into Leprince’s home and starts making threats. He gets a vicious beating for his trouble. Juan ends up in even worse trouble.

For Mora it’s now a personal vendetta. He doesn’t care if he’s dismissed from the police force. In fact he welcomes the idea. He intends to nail Leprince even if he has to use unorthodox or even extra-legal means to do so.

He has a few potential allies. There are Juan’s girlfriends. Juan was a handsome young man who had no difficulty attracting women and he always had several girlfriends at the same time. One of his girlfriends, Nina (a nightclub chanteuse), is Leprince’s mistress and she has reason to feel bitter towards Leprince.

Leprince has more than just Mora to worry about. Somebody is killing off his henchmen one by one. He thinks it might be Mora but he has plenty of other enemies so he’s not sure. The audience doesn’t know who is murdering Leprince’s stooges. We don’t think it’s Mora but Mora is a man obsessed so we can’t entirely dismiss the possibility.

Mora has gone lone wolf and it’s not certain whether, even if he finds hard evidence, the police commissioner will back him.

The best chance to get the evidence against Leprince would be to use Nina but that would put her in a lot of danger. Leprince is a ruthless man.

The writing credits are shared by Gonzalo Sebastián de Erice, Juan Cobos and Franco (from a novel by Charles Exbrayat). The plot isn’t dazzlingly original but it’s more than competent and the twists work pretty well.

While there’s plenty of noir influence is there a femme fatale? That’s for you to decide. There are several key female characters and they’re slightly ambiguous. Nina is the most interesting although that might have quite a bit to do with Maria Vincent’s sultry performance. Nina has been a gangster’s mistress but there’s plenty of good in her, although of course we can’t be quite sure where her loyalties will ultimately lie.

Miguel Mora is a good noir hero, a decent honest cop who goes off the rails a bit. Whether he can find his footing again is an open question. As the movie progresses Mora becomes increasingly a classic noir protagonist.

Like Death Whistles the Blues this is a movie that is vague about its setting but it just about gets away with convincing us that we’re in Central America.

As always in Franco film the music is crucial. Franco wasn’t just a jazz fan. Jazz influenced the pacing and the rhythms and the structure of his movies, something that would become very obvious by the late 1960s.

Much has been made of the Orson Welles influence on early Franco. Welles saw several of Franco’s early movies (including this one) and was highly impressed and he hired Franco to work on Chimes at Midnight. He seemed to regard Franco as a bit of a protégé. When you look at movies by Welles like Mr Arkadin and F for Fake the idea that Welles saw Franco as a cinematic kindred spirit doesn’t seem so crazy. They were both inclined to be undisciplined and to rely on the inspiration of the moment, and both had a taste for extreme cinematic experimentation.

This movie hits the ground running and early on we get some quite stylish action scenes, with a surprisingly high level of violence for 1963. Franco shows that he knows the tricks of the trade and throws in some Dutch angles and other cinematic flourishes.

There’s also a very marked film noir visual style. The movie was shot in black-and-white and there are plenty of shadowy alleyways and dark corners. The whole feel of the movie is very noir, and the noir atmosphere is very effective.

Interestingly we are told that these events are happening not in Spain but in an unnamed Central American nation. In 1963 Spanish film-makers had to tread carefully and the suggestion that respectable Spanish businessmen might run crime syndicates and might put pressure on senior police officers (and that senior police officers might be open to such pressures) would probably have been a bit risky. The fact that Leprince is an aspiring politician running on a platform of democracy would have made it even more advisable not to set the film in Spain.

This is a Jess Franco movie so you might be wondering if there’s going to be a slightly bizarre nightclub scene. The answer is yes. I certainly think a robot dancing with a girl in a bikini is a bit bizarre. It’s intercut, very effectively, with the scene in which Mora gets a savage beating.

It’s not as kinky as nightclub scenes in later Franco movies but Jess already understands that such scenes really build an atmosphere of sleaze mixed with glamour and danger. There’s a later nightclub scene that is somewhat sexier.

Severin have paired Rififi in the City with Death Whistles the Blues in an excellent two-movie Franco Noir Blu-Ray set (and it’s available on DVD as well) with an appreciation of the film by Franco expert Stephen Thrower.

Rififi in the City is a neat little film noir. Highly recommended.