Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the internet...

...It's time for Raquel's annual Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge at her blog, Out of the Past. Sign up and read six film-related books this summer between June 1st and September 1st! I'll be posting my book picks for the challenge here in the near future. Raquel's challenge has pushed me to fit more books into my busy schedule, and I highly recommend participating.

...Raquel also recently posted a giant list of upcoming film-related books.

...Speaking of books, Jacqueline Lynch's new book on Ann Blyth is coming soon! And I'll be reviewing it here next month.

...Coursera is reprising Jeanine Basinger's Wesleyan University course on Marriage and the Movies. It started May 18th and registration is still open -- and free! I started the course last year and was very much enjoying it but ran out of time to finish it due to a vacation and other issues, so I'm going back to it now to pick up what I missed! (I still need to watch Greta Garbo in WILD ORCHIDS -- hope to do it this time!)

...Here are some great behind-the-scenes photos from THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965).

...Coming this fall: The eagerly anticipated third and final CLASSIC MOVIE GUIDE from Leonard Maltin -- this time branded with the TCM logo.

...Bruce Boxleitner Tweeted a birthday tribute to his mentor, James Arness, today.

...I enjoyed the Nitrate Diva's account of attending the 2015 Nitrate Picture Show, with all films screened in nitrate prints, just like I saw them back in the '70s. I suspect I saw the very same print of PORTRAIT OF JENNIE, screened at the Tiffany Theater on Sunset Boulevard.

...Blogathons coming in June: The Beach Party Blogathon June 8-12, and The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon June 26-28.

...From January: The Blonde at the Film's photo-filled look at the MGM musical LOVELY TO LOOK AT (1952).

...Here's John McElwee on Ben Johnson in WILD STALLION (1952) at Greenbriar Picture Shows. I need to see that one soon, especially as it's in Cinecolor!

...Coming from Olive in July: Four titles including HELL'S FIVE HOURS (1958) with Stephen McNally and Coleen Gray, who had previously costarred in APACHE DRUMS (1951). MAN OF CONQUEST (1939) with Richard Dix, Gail Patrick, and Joan Fontaine sounds interesting too.

...Coming to Key Largo this October: the Humphrey Bogart Film Festival, with guests Stephen Bogart, Eddie Muller, and Monika Henreid.

...From VCI in August: Russell Hayden in a set of four ROYAL CANADIAN MOUNTED POLICE movies, some costarring Jennifer Holt.

...I loved this piece on Frank McHugh by Cliff at Immortal Ephemera, especially the news photo with his wife and children.

...Attention Southern Californians: This Friday, May 29th, Illeana Douglas will host a screening of the 1955 TV musical production of OUR TOWN at UCLA. OUR TOWN stars Frank Sinatra (singing "Love and Marriage"), Paul Newman, and Eva Marie Saint. Saint will be in attendance, along with Gena Rowlands, who stars in a 30-minute TV drama which will be shown before OUR TOWN.

...Notable Passing, Eric Caidin, longtime proprietor of Hollywood Book and Poster Co., died suddenly at the age of 62. He passed on in Palm Springs after attending the 2015 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival, an event I covered here extensively.

Have a great week!

Tonight's Movie: The Quiet Gun (1957)

Forrest Tucker is excellent in the Western THE QUIET GUN (1957), released this year by Olive Films on DVD and Blu-ray.

I watched the DVD version; it's a gorgeous print of this widescreen black and white Regalscope film from 20th Century-Fox. Western fans should make haste to snap this one up.

THE QUIET GUN echoes earlier films in the Western genre such as HIGH NOON (1952) and TOP GUN (1955). Tucker plays world-weary Sheriff Carl Brandon, an honorable man who sometimes seems to battle the unsupportive citizens of the town of Red Rock as much as he does the bad guys.

Carl is keeping his eye on nasty Doug Sadler (Lee Van Cleef), who has just arrived in town and promptly tormented the slow-witted but kindly man at the livery stable, Sampson (Hank Worden). Carl has no sooner broken up that conflict than town attorney Steven Hardy (Lewis Martin) demands that Carl go investigate his friend Ralph (Jim Davis).

It seems that Ralph's estranged wife Teresa (Kathleen Crowley) has been away on an extended trip, and Ralph has a young Indian girl (Mara Corday) keeping house at his ranch. Hardy wants Carl to arrest Ralph for indecent behavior or some such thing. Meanwhile, Teresa happens to arrive back in town on the afternoon stage.

Carl, as it happens, is Ralph's best friend -- and Carl also harbors unspoken love for Teresa. Carl attempts to defend Ralph to the town's small-minded citizens but they're having none of it, and when Hardy goes out to Ralph's ranch to deliver a warrant and pulls a gun, Ralph shoots him dead. It may well have been self-defense, but now the town wants Ralph to hang.

Carl, meanwhile, senses there's something funny going on with the whole business -- why the big push by others to get Ralph off his ranch? He's got his hands full trying to solve that mystery along with bringing Ralph in for trial, and there are more problems yet to come.

Forrest Tucker continues to rise in my estimation; it took me a while to warm up to him, but performances in films such as CALIFORNIA PASSAGE (1950) and FLIGHT NURSE (1953) won me over. He's simply outstanding in this, tired and frustrated but a man who won't ever back down from doing what is right.

It's a performance which requires close attention, as so much of his character's feelings are expressed without words; for instance, watch his hands when he's around Teresa, and the times he starts to reach for her but then stops himself. I also loved the scene early on where Carl goes in the saloon and just eyeballs Van Cleef. You can see the measure of the man in that moment.

There's also a beautiful sequence near the end when Carl rounds up the town council and finds a way to appeal to their better instincts to help him hold off a lynch mob. He takes a gamble in that moment, with a nice payoff.

Davis, Van Cleef, and Worden offer strong support, all having moments of excellence. Worden plays his typical silly "character" but he's delightfully sweet as a man who proudly supports the sheriff come hell or high water. The cast also includes Tom Brown, Vince Barnett, Gerald Milton, and Edith Evanson.

This 77-minute movie was directed by William F. Claxton, who's more closely associated with directing TV Westerns such as BONANZA and THE HIGH CHAPPARAL. He did very good work on this film.

I especially liked the economical staging of a violent scene, which completely avoids being graphic yet has more dramatic impact than actually showing the event. It's a brilliant little "less is so much more" moment.

The movie was beautifully filmed by John Mescall. Though the company never went further on location than Iverson Ranch and Corriganville, it's a very good-looking Western film, shown off to great effect on the Olive Films disc.

As a side note, some of the film's publicity shots of Tucker and Corday together in romantic poses are completely baffling! No such thing occurs in the film.

Regular readers know I review a great many Westerns, and I enjoy most of them to varying degrees. Among those films, I thought THE QUIET GUN was something special. Highly recommended.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Tonight's Movie: The Public Defender (1931) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Richard Dix is an actor who is slowly growing on me with repeated exposure to his work. He's terrific as THE PUBLIC DEFENDER (1931), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Dix plays Pike Winslow, a seemingly indolent playboy who has returned from Europe to discover that the father (Emmett King) of his childhood friend Barbara (Shirley Grey) has been framed for bank embezzlement.

Not to fear, a mysterious character known as "The Reckoner" is making the rounds of the homes of the other bank executives, stealing only their important papers and leaving behind a calling card which says "The Reckoner."

No one will be surprised to learn that Pike himself is the Reckoner, a character who could have helped inspire Batman, who came along later in the decade. The Reckoner is aided by the brains of "the Professor" (Boris Karloff), who examines the papers to build the case to clear Barbara's father, and the brawn of his chauffeur "Doc" (Paul Hurst).

Barbara is in love with Pike but fears he thinks she's still a child, not realizing the strings he's pulling on her behalf behind the scenes.

Dix has some wonderful romantic hero moments, such as when Pike accompanies Barbara as everything in her family home is auctioned off. Anytime she seems particularly attached to a piece of furniture, Pike gives a signal to the Professor, who bids on the item. Later Pike takes Barbara and her aunt (Nella Walker) to an apartment a "friend" wants to lease to them for the next year -- and do they have a surprise when they walk in the door. Blissful sigh!

I found this quick little 69-minute film highly enjoyable, and it certainly increased my interest in seeing even more films starring Richard Dix.

THE PUBLIC DEFENDER was directed by J. Walter Ruben and filmed by Edward Cronjager. The cast also includes Alan Roscoe as Inspector O'Neill, Edmund Breese as an old friend who suspects the Reckoner's identity, and Robert Emmet O'Connor as a detective. Watch closely for Rochelle Hudson as a telephone operator.

For more on this film, including quite a bit of interesting background info, please visit Cliff's review at Immortal Ephemera. He also sees the similarities with Batman and notes that the Professor could easily have inspired Alfred.

THE PUBLIC DEFENDER DVD looks just fine, especially considering its age. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.

Book Review: The Sound of Music Story

The 50th anniversary of the release of THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965) has proven to be quite a boon to the movie's devoted fans, including the release of multiple books on the beloved film.

I previously reviewed THE SOUND OF MUSIC FAQ by Barry Monush, and I've just finished reading THE SOUND OF MUSIC STORY by Tom Santopietro. While Monush's book provides a SOUND OF MUSIC reference encyclopedia, Santopietro tells the story of the making of the film in more of a straight narrative fashion.

I'd previously read Santopietro's excellent book CONSIDERING DORIS DAY, and, based on my enjoyment of that book, I especially looked forward to THE SOUND OF MUSIC STORY. It was as enjoyable as hoped, describing the making of the film and its subsequent history across the last half-century in 30 well-organized and very readable chapters.

Santopietro provides a richly detailed account, pulling together multiple anecdotes as seamlessly as William Reynolds edited together "Do-Re-Mi." The picture which emerges from so many perspectives is of a genuinely happy set, dominated by two of the nicest men in Hollywood, director-producer Robert Wise and associate producer Saul Chaplin. Chaplin is remembered as "a very nice gentleman" and "a tremendous life force," while Wise was "a sweetheart of a man."

It's hard not to think that the general good feelings on the set showed up on the screen, while Plummer's well-known dissatisfaction with being in the film is also reflected in his astringent character. To his credit, Plummer has come to appreciate the film in the years since making it!

Like Captain Von Trapp, Plummer was perhaps crustier on the outside than he was on the inside, which played into the shooting of the emotional scene where the Captain sings "The Sound of Music" with the children. Prior to filming the scene, Wise had informed the children it was their last group scene: "The thought of their journey together coming to an end...caused tears to flow and helped inform the scene. The combination of the inherent power of the material with a dawning realization that in real, as well as reel life, Plummer actually did care for them unleashed a genuine emotional response in the children." Charmian Carr remembers that even Wise was crying as he directed it.

Such anecdotes are mixed with more familiar stories to make the book a fresh and enjoyable read even for someone who has read as many books on the topic as I have. I was glad to spend time revisiting one of my favorite films and learning more about it via Santopietro's book.

THE SOUND OF MUSIC STORY is a hardcover which is 324 pages including extensive end notes, a bibliography, and the index. There are 16 glossy pages of photographs inserted in the center of the book.

In the interest of giving my readers a thorough report, as well as reflecting my professional interest in this aspect, the book does have some occasional minor typos -- a dropped possessive here, 2014 printed as 2004 there -- but on the whole it is well presented and I definitely recommend it.

Thanks to St. Martin's Press for providing a review copy of this book.

On Memorial Day


Remembering, with deepest gratitude, the brave men and women who gave all for our nation and our freedom.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Stand By For Action (1942)

I often watch a war film on Memorial Day weekend, and in my new column for ClassicFlix I recommend a number of war films which I have found particularly meaningful or inspirational.

This year I chose to watch a war film I'd never seen before, STAND BY FOR ACTION (1942).

STAND BY FOR ACTION is an MGM film which premiered in December 1942, one year after Pearl Harbor. It's the story of the Warren, a WWI destroyer pulled out of mothballs for service early in WWII. The movie has a stellar cast including Robert Taylor, Brian Donlevy, Charles Laughton, Walter Brennan, and Chill Wills.

Taylor plays Lt. Gregg Masterman, scion of a wealthy family, who is quite competent but whose attitudes could stand a little fine-tuning and maturing. The polish Masterman needs is provided by Donlevy as Lt. Commander Martin Roberts, an up-through-the-ranks farmer's son who gives Masterman valuable lessons in leadership. Masterman is also surprised to find that functioning flawlessly while under fire isn't always easy.

Laughton plays Masterman's initial commanding officer, a rear admiral supervising the refurbishment of old ships who would love to get back to sea himself. Brennan plays a man who was a Warren crew member "back in the day" and -- after dying his gray hair darker -- re-enlists to share his knowledge of the ship with the new crew.

The actors are all excellent; I particularly liked Donlevy's nuanced performance as a man who's tough because he has to be, but who is also reasonable and a good instructor. Donlevy would later play a key role in another MGM study of leadership, COMMAND DECISION (1948).

The film is quite well done and interesting, although at 109 minutes the pacing starts to flag in the second half, after the ship takes on a life raft filled with pregnant women and infants. For a while, as it focuses on these refugees from a Hawaiian hospital, the movie seems reminiscent of the later OPERATION PETTICOAT (1959); I'm quite fond of the latter film, but here the extended focus on the women and children, with not one but two ladies giving birth, does take away a bit from the interesting interactions of the ship's crew members.

Otherwise, this is a solid movie with strong lead performances by a bevy of fine actors.

The supporting cast includes Henry O'Neill, Douglas Dumbrille, Douglas Fowley, William Tannen, Byron Foulger, Richard Quine, Tim Ryan, Hobart Cavanaugh, Marilyn Maxwell, and Inez Cooper. The ladies only appear briefly early on in the film, with the rest of the movie centered on the ship's initial shakedown cruise and combat action.

IMDb bills actors James Millican, Jim Davis, and Wally Cassell as "talker." I'm not sure what that refers to; I was watching for them but never spotted them.

STAND BY FOR ACTION was directed by Robert Z. Leonard. It was filmed in black and white by Charles Rosher.

For more on this film, please visit posts by Glenn Erickson at DVD Savant and John McElwee at Greenbriar Picture Shows.

This film is available from the Warner Archive in an excellent print. The disc includes the trailer.

It can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies.

Past Memorial Day weekend movie reviews include CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS (1942), GUADALCANAL DIARY (1943), THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945), THE FROGMEN (1951), DESTINATION GOBI (1953), RUN SILENT RUN DEEP (1958), THE GALLANT HOURS (1960), and THE LONGEST DAY (1962).

Tonight's Movie: Son of Belle Starr (1953) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Keith Larsen stars as "The Kid" in SON OF BELLE STARR (1953), an Allied Artists Western recently released by the Warner Archive.

The movie feels a bit like a guilty pleasure, cheaply made and with a few supporting actors who aren't especially scintillating, but I must say that I rather liked this movie.

The faded green and orange pastel Cinecolor look appeals to me very much, while Larsen -- recently seen in ARROW IN THE DUST (1954) -- is pretty good as the unpredictable Kid. There's a pair of interesting leading ladies in Peggie Castle and Dona Drake, a couple of arresting love scenes, and supporting favorite Regis Toomey pops up here and there. The movie knows not to wear out its welcome, running a fast-paced 70 minutes. For me all these factors added up to a nice slice of "Western comfort food."

In SON OF BELLE STARR the ostensible "good guys" are the villains, while the man everyone thinks is an outlaw, the Kid, is on the side of law and order.

The crooked sheriff (Myron Healey) brings the Kid in on a deal to rob a stagecoach of $100,000. The Kid pretends to go along with the deal, but he's actually out to find the person who framed him for a robbery the year before. He stashes the money safely away while working to uncover the anonymous mastermind who set up both crimes.

The Kid has a steamy but uncommitted relationship with fiery Dolores (Drake), and she's financially tempted to betray him. But no matter, he discovers that Julie (Castle), the seemingly prim daughter of the town newspaper publisher (Toomey), kisses much better than Dolores anyway. Unfortunately Julie's engaged to George (James Seay)...and George just might be Mr. Big.

This was a satisfying movie with a nicely wrapped-up plot. The only thing I didn't care for was how the movie ended, but even then, I admired the way the music and the movie quietly faded out.

SON OF BELLE STARR was directed by Frank McDonald and filmed by Harry Neumann.

The script was cowritten by D.D. Beauchamp, who wrote some very good '50s Westerns such as RIDE CLEAR OF DIABLO (1954) and RAILS INTO LARAMIE (1954).

The Warner Archive DVD is in fine shape, acknowledging the inherent limitations of unstable Cinecolor prints. Some of the opening credits are a bit faded, but I found it added to the film's overall Cinecolor charm. There are no extras.

I love the fact that relatively obscure films such as SON OF BELLE STARR are once again available to viewers thanks to the Warner Archive. There are more treasures coming from the Archive in the near future, including "B" gems such as TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE (1945), CRIMINAL COURT (1946), and THE CLAY PIGEON (1949).

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.

Tonight's Movie: Bigger Than Life (1956)

Last weekend I enjoyed revisiting a favorite film noir, ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1951), at the 2015 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival.

ON DANGEROUS GROUND was directed by Nicholas Ray. I've really enjoyed most of the Ray films I've seen, ranging from BORN TO BE BAD (1950) to JOHNNY GUITAR (1954) and most especially PARTY GIRL (1958). Other Ray films, such as IN A LONELY PLACE (1950) and THE LUSTY MEN (1952), have left me feeling respectful if not quite on board with the love other classic film fans feel for those titles.

Today I caught another of Ray's films, BIGGER THAN LIFE (1956), for the very first time. In terms of my reaction, the film fell in the second grouping of Ray films; it was interesting and I enjoyed analyzing what I was watching, but that's about it. It's not a movie I'd anticipate wanting to spend more time with in the future.

BIGGER THAN LIFE rather reminded me of the '50s melodramas directed by Douglas Sirk, starting off with beautiful CinemaScope pictures of small town life. (The cinematographer was Joe McDonald.) Almost immediately, however, it's clear there are dark shadows behind the pretty views, as schoolteacher Ed Avery (James Mason) has some sort of passing attack while sitting at his desk.

Ed, in fact, is hiding something else behind his picture perfect life as a respected schoolteacher: Unbeknownst to his wife Lou (Barbara Rush), he's moonlighting after school working as a taxicab dispatcher in order to make financial ends meet. There's nothing really wrong with this, of course, but Ed is ashamed to let his wife know the truth, as the job is "beneath" him. Consequently, Lou starts to think all those "school board" meetings Ed is attending mean he's hiding an affair!

Ed suspects that overwork, holding down two jobs, is what's behind his attacks. The dark waters begin to swirl more intently around Ed until he finally collapses one evening. Diagnosis: a rare and incurable inflammation of the arteries, which can be helped only by a new "miracle drug," cortisone.

There's just one problem: in some cases the drug can lead to depression, and as Ed starts to overdose on the medication in an attempt to feel better, he ends up suffering from a full-blown manic-depressive psychosis. He makes grandiose gestures such as buying his wife expensive dresses they can't afford, then careens the other direction and is tearful or nasty. He finally has a total crackup and wants to kill his son Richie (Christopher Olsen).

As one might imagine, this is not a very cheerful film to watch. I'm going to need something like an MGM musical or Tim Holt Western to clear the viewing palate after being put through the wringer by this one! That said, it was a rather interesting film to observe.

I say "observe" as I never really felt emotionally engaged; some of that may have been a protective mechanism, knowing it was going to be a heavy film, and perhaps with the film's glossy overlay it also never really felt quite real to me. I watched it as an outsider looking in the window, and that was as close as I wanted to get.

Looking through the Averys' window, actually, was quite interesting in and of itself. Colorful kitchenware contrasts with the awful-looking old hot water heater in the corner, a reflection of the family's inability to completely keep up with their lifestyle, as well as a foreshadowing of the battle Ed and Lou will have when the hot water runs out. When Ed treats Lou dismissively as she repeatedly heats up his bath water in a teakettle, she finally cracks herself.

Someone looking closely will also note there are travel posters and maps all over the house; attractive, but also speaking to Ed's yearning to break free from his "boring" life? Meanwhile a souvenir football on the mantel seems to looks backwards sadly to Ed's glory days in college football. (I have to pause here to say -- James Mason a football star?!)

The film never really addresses whether the medication was solely responsible for Ed's breakdown, or was he perhaps an unhappy man waiting to fall apart at any moment and the medication was the last straw?

The film's ending leaves more questions than answers; it's pseudo-happy, but I didn't believe it. After all, Ed's either got to stay on the medication, perhaps more carefully monitored, or quit taking it and die. Not very good alternatives!

Mason is well cast, and his biting accent works really well as the feelings Ed's been suppressing come out and he starts letting people know how he really feels. (Or at least how he feels while under the influence.) Rush does a good job as a woman who sees her comfortable placid lifestyle as a homemaker crumbling in unexpected ways, first suspecting her husband's affair and then, relieved to discover she was wrong, immediately plunged into even darker territory, looking at losing her husband altogether.

I'm not a very big fan of Walter Matthau, but I was relieved each time his character entered the picture, as he represented the sane antithesis to Mason; he's also someone Lou, and by extension the audience, can lean on, whether he's delivering groceries, teaching Richie to make a drink for his father, or finding a magazine article which provides a key to understanding Ed's behavior.

The movie is a visual treat, and the bright pops of color, which made me think not only of Sirk but Yasujiro Ozu, helped make the film more tolerable for me despite the dark subject matter. Indeed, there's a fascinating dichotomy between the colorful surface and the dark interiors of the story. I also enjoyed a quick look at Robinsons department store, which was also seen in NIGHTFALL (1957), and the church is identified at the blog Dear Old Hollywood as the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles.

The screenplay of this 95-minute film was credited to Richard Maibaum and Cyril Hume, with uncredited contributions from Clifford Odets and Gavin Lambert, plus Ray and Mason, who was also the film's producer. The score is by David Raksin (LAURA).

Thanks to Blake Lucas for lending me his beautiful Criterion Collection DVD! The movie is also out from Criterion on Blu-ray, and it turns up from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.

BIGGER THAN LIFE is a title from my friend Kristina's list of 10 Classics to see for the first time in 2015. We're each trying to watch some of the films on each other's lists this year as a way to be exposed to even more significant films, as well as encouraging each other to stay on track watching our lists steadily throughout the course of the year. (I've had a tendency to "power watch" several titles during the last couple months of the year!) Kristina's review is here, and I highly encourage my readers to check out her take on the movie.

Coming soon: Kristina and I will be jointly reviewing a film from my "10 Classics" list, Kurosawa's THE HIDDEN FORTRESS (1958).

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Thieves' Highway (1949) at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival

The last day of the 2015 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs closed for me on a high note last Sunday with my first-ever viewing of THIEVES' HIGHWAY (1949).

The movie takes a deceptively simple plot, about getting a couple truckloads of Golden Delicious apples to market and selling them for a fair price, and turns it into a rich viewing experience filled with memorable performances and unforgettable visuals.

Veteran Nick Garcos (Richard Conte) returns home to California ready to open a business and marry Polly (Barbara Lawrence), the girl next door.

Nick learns that his truck driver father (Morris Carnovsky) was swindled by producer buyer Mike Figlia (Lee J. Cobb) and lost his legs in an accident in which Figlia's men may have been involved.

Nick also learns that his father sold his truck to Ed Kinney (Millard Mitchell) but hasn't been paid. Nick goes to collect but ends up striking a deal with the broke Ed -- Nick will buy an army surplus truck for himself and the two men will reap a windfall delivering the season's first crop of Golden Delicious apples to market in San Francisco.

Once in San Francisco, Nick inevitably must deal with the amoral Figlia, who tries to distract Nick with a prostitute, Rica (Valentina Cortesa). Nick must battle Figlia for a fair deal and then try to hang on to the money he's been paid, while perhaps managing some payback against Figlia; meanwhile, Ed struggles to get his barely functional truck to market while his cargo is still fresh.

This was simply a wonderful film, screened in an outstanding print. The entire movie looked great, but what especially sticks in my mind are a pair of tragically beautiful set pieces involving apples; the first occurs when the Polish farmer (Norbert Schiller) battles Ed over their deal and starts to topple boxes of apples off the truck, and the second is a stunning shot of apples rolling down a hill near the end of the movie, which caused me to gasp. You won't forget it.

Richard Conte has become one of my all-time favorite film noir actors. I'm hard-pressed to name a favorite; CRY OF THE CITY (1948) comes to mind first, but then I remember how great he was in HOUSE OF STRANGERS (1949) or THE BIG COMBO (1955), just for starters, and I'm not sure. A complete list of Conte films previously reviewed here is at the end of this post, and I highly recommend exploring his movies.

Similarly, the more I see of Millard Mitchell's work, the more I realize what a loss his too-early passing was to movies. THIEVES' HIGHWAY was just one of a number of outstanding performances Mitchell gave in the late '40s and early '50s, along with THE GUNFIGHTER (1950), THE NAKED SPUR (1953), and especially WINCHESTER '73 (1950). Mitchell was in the prime of his career when he died of lung cancer in 1953, at the age of 50.

A little of Jack Oakie goes a long way for me, but I've never liked him better than in THIEVES' HIGHWAY. He looks completely believable in his role as a grubby rival trucker whose inner decency emerges after tragedy strikes. He's quite touching as he inarticulately attempts to give Nick some bad news. Oakie's work is all the more remarkable given that he was very hard of hearing and had to rely on lip reading to make sure he didn't miss his cues. Oakie's partner in the film is played by future director Joseph Pevney.

The talented Barbara Lawrence (MARGIE) has a rather thankless role as Polly, who's initially thrilled by Nick's return but not so happy to support him when the chips are down. When Nick hits the financial skids, she's off to look for a more reliable breadwinner. On one level I felt some sympathy for Polly, as the dreams she'd built while Nick was away had quickly come crashing down, but she's certainly unpleasant when ejecting Nick from her future.

Polly does serve the purpose of helping to make the audience more sympathetic to Rica, the proverbial hooker with the heart of gold. Valentina Cortesa is good and her interactions with Conte are memorable, although I liked her better in THE HOUSE ON TELEGRAPH HILL (1951); I admit part of my issue was that I found her hairstyle in this, which aged her far beyond her 26 years, distracting.

Rounding out the cast is Hope Emerson in a small but noticeable role as a produce buyer.

The screenplay for this 94-minute film was by A.I. Bezzerides, based on his novel. Bezzerides also wrote the screenplay for ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1951), seen earlier in the weekend; Bezzerides also had an acting role in ON DANGEROUS GROUND, his only onscreen appearance.

THIEVES' HIGHWAY was directed by Jules Dassin; his films which have been previously reviewed here are linked at the end of this post. The black and white photography, much of it on location, was by Norbert Brodine.

THIEVES' HIGHWAY is available on DVD from the Criterion Collection.

Incidentally, THIEVES' HIGHWAY was the last film I needed to see from the first 15 movies on Eddie Muller's list of his Top 25 film noir titles. The film is very much recommended.

Jules Dassin films previously reviewed at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: THE AFFAIRS OF MARTHA (1942), YOUNG IDEAS (1943), A LETTER FOR EVIE (1946), TWO SMART PEOPLE (1946), and THE NAKED CITY (1948), NIGHT AND THE CITY (1950), and RIFIFI (1955).

Previously reviewed films starring Richard Conte: GUADALCANAL DIARY (1943), SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT (1946), CALL NORTHSIDE 777 (1948), CRY OF THE CITY (1948), HOUSE OF STRANGERS (1949), THE SLEEPING CITY (1950), THE BLUE GARDENIA (1953), HIGHWAY DRAGNET (1954), THE BIG COMBO (1955), FULL OF LIFE (1956), and THE BROTHERS RICO (1957).

‹Older