Five Cool Things and Fred Willard

I recently received, watched, and reviewed a boxed set of three films from Kino Lorber entitled Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema II. Ever the completist, I also snagged a copy of Part One of that series and watched them all – eight films total – over the last week. That’s a lot of movies to watch in a short period of time. That’s a lot of movies within the same genre to watch back-to-back-to-back. I’m the sort of person who forgets the details of something I’ve watched within a couple of days of watching it. When I watch movies close together, especially when they are very similar in nature, those films tend to blend together.

Which is to say that while I wholeheartedly recommend both sets of films, my discussion of them will be short this week. As a whole, the majority of them are what I’d call second-tier film noir. They aren’t sure-fire classics. They are all flawed. But they also contain enough going for them to make them well worth watching for fans.

And here we go.

Witness to Murder

A woman awakens from a deep slumber. She gets up to pour a glass of water and sees a man strangling a woman in the apartment across the street. She calls the police but when they arrive, they find no dead body nor any signs of a struggle. The next day, when she spies the man leaving, she sneaks over to his apartment and finds a pair of earrings and drag marks across the floor. She takes the earrings to the police but before she can get there, the man has phoned them to report the jewelry stolen. The woman is played by Barbara Stanwyck and the man by George Sanders. The whole film is a cat and mouse game where she discovers some new clue in which to prove he’s guilty and he talks his way out of it. The film seems ahead of its time, making it clear that though Sanders is completely guilty and Stanwyck completely right, the police always believe him because he’s a man and disbelieves her because she’s just some hysterical woman.

I suspect it has mostly been overlooked now because it has a similar premise to Rear Window (even though it came out a few months prior to Hitchock’s film) and isn’t nearly as good. Masterpiece it may not be, its still a realy enjoyable piece of cinema.

He Ran All the Way

A stick-up job goes wrong, leaving NIcky (John Garfield) on the run. To hide from the cops, he slips into a public pool. There, he meets Peg (Shelley Winters) and they hit it off. She takes him home to meet the parents and while there, the heat gets hotter and Nicky decides to take the whole family hostage. Realizing he is going to need Peg’s help if he’s to ever get out of there, he plays sweet on her all the while holding her family at gunpoint. Much of the film’s drama comes from whether or not she actually loves him back.

Director John Berry keeps the tension on high. Garfield is quite good as Nicky and it’s a lot of fun watching such a young Shelley Winters on the screen. It is several notches below great but it’s still worth your time if you are a genre fan.

Thunder on the Hill

Claudette Colbert plays a nun in charge of an English convent’s medical ward. When a massive storm comes, it sends most of the townsfolk to the convent for protection. This includes a woman convicted of killing her brother, set to be executed the next day. Naturally, the nun spends most of the movie trying to prove the woman’s innocence. Colbert is great and the convent gives ample opportunity for plenty of film noir lighting and mood. The script takes a few too many detours, but mostly its a terrific little film.

A Bullet for Joey

George Raft plays a gangster who has been kicked out of Canada due to his underworld dealings. A group of communists smuggle him back into the country in order for him to kidnap a top nuclear scientist. Raft brings in his old pals, including Audrey Totter as the dame who will seduce the scientist. Edward G. Robinson is the Police Inspector working on the case. The script is a little limp and the cast mostly phones it in, but there are enough twists and turns to keep things interesting. It is definitely second or third tier film noir, but even not-great noir sometimes hits the spot.

Back to the Future Trilogy

Not everything I watched this week was a film noir. I was at the perfect age when the Back to the Future movies came out to have them permanently etched into my brain in a constantly nostalgic loop. They are streaming on Netflix now and it seemed like the perfect time to introduce them to my daughter.

There is really no way for me to disconnect these films from the joy they gave me as a kid and so I can’t really think about them critically. They are still tons of fun to watch. Binge-watching them makes all of the echoes between the films a little annoying (Marty wakes up with his mother by his bedside, Biff falls into a truck of manure, etc.), but I loved that stuff as a kid. I’m not sure all the time-traveling lines up perfectly. It’s also really weird to watch a pre-PG-13 movie and realize how many “shits” and “damns” they could get away with in the ’80s. But despite various flaws they are still thoroughly entertaining popcorn flicks. My kid loved them.

Fred Willard – 1939 – 2020

Fred Willard was one of those guys – actors whom you immediately smile when you see him on screen but maybe can’t immediately place. He played in loads of movies and TV shows (IMDB has 311 credits listed for him as an actor), some good and some bad. But he made everything he was in just a little bit better. He died yesterday at the age of 86.

Mat Brewster

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