Five Cool Things and the Fourth of July

It is a holiday weekend and I’m making the most of it. So let’s get right into this week’s cool things.

Woman in the Dark

I’ve been watching a lot of movies from the 1930s of late and it is fascinating to me how the ones that aren’t that great (like this one) are still strangely interesting. Like somehow the ways in which a not-great movie from the 1930s is so different from a not-great movie made today. If I watched a movie that was similar to this but made in the last few years, I’d find it completely forgettable, but somehow this movie fascinates me even though it was not very good.

Though it is only 68 minutes long, the film takes its time getting going and then once it gets moving it slows down to take these odd little digressions. We spend probably ten minutes with the main guy getting out of prison. It is a big exposition dump telling us why he was in prison, information they could have easily peppered out into the main story. The introduction to his prison buddy and his buddy’s wife takes its own sweet time. I suppose you could call that a comic interlude, but I wanted to scream at the film, “you’ve only got an hour. Speed it up already!” That’s one of the interesting things about older movies: they weren’t afraid to take their time. They give characters beats that don’t move the plot along. They exist just to let us live with them for a little while.

I love me some Fay Wray and she’s lovely in this. Ralph Bellamy is alright as the ostensible hero. It is based on a Dashiell Hammet story, one I haven’t read (which is surprising because I’ve read most of them). I have to think the film takes a lot of liberties because while the bones of the story here feel like a Hammett book, the details feel wrong.

There are moments that are quite enjoyable and long ones that just kind of go by. Like I said this film isn’t great, but it is still fascinating to me to watch a 1930s film even when they aren’t wonderful.


Alan Ladd and William Bendix star in this exotic location thriller/film noir as a couple of pilots who fly from Calcutta to Chungking and back again. When one of their friends is murdered, they decide to play detectives themselves, diving headfirst into all sorts of mysterious intrigue. Gail Russell stars as the femme fatale type and while she’s got the looks, she lacks the exotic edge needed for such a role.

It is well designed and the two leads are good. There is enough action and murder to keep things interesting. The romance is pretty tame (and it keeps Bendix off the screen for far too long) but mostly it’s a pretty-good little thriller from the late 1940s. I’ll have a review up soon.

So Dark the Night

Has there ever been a fictional detective who was just mediocre at his job? I guess Sherlock Holmes set the standard that every police detective must be extraordinarily amazing. Our hero in So Dark the Night is Inspector Cassin (Steven Geray), the greatest crime fighter Paris has ever seen. He’s been so good for so long he’s about to fall down dead due to exhaustion. His boss sends him on a much-needed holiday in the country. Naturally, as soon as he gets there, people start mysteriously dying and he must use his detective skills to save the day.

But first, he falls in love with the innkeeper’s daughter. Actually before that, we have to spend twenty minutes in Paris where we are repeatedly told how great he is and how much he needs a holiday. This is a film that takes its time getting anywhere. Even when the murders begin, it isn’t all that interesting. But the sets are expressively moody, the cinematography is gorgeous, and the conclusion is surprisingly odd. All of which makes it worth your time.

The Bloodstained Shadow

I am utterly obsessed with the giallo genre. Much like with the film noir genre I’m discovering there is so much more to giallo than the handful of “classics” everybody knows. There are positively tons of them once you start really looking. Not all of them are great of course, not all of them are anywhere close to good if we’re being honest. But I find them all interesting in their own way.

The Bloodstained Shadow takes place on an island somewhere near Venice, Italy. Honestly, had the film not made a point of letting us know every so often we’re on that island and not Venice, it would be easy to think that’s where we were. There are loads of narrow walkways, paths that dump right out into the sea, and canals galore. This gives the film its greatest aspect – the setting. It is beautifully shot and staged making every scene feel claustrophobic, moody, and often terrifying.

The plot, unfortunately, doesn’t live up to its setting. Stephano (Lino Capolicchio), a young college student returns to his island home to visit his brother Paolo (Craig Hill), a priest with a paranoid sense that borders on hysteria. While there, an assorted lot of misfits and weirdos including a pedophile, a medium, and an abortionist all start getting murdered. Naturally, our hero tries to solve the mystery. It plods along with enough enthusiasm to keep you watching but just barely. Were it not for the film looking as good as it does, I think I would have turned it off. But it does look great and that was enough.

The Italian setting is great. The cinematography is lovely. The plot is rather dumb. The kills are really boring for a Giallo. So a mixed bag for sure, but worth watching if you are a fan of the genre.

The Floor is Lava

I suppose every kid plays some version of this game where you pretend that the floor is lava, or an ocean or laser beams, or some other deadly substance that will destroy your body if you touch it. The object is always to get from one side of the room to the other without touching the floor. You can use couches, tables, chairs, cushions, or any other object to cross as long as no part of your body touches the floor. It seems an almost universal game that all kids seem to discover on their own without needing to buy an instruction manual.

This Netflix shows take that kids game applies it to adults and kicks it up several notches. Teams of three people must cross various rooms using whatever furniture is available to them without falling into real-life lava (or a rough facsimile there-of which is really some orangy-red goo). The furniture is nailed down so there’s no scooting anything across the way. They often spin or slant and they have usually spread pretty far apart. All of which is designed to make the game quite difficult. They do provide a few hidden levers that, when pressed or turned, release something that is sort-of helpful.

It’s a goofy take on the children’s game and my own child loves it. Even if she does tend to fast forward through the “getting to know the contestants” bits. Personally, I think it runs a little long, and they should probably tweak the rules a little bit (the point system sucks and it would be nice to have the winners return in some way to challenge other winners) but mostly it is mindless fun. Something to watch on a lunch break or when you don’t have the brain cells to watch something more challenging than people leaping from table to chair.

Happy Fourth of July

It is Independence Day here in the United States, or as I like to call it the night in which loud noises keep me awake half the night. We usually go to a friend’s house and celebrate. She lives close to the lake while the city I live in puts on a big fireworks show. But due to Covid-19, the city has canceled their celebrations and so we’ll head over to my parent’s house in the country and shoot off our small collection of explosives.

Yes, I’m cynical about this holiday and not all that happy about what is happening to my country at the moment, but really and truly I’m proud to be an American. I’ve traveled enough to know that the United States isn’t the greatest country the world has ever seen, but also enough to see that despite its flaws it is a great place to live. So happy Fourth of July to all my fellow Americans.

Mat Brewster

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