Think of the teeming hub of humanity that is New York City and then imagine a person with a highly contagious and deadly disease wandering among the masses, spreading death and panic. Based on an actual case in 1946 – a smallpox scare in which millions of New Yorkers received free vaccinations – The Killer That Stalked New York (1950) is a fictionalized dramatization of that incident. It stars Evelyn Keyes as Sheila Bennet, a modern day “Typhoid Mary” who contracts smallpox in Cuba while serving as a courier for Matt (Charles Korvin), her no-good musician boyfriend, in a stolen diamond smuggling scheme.
Voluptuous vixens, murderous golddiggers and greedy femme fatales were a familiar sight in B-movie melodramas of the fifties but Wicked Woman (1953) stands out from the rest of the pack. The look and feel of the movie captures the lurid quality of trashy pulp fiction covers from the same period like Tavern Girl, Passion Has Red Lips or Any Sex Will Do. Even the minimalistic, sparsely decorated sets, that represent a confined universe of dingy boarding house rooms and the neighborhood bar, exude a sleazy authenticity and sense of claustrophobia. And scheming her way through these lower depths is Beverly Michaels in the title role of Billie Nash. Blonde, statuesque and sullen, she is the quintessential hard luck tramp, moving from town to town in a futile search for a change in luck. Continue reading
A contemporary film noir set in an economically depressed backwoods town, A Single Shot comes with impressive credentials – cinematography by Eduard Grau (A Single Man, Buried), production design by David Brisbin (Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho) and a superior ensemble cast of Sam Rockwell, William H. Macy, Jeffrey Wright, Ted Levine, Kelly Reilly and Jason Isaacs. Nothing in the brief filmography of director David M. Rosenthal, however, suggested that he would follow such audience-friendly entertainments as See This Movie, Falling Up and Janie Jones with something so relentlessly dark. Based on the novel by Matthew F. Jones (who also adapted the screenplay), the film plunges you into a horrific situation from the start and then follows the terrible repercussions that fan out from there. Continue reading
Released in 1951 by Warner Bros. and often considered a film noir by some film buffs and critics, the little known TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY is a hard-to-peg but exceptional B-movie that proves to be something of a shape shifter in the genre department. The title is bland but also deceptive in the sense that it calls to mind a completely different and inappropriate reference – Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. The movie is also not true noir because, by general consensus and tradition, a noir can’t have a happy ending yet the two main characters – a bitter ex-con and a gold digging taxi dancer – are archetypes from a noir universe who try to flee their circumstances and still find redemption in the end. Along the way, the film (which airs on TCM on Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 11 pm ET) effortlessly morphs from one cinematic convention to another, starting with a social reform drama (shades of Heroes for Sale or I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang) in the gritty Warner Bros. tradition before detouring into noir. Then the tone quickly changes as the movie moves from the city to the rural backroads, becoming first a road trip/pursuit thriller of the paranoid kind, then a romance of thwarted lovers and finally an ethnographic slice of Americana that introduces a migrant worker subculture and the socio-economic hardships that come with it a la The Grapes of Wrath. Continue reading
RIFIFI, Jules Dassin’s quintessential 1955 noir/heist thriller, had quite an impact on the European crime movie genre in its day though most of its imitators or similarly inspired creations rarely found distribution in the U.S. except as English-dubbed second features in limited runs in a few major cities like New York. And I have yet to read of any major film critics or movie buffs like Quentin Tarantino championing any of the Rififi knockoffs. But for anyone with a soft spot for heist films, you might enjoy sampling some of these lesser efforts, particularly RIFIFI IN TOKYO (1963). Continue reading