Irving who? The name may not be familiar to you but if you are a film noir fan, you might know the titles Murder by Contract (1958) and City of Fear (1959), two low-budget crime dramas, both of which star Vince Edwards. These were the third and fourth films in the filmography of Irving Lerner and the more famous of the two is Murder by Contract, which has often been championed by Martin Scorsese over the years. In recent years it has enjoyed wider exposure due to its release on DVD as well as retrospective screenings at events like the Noir City Film Festival, hosted by film noir expert Eddie Muller. Murder by Contract is a tautly directed minor masterpiece with an exceptionally chilling performance by Edwards. He plays Claude, a coldly efficient hit man who likes to make a nice clean kill with no mess, no slip-ups, and no surprises due to poor planning – “I wasn’t born this way. I trained myself! I eliminated all personal feeling.”Continue reading
Do hit men have a code of ethics? It might seem like a bit of an oxymoron to have hit men and ethics in the same sentence but in most movies about organized crime like The Godfather, The Public Enemy or Scarface, there does seem to be some sort of moral code observed among the rank and file of thugdom, regardless of how hypocritical it may seem. Rarely though do we see crime thrillers where hit men have philosophical discussions about their work and Hail, Mafia (1965) is not only fascinating for this reason but it’s also a criminally overlooked little B-movie. Taut, suspenseful, oddly funny at times and a road movie of sorts, the European produced movie stars Henry Silva and Jack Klugman as ill-matched assassins on a journey to silence their target, an expatriate American (Eddie Constantine) living in France.
The yakuza thriller has been a prominent genre in Japanese cinema since the silent era when soon to be celebrated directors like Yasujiro Ozu dabbled in gangster melodramas like Walk Cheerfully (1930) and Dragnet Girl (1933). Once conceived as B-movies with low-budgets and rushed production schedules, the yakuza film graduated to A-picture productions in the 1970s but the genre really hit its stride in the 1960s with such stellar examples as Masahiro Shinoda’s Pale Flower (1964), Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter (1966) and his more wildly stylized follow-up, Branded to Kill (1967). Still, there are so many superb yakuza films from this period waiting to be discovered by American audiences and one of my favorites is A Certain Killer (1967, Japanese title: Aru Koroshi Ya) from director Kazuo Mori.Continue reading
What other living actor has the sort of cult following that Ron Perlman does? Ever since his film debut in Jean-Jacques Annaud’s prehistoric epic Quest for Fire (1981), Perlman’s unique screen presence has been a key component in more than 200 films and TV shows. Sure, some of them are dreck or forgettable but then there are The Name of the Rose (1986), where he played the hunchback Salvatore, the critically acclaimed TV series Beauty and the Beast (1987-1990), Marc Caro & Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children (1995) and several films by Guillermo Del Toro including the lead in Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008). In a change of pace from these often grotesque and larger-than-life anti-heroes, Perlman tries something different in Asher, which opens in theaters around the country on December 7th. Continue reading