Down the Noir Highway

What could make a reputable insurance instigator go bad? A beautiful woman? Lots of loot? A sense of empowerment? For Joe Peters (Charles McGraw), it’s all of these things but it’s definitely a femme fatale named Diane (Joan Dixon) who first ignites the copper’s lust and then his greed. Roadblock (1951) is a cleverly plotted, terse little film noir that has more twists and hairpin turns than a winding mountain road. What makes it stand out from other low-budget noirs produced at RKO is Charles McGraw’s compelling performance as an easily seduced sucker unlike his usual tough guy roles and Joan Dixon’s sultry presence.  Continue reading

Love Hurts

Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson have a traumatic love affair in Autumn Leaves (1956).

Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson have a traumatic love affair in Autumn Leaves (1956).

In 1956 directed Robert Aldrich surprised everyone by trying his hand at a “woman’s picture,” a melodramatic soap opera that on the surface appeared to be a complete departure from his previous work which included two westerns (Apache, Vera Cruz), a film noir (Kiss Me Deadly) and a drama (The Big Knife), whose emotional volatility equals the physical violence in the three preceding films.  Continue reading

Desert Rats

Nigel Davenport (left ) & Michael Caine in PLAY DIRTY (1969)

Nigel Davenport (left ) & Michael Caine in PLAY DIRTY (1969)

Underrated by critics and ignored by audiences upon its initial release in 1969, Play Dirty, directed by Andre de Toth, has slowly but surely acquired an appreciative fan base over the years thanks to high profile advocates of the film like Martin Scorsese who included it on a long list of guilty pleasures for the May-June 1998 issue of Film Comment. Unfortunately, this World War II drama starring Michael Caine had the misfortune to follow in the wake of Robert Aldrich’s box-office hit, The Dirty Dozen (1967), to which it was often unfairly compared. But, outside of a similar assemble-the-team concept which sends a group of criminals on a suicide mission, the film has very little in common with Aldrich’s blockbuster and there is absolutely no reason to feel any guilt over liking it either.  Continue reading