Sunday, July 30, 2017

Stubs - Dunkirk

Dunkirk (2017) Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D'Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Screenplay by Christopher Nolan. Produced by Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan. Run Time: 106 min. The United Kingdom, the United States, France, and the Netherlands. War, Drama

Like most years, 2017 shows that Hollywood loves sequels and remakes and the box office rewards them with such. Of the top ten films, most are either remakes: Beauty and the Beast (2017) and Spider-Man: Homecoming or sequels: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Logan, The Fate of the Furious and Despicable Me 3. Even Wonder Woman and The LEGO Batman Movie are sequels of sorts.

One thing you rarely see these days are big budget war films. That was one of the reasons I was intrigued about seeing Dunkirk, this year's highly anticipated Christopher Nolan film, based on the Battle of Dunkirk, which is the evacuation of the Allied Forces from France at the beginning of World War II and before the U.S. became involved in the conflict. From May 26 to June 4, 1940, nearly 400,000 troops of the armies of the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Poland, Belgium and the Netherlands were trapped by 800,000 Nazi troops at the beaches of Dunkerque, France waiting for rescue.

There is a real sense of hopelessness as the Nazis own the sky and rain down terror on the beach as well as the British Navy ships that try to get the troops home. But there is only one pier, the Mole, that can handle transport ships and the Navy is not willing to commit all of their vessels, wanting to save them back for the bigger fight coming. So, when the British Navy either couldn't or wouldn't come to their rescue, the call was put out for civilian boats which formed an Armada to get their soldiers off the beach.

That is not to say the soldiers are completely abandoned. A few British Air Force planes are sent to secure the skies, though their effort seems somewhat futile as they are far from their base and outnumbered in the skies.

And this is where Nolan plucks us down at the beginning of the film. The battle as such is already raging by the time we join a group of British soldiers as they walk through the streets of the French village looking for signs of life and anything to drink, smoke or eat. As they are pillaging, the group comes under fire and only one of them manages to survive. Viewing this sequence summarizes the film quite succinctly. While the film squarely places you in the action and you feel for the soldier's predicament, you don't really have any connection to them as individuals and thus no real empathy for them.

An extreme example, but so many of the actors look alike in Dunkirk.

There are several reasons this connection never truly gets made. To begin with, many of the characters look like each other, a partial byproduct of military life where everyone has roughly the same appearance and wardrobe. When everyone looks alike, they become one in a sea of people rather than an individual. It's harder to empathize with a faceless group.

Kenneth Branagh is one of the few recognizable actors in the film.

There are only a few recognizable actors, Kenneth Branagh as Commander Bolton, a fictious character based on James Campbell Clouston, the actual pier master who died in transit leaving Dunkirk. Mark Rylance plays Mr. Dawson, one of the civilian rescuers. Tom Hardy plays Farrier, one of the spitfire pilots, but you don't see his face until the very end. Finally, Harry Styles, ex from the group One Direction, plays one of the British soldiers, named Alex. If there is a lead, and that's sort of a question mark for me, it would be Fionn Whitehead, as Tommy, another British soldier. He's the sole survivor of the Dunkirk group from the beginning of the film. We keep coming back to him, but no more than we come back to Mr. Dawson or to Farrier.

Barely recognizable Harry Styles plays Alex on the left.

The acting is good, but not great. Everyone, including Branagh, appears to be playing a different sort of stereotype. He's the tough but fair commander; Tommy is the sort of everyman soldier who just wants to get home, etc. They are more like set pieces than actors, being moved about to tell the story, like furniture being moved about on a stage set.

Fionn Whitehead (Tommy) in his first film, plays the lead if there is one, in Dunkirk.

Just as there is no exposition, there is barely any dialogue in the film. As a result, for most of the characters, we know as much about them at the end as we know at the beginning. Of course, there are some exceptions, but they are few and far between. The characters that we do see engage in dialogue are not so much the soldiers but three of the rescuers. Theirs is the only backstory we get and even then it's not detailed, even the relationships between the three are not clearly defined.

What also doesn't help is that when there is dialogue the sound is muddied as if the recordings were done in another room, or that's at least how they sound. As a long time viewer of British television shows, I don't have a problem with accents, but I still have to be able to hear what's being said.

While I applaud Nolan for taking on a real-life adventure story, he doesn't quite get everything right.. And I'm not just talking about bending reality for the sake of drama. We are led to believe that only a fraction of the 400,000 soldiers made it out. The film floats 35 to 45,000, when in fact it was over 338,000 who did make it out. 60,000 lost souls would still be a great tragedy.

All of this is not to take away from the spectacle that Nolan presents. There is an enormity to the battle scene, the immense beach, the lines of soldiers waiting for relief, the sea that keeps them from their home and the sky, which, like the water, presents more of a barrier to salvation. Everything is big and menacing, bringing death from out of nowhere, sometimes from sights unseen. While we are definitely drawn into the action, the viewers own senses are led to anxiety by Hans Zimmer's sustained orchestrations that never let us off the hook with its constant beat.

But Nolan takes us out of the action by his non-linear storytelling style. Instead of a cohesive timeline, the story is broken into three main stories told simultaneously, but with one lasting a week, one lasting a day and one an hour, meaning that you go from one story taking place during daylight to another taking place at night to third being told during the day, then you go back to the continuation of the first story back in the day followed by a continuation of the second at night and so on and so on. This technique definitely takes you out of the story and reminds you that you are watching a movie and that you're being manipulated. It's a little like seeing the man behind the curtain, the magic gets lost.

The film looks great (I saw the 70mm presentation) and it tells a big story in a big way. The only thing missing are the people. I was the one in my family who most wanted to see this film, but I came away feeling a little disappointed. Sorry to say, I can't recommend it. There may be a sea of soldiers, but little humanity to be found on the beaches of Dunkirk.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Stubs: Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) Starring: Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton, Michael Caine Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Screenplay by Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn. Based on the comic book The Secret Service by Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons. Produced by Matthew Vaughn, David Reid, Adam Bohling. Run Time: 129 minutes. United Kingdom/USA. Color. Espionage, Action, Comedy

There is never enough time to see everything when it is first released, so sometimes you have to play catch up. The pending release of Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) provided the incentive to finally take a look at the original film.

In espionage films, the James Bond series may be considered the gold standard. Not only has it been ongoing for more than 55 years and 26 films, but it embodies what audiences want in their spy films: girls, villains, special effects and girls (and yes, I meant to include it twice). The problem for Bond is that it seems to be caught up in 1950s ethics. The films have become tame if not dated when compared to other films that are trying hard to knock it off its pedestal. As an example, they never are rated higher than PG-13.

Kingsman: The Secret Service shows what would happen if you make an R-rated Bond film. This is a film that doesn’t shy away from mayhem, multiple murders and even a little nudity at the end thrown in to cover, or uncover all the bases.

The film opens with a raid in the Middle East in 1997.

The film opens with a 1997 raid in the Middle East. During the intensive interrogation, the prisoner sets off an explosive device and secret agent Lee Unwin (Jonno Davies) sacrifices himself to save his team. Blaming himself, Harry Hart (Colin Firth), code-named "Galahad", delivers a medal for valor to Lee's widow, Michelle (Samantha Womack), and his young son, Gary "Eggsy", saying that if they ever need help, they should call the phone number (which is the date of Lee's death) on the back of the medal. He gives them a code phrase to say "Oxfords, not Brogues" so he will know it's them.

Harry Hart (Colin Firth) offers an agent's widow (Samantha
Womack) a medal for her husband's bravery.

Jump ahead seventeen years. Professor James Arnold (Mark Hamill) is kidnapped by Internet billionaire and philanthropist Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) and taken to a remote mountain villa. One of Hart's fellow agents, "Lancelot" (Jack Davenport), attempts a rescue single-handed and is 98 percent successful, killing everyone in the room. But when his back is turned, he is killed by Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), Valentine's henchwoman. She wears a pair of prosthetic legs that are specially sharpened to double up as blades. She literally cuts “Lancelot” in half from head to toe.  She makes sure to cover all the bodies before Valentine’s arrival, as the sight of blood makes him nauseous.

Professor James Arnold (Mark Hamill) is kidnapped by Richmond Valentine.
Valentine shares Arnold’s concerns about global warming, but we’re still vague about his intentions at this point. The billionaire continues to meet secretly with various power-brokers and celebrities, some of whom go missing afterward. He also makes a Steve Jobs-like announcement giving away SIM cards which will work in any phone and will grant free cellular and internet access to everyone forever.

Meanwhile, in London, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is now an unemployed young man living at home with his mother, infant half-sister, and abusive stepfather, Dean (Geoff Bell). Despite being highly intelligent and capable, he left training for the Royal Marines and lives an aimless life, accompanied by a couple of friends. When one of Dean’s goons (Velibor Topic) forces them to leave their pub, Eggsy nicks his keys on the way out and he steals his car. The police arrive immediately and Eggsy is forced to drive backwards through the streets of London. When finally cornered, he kicks his two friends out of the car and then runs it head on into the police car that had been following him.

At police headquarters, The Interrogator (Richard Brake) can’t get Eggsy to give up the names of his accomplices. Instead, Eggsy insists on making his call and dials the number on the back of the medal he still wears around his neck. He nearly fumbles the call until he remembers the phrase "Oxfords, not Brogues," which gets him immediate attention and he is sprung from jail.

Eggsy (Taron Egerton) calls Hart to get him out of police custody.

Waiting for him is Hart, who tells Eggsy that his father was an agent of Kingsman, an "independent international intelligence agency" founded in 1919 by wealthy British individuals who had lost their heirs.

While they're having a drink, Eggsy's step-father's henchmen encourage the two to leave the pub.

While they are talking at Eggsy’s pub, Dean’s henchmen come in and try to chase Eggsy off. But Hart has other ideas, locking them inside while he dispatches them.

Hart locks the door of the pub as he prepares to teach the men a lesson in manners.

Lancelot’s death means the agency has a vacancy and Eggsy is Hart’s handpicked candidate. There are others, including a woman named Roxy (Sophie Cookson), with whom Eggsy becomes friends, but not lovers.

Merlin (Mark Strong) addresses the candidates for the open Kingsman position.

Training is a sort of combination boot camp elimination process run by one of the senior Kingsman, “Merlin” (Mark Strong). Through the rigorous selection process, the other candidates are eliminated one by one, leaving only Eggsy and Roxy as the final candidates.

The boot camp presents the candidates with various dangerous
circumstances they have to overcome to survive.

While the selection process is going on, Merlin notes that Arnold is no longer missing and Hart tries to extract information from him. But a chip implanted in Arnold's head explodes, killing him. Hart is injured escaping from unknown assailants.

Turns out the signal that triggered the blast can be traced to Valentine's corporation. Hart, posing as a billionaire, dines with Valentine to try to ascertain his plans.

Hart pretends to be a billionaire and sups with Valentine (Samuel L.
Jackson) over Big Macs and fries. Valentine's assassin, Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), observes.

Later, when Hart takes Eggsy to the tailor shop that is the front for the Kingsman’s operations to have him fitted, the dressing room is occupied, so Hart gives his charge a tour of the weapons the organization uses, a la Q used to do for James Bond.

Afterward, it is revealed that the man in the dressing room is Valentine. Hart, keeping up appearances, passes Eggsy off as his new valet.

The final test involves them shooting a dog that they have been caring for during their training process. Eggsy can’t bring himself to kill his and fails the test. Roxy doesn’t have his compunction and passes hers to become the new Lancelot.

Arthur (Michael Caine) presents Eggsy with the weapon for his final test.

When he’s dismissed, Eggsy steals a car and goes to confront Dean. But before things come to blows, Hart recalls the car and brings Eggsy to him. There, Hart informs Eggsy that the guns were filled with blanks, which neither candidate knew beforehand.

At a church in Kentucky, Hart gets caught up in Valentine's test run of his tone.

Later Hart tracks Valentine to an obscure hate group's church in Kentucky, where Hart realizes too late that it is a trap. Valentine using his SIM cards to broadcast a tone that causes everyone in the church to become uncontrollably violent. A brawl to the death erupts, during which Hart massacres most of the people in the church, leaving him as the sole survivor. Eggsy, Merlin and Chester King (Michael Caine), "Arthur," the Kingsman's leader, watch separately via video links.

Eggsy watches through a video link.

After emerging from the church, Hart is confronted by Valentine, who shoots him in the head, seemingly killing him, to everyone’s horror.

Valentine and Gazelle are waiting for Hart when he emerges from the church.

When Eggsy goes to see Arthur, he notices that he has the same scar behind his ear, just like Valentine's other converts. Arthur pours Eggsy a glass of brandy containing a poison which is activatable, but Eggsy had distracted Arthur and switched the glasses before they drink. Arthur explains Valentine's views to Eggsy that humanity is akin to a virus, and global warming is the Earth's equivalent of a fever.

Arthur gives Eggsy a brandy that is supposedly laced with poison.

Valentine intends to broadcast his "neurological wave" worldwide to cause a massive culling of the human race in an effort to rescue it from extinction. Only those whom Valentine deems worthy of living — his allies, who have protective microchips implanted in their heads, and the VIPs who didn’t go along, but whom he kidnapped — will be spared. We’ve already been introduced to such a pair, Morten Lindström, the Swedish Prime Minister (Bjørn Floberg) is a willing ally, while Crown Princess Tilde of Sweden (Hanna Alström) rejects his overtures. Lindström gets a chip, while Tilde, whom Valentine otherwise likes, is put into protective custody.

Shortly after explaining Valentine’s plans, Arthur activates the poison when Eggsy refuses to join his side, unwittingly killing himself.

Unsure whom he can trust, Merlin enlists Eggsy and Roxy to stop Valentine on their own. Roxy is given the job of riding a high-altitude balloon into the stratosphere to destroy one of Valentine's satellites, while Eggsy and Merlin go to infiltrate Valentine’s mountain bunker complex in Argentina.

Roxy, who must overcome her own phobias (we’ve already seen her have trouble with high altitude sky-diving) and equipment malfunction, manages to down the satellite, but Valentine gets a business contact to loan him one of his, so the broadcast gets back on schedule. He then activates the signal which requires his constant palm print, causing worldwide violence. One of those affected is Eggsy’s mother, who, after locking her baby in a room and throwing away the key, tries anything she can to get in the room.

Merlin helps Eggsy infiltrate Valentine's fortress.

Eggsy, who has gained admittance, is recognized by one of the Kingsman candidates whose family has thrown in with Valentine. Exposed, Eggsy engages in a running shootout with Valentine's henchmen. During a break in the fight, he finds Tilde, who promises him sex if he frees her.

Merlin sets off the little explosive devices in everyone's heads.

Even though he seems to be winning, Eggsy is eventually outnumbered and both he and Merlin find themselves surrounded separately. Eggsy suggests that Merlin hack into Valentine's system and he sets off the implants, which kills Valentine's henchmen and every convert when their heads explode. All that is left are Valentine and Gazelle, neither of whom have the implants.

Gazelle and Valentine are the only ones without implants.

But in order to get to Valentine, Eggsy must first kill Gazelle, which he manages to do after a fierce and intense fight with her. He then spears Valentine with the sharpened tip of one of Gazelle's prosthetic legs. As Valentine falls to the floor and dies, the signal is cut off, ending the worldwide carnage, including Eggsy’s mother, who now comforts her daughter.

Princess Tilde of Sweden (Hanna Alström) promises Eggsy sex
if he frees her and when he saves the world he comes to collect his prize.

While Merlin watches through a camera on Eggsy’s person, Eggsy goes to collect his prize from a more than willing Tilde. When things get down and dirty, Merlin turns away.

The main story may have ended, but there is still a thread to finish off. In a mid-credits scene, Eggsy, now a Kingsman, offers to take his mother and half-sister to a new home. But Dean doesn’t like his suggestion and his henchmen prepare to take Eggsy on, he then dispatches him in exactly the same manner that Hart dealt with one of Dean's henchmen earlier.

Director Matthew Vaughn does a really good job of keeping what could have easily turned to chaos moving forward in a cohesive way. He manages to give us violence and comedy in the right mix and while there are special effects in the film, he does keep the focus squarely on the characters and the story. The fact that he would cast a virtual unknown in the lead shows a certain bravery missing from many films and he was fortunate that the risk paid off.

Kingsman: The Secret Service had its premiere at something called Butt-Numb-A-Thon, an annual film marathon held in Austin, Texas on December 13, 2014. The film had its theatrical release in the UK on January 29, 2015, and finally in the US on February 13, 2015.  Made on a budget of about $81 million, the film would go on to make $414.4 million worldwide. Likewise, the film got mixed to positive reviews, though it did well enough to garner a sequel, Kingman: The Golden Circle, due out later this summer.

A lot of this has to do with the casting of Taron Egerton, a relative unknown as the lead, Gary "Eggsy" Unwin. While Egerton was more accomplished going in, casting him was similar to the casting of Harry Potter lead kids. There is a certain amount of luck in getting the right person so early in their career that you can hang a series of films on them. Egerton is a genuine talent managing to play both a street thug as well as a sophisticated international agent.

He also manages to hold his own alongside the very talented Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong and Michael Caine. Firth has been acting since 1983 when he was cast as Guy Bennett in the West End production of Another Country. Perhaps his best-known film is The King’s Speech (2011), for which he won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Prince Albert, Duke of York, later King George VI. Harry Hart a.k.a. "Galahad" is almost the antithesis of that role. While still polished, Hart can do battle with the best of him as the centerpiece in one of the film’s best-choreographed fight scenes. The only one who can stop Harry is Richmond Valentine played by Samuel L. Jackson.

Jackson began his film career with 1972’s Together for Days, though he didn’t get on everyone’s radar until films like Pulp Fiction (1994) when he played the bible-quoting assassin Jules Winnfield. Since then he seems to have been everywhere, appearing in such films as Zeus Carver in Die Hard With A Vengeance (1995); Ordell Robbie in Jackie Brown (1997); Lt. Danny Roman in The Negotiator (1998); Mace Windu in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999), Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002); before playing Nick Fury in the MCU in such films as Iron Man (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), The Avengers (2012), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) and Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), not to mention pitchman for Capital One credit cards. Jackson’s Valentine is the personification of Silicon Valley liberalism run amok. Somehow the lisp that Jackson uses when delivering his lines makes him even more sinister.

If Jackson seems to be in every movie, Michael Caine has been. Caine has been working in films since Panic in the Parlour (1956), though he didn’t really become an international star until films like Zulu (1964), The Ipcress File (1965) and Alfie (1966). He seems to be equally comfortable playing leads like Harry Palmer, a role he would play in a series of films, and Alfie Elkins, to playing in ensembles like Elliot in Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) to playing supporting characters like Alfred Pennyworth in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. He has been nominated for six Academy Awards, winning for Best Supporting Actor in Hannah and Dr. Wilbur Larch in Lasse Hallström’s The Cider House Rules (1999).

Michael Caine plays the head of the Kingsman, Arthur.

Here, his turn as Chester King / Arthur is more reliant on his reputation than his actual acting as he does little more than sitting at a table through most of the film. Still, a sedentary Caine is better than most anyone else.

Algerian-born Sofia Boutella makes for one of the more unique henchmen in recent films. A hip hop and street dancer at the beginning of her career, she puts her talent to good use as Gazelle, who wears knife-sharp prosthetics and has the moves to make them deadly. Boutella is good as a villain, a type she would play again in the harshly criticized The Mummy (2017).

Mark Hamill’s brief appearance in the film is one of the few remnants from the original comic book, The Secret Service by Mark Milla and Dave Gibbons, it is based on. In that book, the kidnapping of actor Mark Hamill is the catalyst for the story, so it only seemed natural to have him appear in the film version, even in another role.

While I have not yet read the graphic novel on which the movie is based, it seems that like RED, it is the concept that seemed appealing to the filmmaker and less to do with the actual story in the book.

I can honestly say that I am looking forward to the sequel. The original film is adult, witty and has enough action to keep most summertime moviegoers happy. This is what a Bond film should feel like, though all too often that franchise gets bogged down by trying to fulfill expectations while protecting its brand. Such is not the case here, as the film manages to both parody the spy genre while presenting a high mark for future such films to try to attain.

I will also admit I had some apprehension about Kingsman: The Secret Service. “Just what the world needs, another would-be Bond,” but having seen it, I feel very enthusiastic in recommending it. While I know almost nothing about the sequel, except what you see in the trailers, I would recommend watching Kingsman: The Secret Service before going to see it. Trust me, you'll enjoy it.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Stubs - He Ran All the Way

He Ran All The Way (1951) Starring: John Garfield, Shelley Winters, Wallace Ford, Selena Royle, Gladys George, Norman Lloyd. Directed by John Berry. Screenplay by Hugo Butler, Dalton Trumbo. Based on the novel He Ran All the Way by Sam Ross (New York, 1947). Produced by Bob Roberts. Run Time: 78 minutes. USA Black and White. Drama, Film Noir

The early 1950s were a turbulent time in Hollywood. Blacklisting for your political affiliations real or presumed had been going on since November 25, 1947 when ten writers and directors were cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to testify to the House Un-American Activities Committee. The Hollywood Ten, which included Alvah Bessie, screenwriter; Herbert Biberman, screenwriter and director; Lester Cole, screenwriter; Edward Dmytryk, director; Ring Lardner Jr., screenwriter; John Howard Lawson, screenwriter; Albert Maltz, screenwriter; Samuel Ornitz, screenwriter;  Adrian Scott, producer and screenwriter; and Dalton Trumbo, screenwriter, were summarily fired by their studios on advice from the Association of Motion Picture Producers, now called the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers or AMPTP.

Now being blacklisted and not working in Hollywood were two different things. Take Dalton Trumbo as an example. Using pseudonyms and other writers as fronts, Trumbo would work on such films as Gun Crazy, 1950 (co-writer, front: Millard Kaufman); He Ran All the Way, 1951 (co-writer, front: Guy Endore); The Prowler, 1951 (uncredited with Hugo Butler); Roman Holiday, 1953 (front: Ian McLellan Hunter); They Were So Young 1954, (under pseudonym Felix Lutzkendorf); The Boss, 1956 (front: Ben L. Perry); The Brave One, 1956 (under pseudonym Robert Rich); The Green-Eyed Blonde, 1957 (front: Sally Stubblefield); From the Earth to the Moon, 1958 (co-writer, front: James Leicester); and Cowboy, 1958 (front: Edmund H. North), before receiving screen credit again under his own name with Spartacus (1960) thanks to the star and producer of the film, Kirk Douglas.

But Trumbo was not the only involved with this film that was being blacklisted. The film’s star John Garfield was also being caught up in the Red Scare. When called before HUAAC, he not only refused to name names, but went so far as to say that he didn’t know of any communist party members in Hollywood. As a result of his testimony, Garfield was blacklisted in the early 1950s and He Ran All the Way would turn out to be his last film. He did return to Broadway in Golden Boy (1952), but also died that year from Coronary thrombosis at the age of 39.

Sam Ross’ novel He Ran All the Way was originally bought by Liberty Films in 1947 as a vehicle for director George Stevens. In 1950, Bob Roberts of Roberts Productions, Inc. bought the property from Liberty. The Production Code Office, or as it was known by then as the Breen Office, objected to much of the violence in the original script and alterations were made accordingly. Rather than having a policeman killed in the opening, he is rather mortally wounded.

Prior to the making of He Ran All the Way, Shelley Winters was under contract to Universal to make a low budget turn-of-the-century drama about the legendary World's Fair belly dancer named Little Egypt (1951). But Winters was so anxious to start work on Berry's film that she concocted a plan to get herself fired, gaining enough weight to make herself look particularly unappealing. The ruse worked and after she was fired, Winters went on a crash diet, losing fifteen pounds in a week right before He Ran All the Way went into production.

And as if Garfield didn’t have enough to contend with, a few months before the film went into production he suffered a severe heart attack at the Beverly Hills Tennis Club. But despite the risks to his own health, Garfield insisted on doing his own stunts during the filming, including underwater swimming.

The film went into production on November 6, 1950 at the Motion Picture Center Studios, now known as Red Studios Hollywood. Location shooting took place at the Long Beach Plunge public swimming pool and Nu-Pike, formerly known as The Pike, a mile-long waterfront amusement park also located in Long Beach. (The Plunge would close in 1941 and the Nu-Pike in 1979.) Production would conclude in mid-December with the film going into release on July 13, 1951.

When the story opens, Nick Robey (John Garfield) lives at home with his mother (Gladys George).

Even though he has premonitions that he will forever be on the run for murder, Nick Robey (John Garfield) allows himself to get talked into committing a robbery by his disreputable friend, Al Molin (Norman Lloyd). The two men hold up a man for the local train yard warehouse’s payroll, but when they make their getaway, Al is killed by a policeman and Nick is forced to shoot a policeman so he can make his own escape.

Norman Lloyd (l) plays Al Molin, Nick's partner in crime.

Once out on his own, Nick tries to hide out in a public swimming pool to avoid detection by the police. There he makes the acquaintance of Peg Dobbs (Shelley Winters), a nervous beginning swimmer. Nervous that he’ll be conspicuous on his own, Nick tries to help her. When the lesson is over, Nick offers to take Peg home. 
Flattered by his attention, Peg agrees and she lets him take her back to her family’s tenement apartment.

While running from the police, Nick takes refuge at a public swimmnig pool and befriends
Peg Dobbs (Shelley Winters), whom he helps learn to swim.

There, she introduces Nick to her father (Wallace Ford), mother (Selena Royle) and younger brother Tommy (Bobby Hyatt), who are on their way to see a movie. Left alone in the apartment, Nick is uneasy and even though Peg urges him to relax, he can’t. Nick finally breaks down and tells her that he is in big trouble.
When her parents return home, Nick is suspicious that they are talking to the police about him. Even though Peg tries to tell him that they’re talking down on the street with neighbors, there is no really talking to Nick. Convinced that they’re on to his real identity, he pulls a gun on Peg and admits to her that he’s a killer to her and her family.

Mr. Dobbs, a newspaper press operator, says that the paper only identified Molin in the article. But that isn’t enough for Nick. Even though he says he does not want to hurt anyone, Nick decides he must spend the night so he can collect his thoughts and plan his next move. He promises that he’ll be leaving in the morning.
However, when the morning paper arrives, it features a prominent photo of Nick on the front page. Mr. Dobbs tries to hide it from him, but Nick spies it and, thinking that he has caught the family in a conspiracy against him, decides he must stay.

Nick takes out his suspicions on Peg's father (Wallace Ford) while her mother (Selena Royle) watches. 

While he allows the family to continue their daily routine, he insists he keep one family member with him at all times, which usually means Mrs. Dobbs. While on lunch break from her bakery job, Peg returns to the apartment to plead with Nick to leave. She reminds him that he liked her at the pool, but Nick informs her the situation he was in at the time was the only reason he took interest in her.

When Peg returns to the bakery, her father comes to visit her. He demands that she hide out at a girl friend's house for the night and not come home.

One of her co-workers on the assembly line suggests that Peg shed her shyness and that, with some primping, she could get a man to do anything for her.

Peg takes advice from one of her co-workers at the bakery, Marge (Vici Raaf).

While he is at home with Mrs. Dobbs, an argument starts when Nick tells her that Peg thinks fondly of him. Distracted, Mrs. Dobbs has a sewing accident, getting her hand caught, and faints. After freeing her, Nick carries her to the couch.

Nick helps Mrs. Dobbs free herself when she has an accident while sewing.

When Mr. Dobbs returns home, he finds Tommy hiding outside the apartment afraid to go in the apartment because of Nick. They enter the apartment together and Nick gathers the family for a feast he has provided. Mr. Dobbs, however, refuses to allow his family to eat Nick’s food. Nick pulls out his gun and orders them to eat, but Mr. Dobbs calls his bluff, saying a gunshot would attract too much attention. Accepting the challenge, Nick fires his gun. When no one calls the police, Mr. Dobbs backs down. But it’s too late for Nick. With his banquet now spoiled, Nick rebukes the family for not willingly giving him temporary shelter, "something you would give an alley cat."

Mr. and Mrs. Dobbs  and Tommy ((Bobby Hyatt) refuse to eat the feast that Nick has provided.

Even though her father had told her not to, Peg does return home late in the night. She is wearing an evening gown and her womanly figure catches Nick's eye. He comes onto her, kisses her and asks for her support, to which Peg replies "all the way." Later that night, while the others are asleep, Mr. Dobbs inspects the living room and finds Peg's gown draped across the chair. He assumes the worst has happened: sex.

The next morning, while Mrs. Dobbs and Tommy are at church, Nick asks Mr. Dobbs what he wants out of life. Mr. Dobbs turns the question around on him, to which Nick answers "money." He then informs Mr. Dobbs that Peg is out buying a car for him. Tensions between the two men escalate and a fight ensues. Only Peg’s return breaks it up.

When Nick asks about the car, Peg informs him that it will be delivered later that evening after some work is completed on it. Mr. Dobbs manages to leave.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Dobbs and Tommy report to the police that Nick is hiding at their apartment.

Nick, now paranoid, demands to know the kind of car Peg has bought and to see the receipt. She describes a yellow convertible that he wanted her to buy, but when she cannot produce the receipt, Nick pulls a gun on her and drags her, at gunpoint, down the stairs to the lobby, all the way hysterically accusing her of double-crossing him.

Nick doesn't seem to trust that Peg has done as ordered and bought him a car.

Once they reach the lobby, Mr. Dobbs is waiting outside and fires several shots into the foyer. Nick drops his gun near Peg and leaps for cover to the other side of the foyer. Nick orders her to pick up the gun. When she does, Nick lurches forward to take it from her, but she shoots him, fatally wounding him.

Nick manages to stumble outside, just as the convertible is delivered and parked at the curb. Staring into its headlights, Nick dies. Meanwhile, Mr. Dobbs holds his traumatized daughter to his side.

Nick dies in the gutter, only then realizing the car Peg purchased has arrived.

This is not a feel-good film either, so don’t expect to come away with a smile on your face. The world in which the Dobbs live is no picnic to begin with, as they struggle to make ends meet. Add to that an armed cop-killer keeping them hostage and the days only get longer.

The film drew praise for Garfield’s performance. Bosley Crowther, the film critic of the New York Times, wrote "John Garfield's stark performance of the fugitive who desperately contrives to save himself briefly from capture is full of startling glints from start to end. He makes a most odd and troubled creature, unused to the normal flow of life, unable to perceive the moral standards of decent people or the tentative advance of a good girl's love. And in Mr. Garfield's performance, vis-a-vis the rest of the cast, is conveyed a small measure of the irony and the pity that was in the book."

The marriage of actor and role was rarely better than John Garfield and Nick Robey. While Nick was being persecuted for murdering a policeman, Garfield had to feel the same way about his own career as he was feeling the heat for his testimony at the HUAAC hearing. The sense of paranoia Garfield must have been feeling was channeled into his portrayal of Nick. While not necessarily the most enjoyable film he had been in, his acting was never better.

While there are other characters in the movie, they are minor in comparison to Nick and Peg. The story revolves around their relationship. While there is an attraction on both sides, Peg is the key. The script and director John Berry do a good job at making her look ambiguous about it. There are other fine performances in the film, but it does boil down to Garfield and Winters as most of the film is spent with them acting with each other.

Shelley Winters has the unenviable task of playing Peg in this neutral way. As an audience member, we’re never really sure if Peg was really in love with Nick or just playing him to protect her family. The arrival of the car doesn’t necessarily change that either. Even the fact that she shoots him doesn’t really answer that either. Love is a powerful emotion and many a lover shoots their partner when that love goes sour; and nothing says the relationship has gone sour more than when Nick pulls a gun on her.

While Garfield is remembered as one of the greats, Winters doesn’t get the credit she deserves. Too many people only remember her later in her career, when she was overweight in such films as The Poseidon Adventure (1972), even though she would receive a nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her part, that seemed to be as much about her past work as it did her work in that film.

Shelley Winters began her career in the films playing blonde bombshells.

Originally a blonde bombshell type of actress, Winters soon tired of those types of roles. She purposefully sought out the role of Alice Tripp in A Place in the Sun (1951). She had to convince director George Stevens that she could play the very unglamorous role. She also showed she could act, receiving a nomination for the Academy Award as Best Actress in a Leading Role. She would win the award for Best Supporting Actress twice, once for The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) and A Patch of Blue (1965). Her role in this film is more of a continuation in Winters’ exploration of non-glamorous roles. In part similar to the one she played in A Place in the Sun, her character works on an assembly-line at a bakery.

For a film noir, most of the story takes place in the Dobbs’ apartment. The main action in the film does seem to take place at night, which seems to fit in with the genre. The film is more psychological than anything else, which again is not unusual for a film noir. But unlike many other film noirs, there is not a lot of action outside the beginning and ending of the film nor detective work involved. The film makes up for this by two fine performances by the lead actors. Even though you won’t come out of the theater or your living room with a smile on your face, this is still a movie worth watching.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Stubs - One Mysterious Night

One Mysterious Night (1944) Starring: Chester Morris, Janis Carter, William Wright, Richard Lane, George E. Stone, Robert Williams, Robert E. Scott, Dorothy Malone (aka Dorothy Maloney). Directed by Oscar Boetticher Jr. Screenplay by Paul Yawitz Based on the character created by Jack Boyle. Produced by Ted Richmond. Run Time: 62 minutes. USA Drama, Mystery

Boston Blackie is the brainchild of Jack Boyle. A former newspaper reporter, Boyle became an opium addict and was later jailed for writing bad checks before being convicted of robbery. While spending time in San Quentin, Boyle created the character of Blackie, a jewel thief and safecracker. Under the nom de plume “No. 6066” Boyle published his first story, “The Price of Principle," in The American Magazine in July 1914. Blackie’s adventures would continue in short story form, appearing in such publications as American, The Red Book, The Strand Magazine and Cosmopolitan until December 1920.

Hollywood began making films based on the character in 1918 with Boston Blackie's Little Pal starring Bert Lytell. Some of the films made were based on some of Boyle’s short stories, like The Silk Lined Burglar (1919) based on "Miss Doris, Safe-Cracker," and Blackie's Redemption (1919) based on “Boston Blackie's Mary" and "Fred the Count". A few used the character of Boston Blackie, even if he was not the lead role in the film, such as William S. Hart’s The Poppy Girl's Husband (1919); while Boomerang Bill (1922) doesn’t even have Boston Blackie as a character in it. The last of the early Boston Blackie films was The Return of Boston Blackie (1927). By then, nine different actors had played the character, perhaps the most famous amongst them was 
Lionel Barrymore in A Face in the Fog (1922).

Columbia Pictures revived the character with Meet Boston Blackie (1941), starring Chester Morris in the title role. Like most actors in Hollywood, Morris developed his craft on the stage, appearing on Broadway as far back as the 1918 production Copperhead at the Schubert Theater in New York. By then he had appeared in one film, An Amateur Orphan (1917). Throughout the 1920s, he would appear on both the Broadway stage and in films until Alibi (1929). In his first starring role, Morris was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor, losing to Warner Baxter for his role as The Cisco Kid in the film In Old Arizona. Alibi would also receive nominations for Best Picture, losing to The Broadway Melody, and for William Cameron Menzies’ work as Best Interior Design, losing to Cedric Gibbons’ work on The Bridge of San Luis Rey.

Morris was a busy actor in the 1930s, appearing in such film as The Big House (1930) and Red-Headed Woman (1932), but by the mid-decade, his popularity had waned and he was appearing in B-movies like Smashing the Rackets (1938) and Five Came Back (1939).

Playing Boston Blackie revived Morris’ career. From 1941 to 1949, he would appear in fourteen films in the series, after which he virtually retired from films, though he would appear in the 1950s and in The Great White Hope (1970). He concentrated on television work after the series ended, but usually in guest star roles.

One Mysterious Night was the seventh in the series and marks the directorial debut of Oscar “Bud” Boetticher, Jr. Boetticher would be best remembered for the B-Westerns he made with Randolph Scott in the late 1950s, including Seven Men from Now (1956), The Tall T (1957) and Buchanan Rides Alone (1958).

The film was shot over two weeks between May 31 and June 13, 1944, and released on September 19, 1944.

The film opens with the world famous Blue Star of the Nile diamond, on exhibit to help raise funds, being stolen despite a heavy police presence at the Carleton Plaza Hotel. William Wright (Paul Martens) and Robert Williams (Matt Healy) create a disturbance and when it’s cleared up, the diamond is gone.

When pressed, Inspector Farraday (Richard Lane) tells reporters that it is the work of reformed jewel thief Boston Blackie (Chester Morris). Of course, Blackie had nothing to do with it, as he has turned to legitimate business. In fact, it is while he is in a meeting at his friend Arthur Manleder's (Harrison Greene) tool factory that his sidekick, The Runt (George E. Stone), shows him the accusatory headline in the paper.

Boston Blackie (Chester Morris) with The Runt (George E
Stone) go to confront Inspector Farraday (Richard Lane).

Blackie goes to the police station to confront Farraday, who apologizes for the rouse but explains that planting the story was the only way to get Blackie to come to his office. Farraday needs Blackie’s help and deputizes him to recover the stolen diamond. Blackie agrees as long as he can go about it his way.

Blackie returns to the scene of the crime disguised as Professor Hunter.

In disguise as an elderly Professor Hunter, Blackie visits the jewel exhibit firsthand. Feeling around, he discovers a wad of chewing gum stuck underneath one of the display cases. When he learns that George Daley (Robert E. Scott), the hotel’s general manager, is in charge of the exhibit. He first calls Daley’s office and his sister Eileen (Dorothy Maloney), who also works at the hotel as a phone operator, answers the call. She’s been suspicious since unknown men have been calling her brother. She doesn’t know where her brother is, but tells Blackie that he can wait for him in his office. She then intercepts him in the office and, seeing that he’s an older man, feels comfortable leaving him alone in her brother’s office.

Reporter Dorothy Anderson (Janis Carter) turns in Blackie to the police.

Unbeknownst to her, Blackie has already been searching the office and finds a pack of chewing gum in Daley’s desk. When he later goes downstairs to the hotel’s newsstand to ask about Daley’s gum chewing, the woman behind the counter (Ann Loos) tells him that Daley chews a lot of gum. While he’s standing there, a reporter, Dorothy Anderson (Janis Carter), sees through Blackie’s disguises and turns him into the police.

Blackie is questioned by reporters after being arrested.

Back at headquarters, after being questioned by the press, Blackie tells Farraday he’ll have to tell the press that Blackie escaped and then returns to the hotel. This time, with The Runt’s help, they pose as repairmen from the phone company. When Eileen isn’t there, Blackie convinces one of the operators that she and he are an item to get her address.

Blackie returns again, this time as a telephone company repairman.

Meanwhile, back at the apartment Eileen and George share, George refuses to answer any of her questions and instead goes into her room and through her dresser. In the drawer, he takes out one of her purses. In one of her pockets, he’s hidden the Blue Star.

Blackie convinces one of Eileen's co-workers to give him her address.

Later, when Eileen decides to leave, she switches out her purses, taking the one from the drawer. But before she leaves, Blackie rings the doorbell. Once inside the apartment, he accuses George of being involved in the robbery. George denies it, of course, and Blackie leaves. When he does, Eileen decides to follow him. After she’s gone, George realizes that she’s taken the purse with the diamond in it.

Blackie visits George ( Robert E. Scott) and his sister Eileen (Dorothy Malone) about the robbery.

But Wright and Williams show up at the apartment and demand the gem. When George confesses that Eileen has it with her, they give him until later that night to obtain it.

Eileen, meanwhile, has followed Blackie to a Chinese restaurant. There, he shows her the wads of gum and explains his theory about how her brother stole the diamond and hid it in the room. The Runt informs Blackie that the reporter Dorothy is outside the restaurant. Blackie tells Eileen that he’ll see her later that night and then escapes out the back door.

When Dorothy enters, she almost immediately follows Eileen into the powder room. There, using the rouse that she has something in her eye, Dorothy gets Eileen to help her. And while her attention is taken, Dorothy swaps her black purse for Eileen’s very similar looking black purse. Dorothy’s goal is to discover Eileen's name and address.

Upon Eileen’s return to the apartment, George grabs her purse and is very disappointed to find the diamond missing and that she has the wrong bag. But soon after, Dorothy comes to the door to return Eileen’s purse. Soon after she leaves, Eileen discovers the diamond and insists that George meet Blackie that night to give it back.

Later, when George tries to give it back to Blackie, Williams and Wright show up and demand the diamond at gunpoint. Dorothy, who happens to see the confrontation, goes nearby to use a payphone and call the police. But before they arrive, in the ensuing struggle, George is shot and killed. Wright forces Blackie and The Runt into his car and speeds away.

Based on Dorothy’s eyewitness testimony, Blackie is charged with George’s murder. To ensure that the police continue to believe that, Wright takes Blackie and The Runt prisoner. In an effort to buy some time, Blackie tries to convince them that the diamond is a fake and that the real diamond is locked away in the hotel’s safe.

Wright and Williams decide to have the gem examined by Jumbo Madigan (Joseph Crehan), the owner of a
pawn shop. In order to keep Blackie and The Runt from escaping, they are tied upside down to the bottom of a Murphy bed. When they’re left alone, the two manage to escape their ropes and Blackie telephones Farraday with an update. He directs him to Madigan’s shop.

But Wright and Williams are already there and Madigan is examining it when the bell at the back of the door rings. Blackie acts like a delivery boy to get Madigan outside and then tells him to claim the diamond is fake and stall the robbers until the police can arrive.

When they hear the police sirens, Wright and Williams try to take Madigan hostage. But when he fights back, they shoot him. When the police enter the shop, the two gunmen pretend to be a pair of mannequins to fit in with others that are in the shop. They continue to pretend while two fairly dimwitted policemen stay with Madigan until the ambulance arrives.

Once the police leave, Wright and Williams also leave, returning back to the apartment where they had left Blackie and The Runt tied up. Blackie offers to get the real gem back, but Wright and Williams insist on keeping Runt as collateral.

Blackie returns to police headquarters and gives the diamond to Farraday, who orders his assistant, Matthews (Lyle Latell), to organize a police dragnet around the crooks’ hiding place while he and Blackie go in. But the two crooks aren’t fooled so easily and take Farraday and Blackie hostage and they tie them up. Wright and Williams try to escape out the back door. They even go so far as to set the apartment on fire trying to create a diversion to aid their escape.

The police notice the fire and break in and rescue them. Blackie captures Williams and Wright and Farraday apologizes for misjudging him. Dorothy, ever the reporter, takes their photograph for her paper. Blackie ends up chasing after her and the Runt after him.

While not a great actor, Chester Morris seems very comfortable in the role. It’s one of those blends of actors and roles that makes it difficult to imagine anyone else in the part. There was a short-lived ZIV syndicated series, The Adventures of Boston Blackie, which ran for two seasons in 1951. Kent Taylor played Blackie in that series, but I don’t think many people would think of him as the definitive Boston Blackie, that is if anyone thinks of Boston Blackie at all.

The movie plays more like an hour-long TV drama. With regulars like Morris, George E. Stone and Richard Lane playing against this episode's guest stars, Robert E. Scott, Dorothy Malone and Janis Carter.

The plot is fairly straight-forward despite the attempts at having plot twists. The use of chewed gum is both clever and a little gross at the same time. The police from the Inspector on down to the beat cop are shown to be incompetent, which is nothing new for these types of films. If they were better at their jobs, they wouldn’t need an ex-con like Blackie to come in and save the day for them. There is little or no fat on this bone of a story, though the murder of George is sort of passed over as a plot point and his sister, Eileen, is unceremoniously dropped as well.

It was actually the actress playing Eileen, an uncredited Dorothy Malone, under the name of Dorothy Maloney that caught my eye and kept me watching. Dorothy Malone began her film career at 18 at RKO and her first appearance was Gildersleeve on Broadway (1943). She would spend most of her film career in supporting roles in B-movies, many of them Westerns. Perhaps one of her most notable film roles was as the pretty and brainy Acme Bookstore proprietress in The Big Sleep (1946) in which she shares a bottle of Rye with Humphrey Bogart while he waits for Geiger to show.

She would later shed her good-girl image and become a platinum blonde in Douglas Sirk’s Written in the Wind (1956), in which she plays Marylee Hadley, the nymphomaniac daughter of a Texas oil baron. For the role, Malone would win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Malone would later star as Constance Mackenzie Carson in 342 episodes of TV’s Peyton Place. Her presence in this film didn’t really have much impact, as Eileen is little more than a throwaway character.

The fact that George and Eileen are portrayed as brother and sister, rather than husband and wife, suggests there may have been something left unexplored about the story. There is little in their give and take that wouldn't have worked as spouses rather than siblings. Not sure why this difference was necessary otherwise to the story. It might have made sense if Eileen was supposed to be a love interest for Blackie, but she's not.

The main love interest, if there is one, is Janis Carter, who plays Dorothy Anderson, a reporter for one of the many daily papers in the city. She’s good, but ultimately forgettable in the role. While she would appear in a couple of movies in the Whistler series, The Mark of the Whistler (1944) and The Power of the Whistler (1945), she may be best remembered for roles in Night Editor (1946), I Love Trouble (1946) and Flying Leathernecks (1951).

While it is not too involving, One Mysterious Night is still a well-made mystery film. But it is one of those films that you’ll like while you watch, but don’t expect for it to stay with you very long after you’re done watching it. Fun, but forgettable by the light of day.