Saturday, August 26, 2017

Stubs - A Night at the Movies

A Night At the Movies (1937) Starring Robert Benchley, Betty Ross Clarke, Gwen Lee. Directed by  Roy Rowland. Screenplay by Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo, Robert Benchley. Produced by Jack Chertok Run Time: 10 minutes. USA Comedy, Short

Following the success of How To Sleep (1935), MGM kept producing Robert Benchley Miniatures. While all featured Benchley, unfortunately not all of them were also written by the humorist. How to Behave (1936), How To Train a Dog (1936), How to Vote (1936), How to Be a Detective (1936), The Romance of Digestion (1937) and How to Start The Day (1937) followed, but with much less fanfare and accolades. That changed with A Night At The Movies (1937).

Robert Benchley and wife (Betty Ross Clarke) look for a movie to see.

The film opens with Robert Benchley and his wife (Betty Ross Clarke) looking at the newspaper looking for a movie to go see. The problem is that they’ve each seen one of the two movies that are playing at their neighborhood theater. The solution is that they go see a film he has already seen, Souls on a Tandem.

Trying to communicate with the girl in the box office.

Now, these are the days before online ticket buying and reserved seats, so they actually have to go to the theater's box office to purchase them. There are other differences between their experience and the modern moviegoer’s. The theater is having a drawing to give away a car and there are ushers in uniforms to help them, though they don’t help them actually find a seat. Rather, they ask for their ticket, which it turns out he has put in for the raffle.

The theater has a raffle. Benchley will accidentally put his theater tickets in the raffle box.

Their lack of tickets causes the Usher, one of several on duty, to call over her supervisor, Mr. Pennelly (Hal K. Dawson), who doesn’t believe Benchley, so he calls over the theater manager, Mr. Baum (Frank Sheridan). Mr. Baum makes the command decision and lets them go inside.

The agent calls Mr. Pennelly (Hal K. Dawson) and Pennelly calls for Mr. Baum (Frank Sheridan).

But once they find seats, all is not well. Benchley fumbles with what to do with his hat, but the real annoyance comes from a staring child (Ricardo Lord Cezon) who unnerves Benchley. 

Little boy stares at Benchley.

While he is busy being stared down, a rather large patron (Jack 'Tiny' Lipson) sits in front of him and totally blocks his view. Benchley’s fidgeting to see around ‘Tiny” irritates the man sitting behind them, so Benchley decides to move.

Jack "Tiny" Lipson sits down in front of Benchley and blocks his view.

His first choice of seats gets nabbed by a faster younger couple, forcing them to look for seats closer to the screen. But sitting so close and to the side causes the image to look distorted.

Sitting too close distorts the motion picture.

Feeling dry, Benchley pops a lozenge, probably a Lifesaver, into his mouth after offering one to the Mrs. But he begins to cough and despite his wife’s help, he seeks solace to recover. Accidentally, he ends up outside and locked out.

Benchley manages to get locked outside the theater.

His wife doesn’t seem to notice that Benchley is missing until the lights come on between features.
On stage, a live prelude with dancing girls starts their routine. Meanwhile, Benchley searches for a way in and finds an unlocked door. You can see it coming, so it is no surprise that Benchley walks out onto the stage in the middle of the dancer’s routine. A little embarrassed, Benchley exits the stage and the film ends.

At the end, Benchley walks out into the middle of the live prelude.

Released on November 6, 1937, A Night at the Movies was Benchley’s best-received miniature since his first one. The film was even nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short Subject (One-Reel), losing to The Private Life of the Gannets (1934), a British documentary about a colony of Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) on the small rocky island of Grassholm, off the coast of Wales produced by Alexander Korda.

The director, Roy Rowland, would helm many different types of films in his career. In addition to comedy, he also directed romance: Lost Angel (1943); film noir: Scene of the Crime (1949); musical fantasy: The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T; suspense: Witness to Murder (1954); and even spaghetti Westerns: Gunfighters of Casa Grande (1964). Rowland would never get further than being considered a journeyman director, able to work in many genres, but a master of none.

Similar to How To Sleep, A Night At the Movies is all about Robert Benchley. The film relies on his presence because without it, it would verge on being unwatchable. And like his first miniature, it deals with a situation many people have experienced themselves. Who hasn’t had a bad experience at the movies?

But even the relatable premise and the presence of Benchley are not enough to save it. There seems to be something missing this time around. Less an instructional film, A Night At the Movies feels much less structured and almost seems to be ad-libbed in places.

Again, the short provides the modern viewer a look back at life in the 1930s. Films were the main out of the house entertainment and it wasn’t unusual for a couple to go out during the week to see a movie; there was no Netflix or DVDs or even TV. Also, there wasn’t necessarily a firm start time as people would enter the theater when they got there and not wait for the next showing. (You can thank Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho for changing that.)

All that said, A Night at the Movies was not quite as much fun to watch as How To Sleep and therefore I can’t recommend it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy - Total N. Sanity

With some major hits including Uncharted, The Last of Us and Jak and Daxter, Naughty Dog has earned itself a reputation in the gaming community, especially among PlayStation enthusiasts. For many, however, the company is best known for their first major franchise, Crash Bandicoot. First released in 1996 for the original PlayStation, the game was one of many to help the system dominate the console war at the time, taking advantage of then-new CD-based gaming hardware to great effect. After leaving Naughty Dog’s hands, the franchise continued on later systems, with mixed results, until it faded into relative obscurity. However, in 2016, Crash Bandicoot unexpectedly returned in a major way, returning as a playable guest character alongside series villain Dr. Neo Cortex in Skylanders Imaginators (complete with his own stage) and appearing solo in the Netflix series Skylanders Academy. At the same time this happened, it was announced that Vicarious Visions, who also developed the Crash portions of Imaginators, was developing a remaster of the original trilogy from the ground up, later known as Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy.

I will admit that I have personally never played the Crash Bandicoot series prior to N. Sane Trilogy, however I was still aware of the franchise’s existence, seeing ads for games on TV and absorbing some aspects of characters and terminology through osmosis. I also found Crash Bandicoot and Dr. Neo Cortex to be my favorite characters to play as in Imaginators, including the fact that playing as Crash turns the experience into a Crash Bandicoot game and the Thumpin’ Wumpa Islands level (unlocked by placing either Crash character on the Portal of Power) gave me a general idea of what playing the games was like. This got me even more excited for N. Sane Trilogy before it came out, which proved to be such a hit that apparently stores had sold out on launch day within hours (thanks to the power of pre-ordering, I managed to secure a copy of my own). Though the games proved to be difficult to varying degrees, I found myself having a lot of fun with them regardless and gained a greater appreciation for the franchise.

The most notable thing about the games in the collection (Crash Bandicoot, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, Crash Bandicoot: Warped), is that all three have a massive graphics overhaul, updating the visuals for PlayStation 4 while remaining faithful to the designs seen in the original releases. This differs a little from the approach taken in Skylanders: Imaginators, where characters and such were given faithful redesigns while tweaking them slightly to fit more in line with the Skylanders aesthetic. In any case, comparing the visuals in the original games between PlayStation 1 and 4 is like night and day, which in itself can be really fascinating to look at.

Crash Bandicoot on the original PlayStation.
(From Left: Dr. Nitrus Brio, Crash Bandicoot, Dr. Neo Cortex)
Crash Bandicoot on PlayStation 4.

Another aspect that got a good overhaul is the music. Like with Kingdom Hearts remasters, the music remains faithful to the originals while updating them to give them a fuller sound to take advantage of newer console technology. Having heard the game’s collective music for the first time in this collection, I found the music to be very enjoyable, with some songs sticking with me even after I stopped playing. The voice acting also deserves some credit, with the actors giving memorable performances as their respective characters. I should note that, while I haven’t played the originals, I am aware that there are some differences in voice actors between those and the remasters, a notable change being Lex Lang voicing Cortex, whereas Clancy Brown voiced him in Cortex Strikes Back and Warped (Brendan O’Brien also voiced him in the original game); having been imprinted with Lex Lang’s voice work for Cortex via Skylanders, I really enjoyed his performance in this collection, though I’m sure Clancy Brown did a good job on his own during his tenure voicing the character.

Now that I’ve covered what’s shared between games, let’s discuss what each game has to offer on their own:

In the original Crash Bandicoot, a scientist named Dr. Neo Cortex is experimenting on animals from the Australian Outback with his Cortex Vortex, with the intent of using mutant animals for his goal of world domination. While exposing Crash, a bandicoot, to the Cortex Vortex, Cortex’s assistant, Dr. Nitrus Brio, informs him that the machine didn’t work on Crash as intended, leading Cortex to declare the bandicoot a failed experiment and toss him out. Cortex then sets his sights on his next subject, a female bandicoot named Tawna. Crash lands on the shores of Insanity Beacha and makes his way through several trials to rescue Tawna.

The game mainly involves platforming, switching between running forward (in some cases towards the screen or riding a warthog) and running in a 2.5D space, all while breaking boxes to collect Wumpa Fruit (they resemble apples) and Aku Aku Masks. Collecting three Aku Aku Masks gives you temporary invincibility, while getting 100 Wumpa Fruit grants you an extra life. Some boxes have special properties, such as boxes that give you an extra boost during a jump, caged boxes containing extra Wumpa Fruit if you jump on them, and TNT boxes that will create a timed explosion after being jumped on (or explode instantly if spun into); some boxes even grant an extra life, though only the first time after your save is loaded. Crash himself has a very basic moveset, that being the ability to spin or jump, though you can hold the jump button for a higher jump. These moves can be used alternately on given enemies, though the best way to deal with them comes down to trial and error. Though the D-Pad controls have been retained, the remaster adds the option to use an analog stick for movement, making gameplay generally easier to handle (that said, 2.5D or grid-like sections are overall better played with the D-Pad).

That said, the game can be rather challenging at times, partly since you die in one hit unless you have 1-3 Aku Aku Masks on you (unless you fall through a gap or hole, resulting in a lost life). A lot of the platforming often requires precise jumps and subsequent deaths and game overs can lead you to memorizing the level enough to be able to pull through, often barely. Fortunately, some boxes carry in them a token depicting either Tawna, N. Cortex or N. Brio; collecting three of either and using them at a proper warp gate leads you to a Bonus Stage, where you can gather extra Wumpa Fruit and Lives. Failing a Bonus Stage does not cost lives, so one is encouraged to keep trying again until it is beaten. In spite of how difficult levels can get, beating each stage is very satisfying, however if you don’t get all the boxes, the game will remind you just how many you missed.

The boss fights themselves can be difficult, especially if you don’t know what to do, however they become easier once you get their patterns down to a rhythm. That said, it sometimes pays off to have an Aku Aku Mask on-hand. While some bugs were squashed in the process of the remaster, some rather useful ones were actually kept in by the developer, allowing ease of completion in some levels (Protip: Road to Nowhere and The High Road can alternatively be completed by walking on the ropes). Another alteration made to remasters that makes the game a little more forgiving is the implementation of dynamic difficulty: If you die enough times in a level, a Checkpoint Box will spawn in a closer position to where you are (in relation to where these boxes are normally located) and/or you will be granted one or two Aku Aku Masks (though this doesn’t help when you keep dying on a particular jump).

There’s also some collect-a-thon elements present in the form of Gems and Relics. Gems can be collected by destroying all boxes in a level, though special Color Gems can be earned by completing specific stages 100% without dying once, requiring mastery of the game’s mechanics to properly pull off. Relics are earned by completing time trials, available after beating a stage once and grabbing a floating clock at the start of a new run; the Relics are only granted to you once you beat the target time, which again requires some devotion on the part of the player given how difficult the game can get. Collecting all the Clear Gems also allows access to the True Ending, which explains what happens to each character following the events of the game.

Directly following his defeat in the original game, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back sees Dr. Neo Cortex falling from his blimp onto one of the islands below, hatching a plan upon coming across special crystals. Later, aboard a space station, Cortex is informed by his new assistant, Dr. N. Gin, that he’ll need the 25 “slave” crystals in addition to the “master” crystal they already have if they want to accomplish their goal, giving Cortex an idea on how to get them. Meanwhile, Crash is resting until his sister Coco (who replaces Tawna in the series with no explanation) wakes him up and tells him to get a new battery for her laptop. Before Crash can do much of anything on that front, he is teleported to a special warp room by Cortex, who tells him to obtain the crystals so he can save the world.

The gameplay of Crash 2 is largely similar to the original, although Crash’s moveset is expanded, as he now has the ability to crawl, slide and bellyflop, and sometimes he can dig into the ground. The game also introduces some vehicle segments in the form of riding a jetski in water levels, plus a few levels towards the end are based around a new jetpack mechanic. The jetpack, however, is very awkward to use, though the ability to use the D-Pad or stick mitigates this somewhat. Bonus Stages are also easier to access, in that they are areas marked by a “?”, which instantly transport you to the Bonus area. There’s also the addition of Death Routes, platforms marked by a skull that appear when you get to a certain point in the level without dying; should you die during an attempt, the platform will remain accessible (which is apparently unlike the original release), however unlike Bonus Stages, Death Routes cost lives. The game also introduces Nitro Crates which, unlike TNT Crates, explode on contact; they can also jump, which can make getting past them extremely difficult at times.

In this game, levels are presented in the form of Warp Rooms, rooms containing levels in sets of five that can be played in any order you choose. Once those five are completed and you gathered all five Crystals in that set, a boss room will open up, allowing you to access the next Warp Room upon defeating the boss. Warp Rooms can be revisited at any time by taking an elevator platform in the center of the room, though the process is a little time-consuming depending on how far down (or up) you are trying to go. Some levels also now have Secret Routes that provide an alternate path to complete the stage, if you can find them.

By comparison to the original game, while the difficulty is still present, it seems a little toned down. Making up for this is the presence of backtracking in order to 100% some levels, although I didn’t bother to partake in that as I tried to get through the game. That said, the Death Routes provide an extra challenge of their own, as well as the Nitro Crates. Even with a seemingly-lowered difficulty, getting to the end of a stage still felt satisfying.

Once again directly following Cortex’s defeat, Crash Bandicoot: Warped starts off with his space station crashing onto one of the islands, awakening an evil being known as Uka Uka. Uka Uka’s twin brother and Crash’s helper, Aku Aku, senses this and tells Crash and Coco about how dangerous a foe he is. Meanwhile, Uka Uka, who turns out to have been influencing Cortex the entire time, gets angry at him for his failures, the two of them deciding to use a device (created by Doctor Nefarious Tropy) known as the Time Twister to travel back through time and recover the crystals. In order to stop them, Aku Aku brings Crash and Coco to the Time Twister so they can put a stop to this.

Gameplay is generally similar to Crash Bandicoot 2, though there are some key differences. New abilities are introduced for Crash (obtainable after defeating bosses), which include double jump, a longer spin and a Fruit Bazooka among others. Warp Rooms are also laid out differently, with each Warp Room being connected to a central room within the Time Twister, allowing for easier access to levels. The rules for the Warp Room from Crash 2 are the same however, in that you must get the Crystals from each set of five levels and defeat a boss before continuing. Levels akin to the Boulder stages from Crash 1, while expanded upon in Crash 2, return here as being more of hybrid between a regular platforming level and a Boulder level, allowing some additional breathing room when trying to complete them.

There’s also an increase in vehicle-based levels, the hardest of which are easily the ones where you have to win 1st in a race while riding a motorcycle (for these, I asked for assistance, since I’m not the best at racing games); these levels are likely the basis for Naughty Dog’s last Crash Bandicoot game, Crash Team Racing, which is not included in this collection. In terms of overall difficulty, this game was generally the easiest for me to get through, though the motorcycle and Tiger (Pura) stages (similar to the Warthog levels in Crash 1) did throw me for a loop.

In its original release, Warped also allows Coco Bandicoot to be playable, however her role is rather limited to specific levels. This is rectified in N. Sane Trilogy however, in that she is made playable across all three games in the collection, the option for which becomes available after a certain point early on (in Warped, this option is made immediately available, though you still have to allow her to join your adventure first). She is still unplayable in specific levels between the three games, including most boss fights and the Warthog-like stages in the first two games, however this still provides an extra bonus for fans since Coco shares Crash’s moveset and most of his death animations.

Coco Bandicoot in N. Sane Trilogy.

As I was playing the collection, some content that was originally cut from the games has started making a return via free DLC, in all their remastered glory. What is presumably the first of these, Lost Levels, includes Stormy Ascent, which was initially meant to be the penultimate level of the original Crash Bandicoot game, however it was cut due to being too difficult even by its own standards. As this content is now officially playable, it provides some extra replayability for those looking for a challenge.

As a whole, Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is a perfect starting point for people new to Crash Bandicoot, including those whose first introduction was Skylanders: Imaginators. Each game has its own flaws and level of difficulty, however I am glad to have persevered to end of each one, as I gained a better appreciation for the games and a better understanding of the story. The plot across the three games is rather simple and easy to follow, which isn’t really a bad thing especially in an era where game plots can get more complex as they go on (ex. Kingdom Hearts, Metal Gear). Even for those who have already played these games when they first came out, this package will definitely give you your money’s worth, mostly thanks to its updated visuals and soundtrack. Now I can’t wait to see what direction the franchise takes next.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Stubs - How To Sleep (1935)

How to Sleep (1935) Starring Robert Benchley. Directed by Nick Grinde. Screenplay by Robert Benchley. Produced by Jack Chertok. Run Time: 11 minutes. USA. Comedy

Robert Benchley came to Hollywood not to be an actor, but as a screenwriter for film producer Jesse L. Lasky. A humorist by trade, beginning with his work at the Harvard Lampoon, Benchley had been writing professionally since selling his first piece to Vanity Fair in 1914 and worked there with Robert Emmet Sherwood and Dorothy Parker. Together, the three of them would form the basis of the Algonquin Round Table.

When his position at Vanity Fair ended, he was fired, Benchley began freelance work. He began writing a book review column for New York World as well as a syndicated column for publisher David Lawrence. In 1920, he would move on to Life magazine writing theater reviews.

He would get into acting, when the Algonquin Round Table accepted a challenge to put together their own theatrical production, No Sirree!, when actor J.M. Kerrigan tired of the groups’ complaints about the on-going Broadway Theater season. Benchley’s contribution to the show, “The Treasurer’s Report,” in which he played a disorganized man explaining a company’s yearly expenses, was so popular he was asked to perform it, leading to a $500 a week gig at Irving Berlin’s Music Box Revue from 1921 until 1922.

After coming to Hollywood, he received credit for the film You'd Be Surprised (1926), before returning to New York to write the book for a Broadway Musical, Smarty, featuring a dancer/singer named Fred Astaire. But Benchley’s contributions were eventually excised from the final production, Funny Face, with music and words by George and Ira Gershwin.

Following that, Benchley became involved with a talkie version of The Treasurer’s Report (1928). While Benchley was convinced he wasn’t any good in the short, it ended up being well-received. This led to other shorts, The Sex Life of the Polyp (1928) and The Spellbinder (1928), for Fox Movietone. Their success led Benchley to resign from Life, which released a statement, "Mr. Benchley has left Dramatic Criticism for the Talking Movies." While filming these shorts, he began to write for the New Yorker magazine. But that took him away from Hollywood for a number of years.

Benchley would return in 1931 to do writing and voice-over work on Sky Devils (1932), a pre-code aviation comedy starring Spencer Tracy and Ann Dvorak. That same year, he would act in his first feature, The Sport Parade, with his future Foreign Correspondent (1940) co-star Joel McCrea. Following the success of the film, Benchley was offered a writing and acting contract by RKO Pictures.

As part of that contract, Benchley would have a prominent role as a salesman in Rafter Romance (1933), which starred Ginger Rogers. His work at RKO garnered the interest of MGM, who offered him a lot of money to produce a series of short films, or Miniatures as they were called, the first of which was How to Sleep (1935).

Inspired by a Mellon Institute of Industrial Research (now part of Carnegie Mellon University) study on sleep commissioned by the Simmons Mattress Company, production lasted all of two days. In the film, Benchley, who wrote the script, serves as both narrator and subject of the mockumentary or parody of instructional films.

Robert Benchley narrates How To Sleep, pretending to be an expert on the subject.

The film is presented by Benchley the narrator as a sort of Part 2 to a recent and fictional film about staying awake. He tells the audience that this film will cover the four aspects of sleep: causes of sleep, methods of sleep, avoiding sleep, and waking up.

Animated sequence demonstrating the brain leaving the blood in the head of an alcoholic.

According to the film, the main cause of sleep is blood leaving the brain. The next joke, “Or, as in the case of alcoholics, the brain leaving the blood,” is one of the several references made about heavy drinking and sleep. It is somewhat interesting to note, that while Benchley had been a teetotaler in his youth, he had become a heavy-drinker by then and would ultimately die from cirrhosis of the liver on November 21, 1945, at the age of 56. So, the jokes about alcohol no doubt came from experience.
When instructing on methods to get to sleep, Benchley starts with taking a pine seed bath, but the water is too hot, so he walks away.

Robert Benchley prepares warm milk to help himself sleep.

Next, he suggests drinking warm milk, but when he goes to put the milk back in the ice-box, he finds cold lobster, coleslaw, and then cold chicken. He picks at everything before deciding to get comfortable and takes all the leftovers to the kitchen table and has a mini-feast, leaving the milk unattended on the burner, with the suggestion that it's best to have someone bring you the warm milk in bed.

Benchley distracts himself with leftovers in his ice box.

After that, he discusses the practice of counting sheep, but warns that the sleeper may start to worry about the sheep themselves being able to clear the fence, to the point of distraction. Sure enough, one of the sheep in his dream crashes into the fence.

When Benchley counts sheep, they crash into each other.

As far as distractions that prevent sleep, he points out the flapping of a mini blind, but once that’s cured with a chair, there is the dripping faucet in the bathroom. And of course, there is the problem with a mosquito that he can’t seem to kill, instead retreating under his sheet and blanket for protection.

Dripping water from his cold water faucet keeps Benchley from getting to sleep.

Then there is the issue of the effects of alcoholism on sleeping, a problem Benchley may have been all too aware of from personal experiences. He shows himself suddenly bolting out of bed, or what he calls the leaping jitters. As narrator, Benchley talks about himself in the third person until Benchley tells himself to mind his own business.

Benchley demonstrates the "leaping jitters" that alcoholics suffer with.

Finally, there is the issue of faulty bed-making, leaving the bedclothes askew, causing sleeplessness due to discomfort.

A supposed study into sleeping positions that the film delves into.

Next, the film reviews various sleeping positions, at least making reference to a sleep study, which timed how long a sleeper was in certain positions. Going so far as giving them sports/scientific sounding names like Sleeping/sitting/standing/crouch. Then in what is supposed to be sped up photography, is really just a “sleeper” flopping on a bed with a sped-up clock next to them.

Demonstrating the sleeping/sitting/standing/crouch position.

Getting back to distractions, there is the sudden realization of thirst. While there are options to ignore the desire and perhaps die of thirst, Benchley opts for trying to get out of bed and get the water without becoming too awake. Not only does he get water everywhere, even on himself, but when he tries to get back in bed, he slips and falls on his own shoes on the floor.

Benchley tries to get water without completely waking himself up. It doesn't work.

With all the problems and distractions, Benchley finally gets to sleep, but only minutes before the alarm is set to go off. The yawning Benchley in bed becomes our yawning narrator, who apparently needs to learn for himself How to Sleep.

In the end, Benchley, the narrator, demonstrates that he doesn't know how to sleep.

The film was released on September 14, 1935, to great praise, in fact receiving the best reception of all of Benchley’s Miniatures. It would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Short at the 8th annual awards show. Only one other of the Miniatures would even be nominated, A Night at the Movies (1937), which Benchley would also write, something he didn’t always do with this shorts program. Regardless, he would end up making 25 Miniatures at MGM through 1939.

Benchley would also continue to act in feature films, including such films as Foreign Correspondent and The Major and the Minor (1942). He is usually a featured player and used for comedic relief.

How To Sleep deals with an eternal issue, as old as mankind. There are all sort of aids and mattresses being advertised that are supposed to provide safe, restful sleep. Still, insomnia and sleep disorders are still national issues, as many Americans, yours truly included, never get enough sleep at night. In fact, the same night I watched this short for the second time I found out I had to serve Jury Duty the next morning. With that hanging over my head, I couldn’t get to sleep. As Benchley states so succinctly, “No matter what it is, you’ll find it easy enough to worry about in the middle of the night.” Rooted somewhat in facts and old wives’ tales, How To Sleep does touch on several methods, short of sleeping pills, that can affect getting a good night’s sleep.

And as eternal as the issue is, the film itself is a snapshot of the time it was made. The ice-box and separate hot and cold-water faucets seem so out of date. At the same time, though you have to wonder how Benchley’s lifestyle represents America during the Depression. How many Americans had cold lobster in their ice boxes, or got up as late as 7:30 in the morning before going to work, if they even had a job at all.

The film was directed by Nick Grinde, a director considered one of American cinema’s early B film specialists. He is perhaps best known for The Man They Could Not Hang (1939), starring Boris Karloff, and for Ronald Reagan’s first film, Love is on the Air (1937). While those may not sound like comedic-chops, he did co-write the Laurel and Hardy classic Babes In Toyland (1934) that was released the year before How To Sleep. However, it is hard to say how much of the film's humor is really due to Grinde’s direction and how much is due to Benchley, though the latter’s presence is what makes the film worth watching.

Easily the wittiest guy in any room, Benchley has a way of seeming authoritative while cutting himself down in the process. Narrator Benchley talks about himself in the third person and that third person Benchley isn’t above giving the narrator Benchley a piece of his mind. A man of words, Benchley also had a physical comedy gift as well that is on display throughout most of the film. While How To Sleep may not be laugh out loud funny today, it is still an example of parody that we don’t see very much anymore; the button-down collar variety.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Stubs - Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde (2017) Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella. Directed by David Leitch. Screenplay by Kurt Johnstad. Based on the Graphic Novel: The Coldest City by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart. Produced by Charlize Theron, Beth Kono, A. J. Dix, Kelly McCormick, Eric Gitter, Peter Schwerin.  Run Time: 115 min. U.S. Action, Spy, Thriller

You have to give Charlize Theron a lot of credit. A statuesque beauty, she has made a career playing less than glamorous roles, including Monster (2003) and just two years ago, she starred in Mad Max: Fury Road as Imperator Furiosa, a soldier with a mechanical arm. This year she plays Lorraine Broughton, a top-level MI6 field agent in Atomic Blonde, a film she also produced. While there are no mechanical arms on Lorraine, to say that she is a glamorous spy would be wrong. This is a very visceral role that Theron had to train extensively for.

Lorraine (Charlize Theron) tells her story during a debriefing led by Eric Gray
(Toby Jones),
 her M-6 supervisor and CIA agent Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman).

Set in the days around the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Lorraine is sent by her superiors to retrieve a list of spies on both sides of the Cold War that has fallen into the hands of a Russian spy, thanks to the assassination of M-6 agent James Gasciogne (Sam Hargrave). Lorraine’s contact in Berlin is David Percival (James McAvoy) the only other M-6 Operative then in the city. The story unfolds through her post-mission debriefing in front of Chief 'C' (James Faulkner), the head of M-6, Eric Gray (Toby Jones), her M-6 supervisor and CIA agent Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman).

David Percival (James McAvoy) is her M-6 contact in Berlin.
The story that unfolds has a lot in common with a standard James Bond mission. There are double agents, fight scenes, and lovers, but there is a twist to nearly everything along the way. There is a lot to suggest that Lorraine Broughton is a true female Bond, that the world has been searching for in these days of diversity. But that would be a bit of an understatement. On one hand, the film succeeds where Bond sometimes fails, at the same time, the reverse is also true.

The fight scenes are well done and very visceral.

Unlike most hero films, Lorraine is shown to be very human. In the fight scenes, of which there are several, we get a real sense that she gets as much as she hands out. There is one fight, in particular, a ten-minute seemingly one-shot sequence, in which we hear her give her all as well as the sense that she is also getting the you-know-what kicked out of her at the same time. These are perhaps the most visceral fist fights in recent memory on film.

But there are issues as well. The premise, the recovery of a list of agents, is as old as the spy genre. I don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of the genre, but this sounds like well-trodden territory.  Also, while we’re following Lorraine, we never really know why she goes some places, other than it is in the script. New to Berlin, she seems to know her way around and even makes contact with a loyal band of underground protesters in East Berlin, even though she is warned at the outset not to trust anyone. But it is the audience that is left not sure who to trust.

For a spy, someone you would suspect would try to fit in, Lorraine truly stands out. Not only is she tall and impeccably dressed, but her blonde hair is eye-catching. Even she realizes it as on occasion she tries to hide it under a hoodie or even a wig.

The film does a really good job recreating the environment of Berlin in 1989, from the music (the soundtrack features not only several David Bowie songs but also the original German versions of Peter Schilling’s Major Tom aka Völlig Losgelöst and Nena‘s 99 Red Balloons aka 99 Luftballons) to the actual wall itself, which is quite believably reconstructed. There is also the use of what appear to be television news reports that document the time.

There are some really good performances along the way in addition to Theron’s. James McAvoy’s Percival is nearly impossible to predict. Even though his appearance is somewhat brief, John Goodman gives his usual solid-performance. It is easy to see why he seems to be cast in every movie made. Sofia Boutella, who we first saw in Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) and was most recently prominent in Universal’s The Mummy (2017) misstep, plays a very different character here. Boutella's Delphine Lasalle is a French spy who is in over her head, one of the many characters Lorraine comes in contact with in Berlin, though they come in contact with each other several times.

Sofia Boutella plays Delphine Lasalle, a French spy in Berlin.

Overall, I’m not really sure what to make of Atomic Blonde. Obviously well-thought out and well-made, I never really connected with it. I can admire what they put on the screen, but they never pulled me in. Maybe your experience might be different, mine might explain why this film didn’t do better at the box office. If you’re a fan of Theron’s or if you’re itching for a Cold War spy film, then this is a must see. Otherwise, you might find something else at the multiplex to watch instead.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Review Hub - Sharknado

Before its initial airing on SyFy Channel in 2013, I had first heard about the original Sharknado at San Diego Comic-Con that year, as no doubt many others had, leading to some legitimate curiosity as to what the movie could possibly be. The premise alone created a lot of media buzz, and once it finally aired it proved to be a massive hit due to its enjoyably bad nature. This of course led to sequels that have been released on an annual basis, as well as some expansion into other media, including getting its own Pop! Vinyl by Funko and, of all things, a brief stint in comics in the form of a one-off crossover with Archie.

Not even Riverdale is safe. (Yes, this was a real
one-shot that got published.)

Though the quality of the sequels is debatable, we at this blog remain devoted to watching each movie as it comes out and giving our opinions on them if able. Below is a list of every Sharknado review up to this point, listed by order of release.

(Note: Though we have not yet reviewed Sharknado: The 4th Awakens, it is listed here anyway for completeness.)

Update (8/19/2018): Added Sharknado: The 4th Awakens
Update (8/20/2018): Added The Last Sharknado: It's About Time

Sharknado 2: The Second One
Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!
Sharknado: The 4th Awakens
Sharknado 5: Global Swarming
The Last Sharknado: It's About Time

Sharknado 5: Global Swarming - #MakeSharknadoGreatAgain

This year, Syfy continues its annual tradition of airing another installment in the Sharknado franchise. While the first three enjoyably reveled in the depths of absurdity, the fourth one is when the series began to outstay its welcome, with a plot that stretched suspension of disbelief too thin even for a Sharknado movie and cameos from increasingly lower-tier celebrities. This trend continues with Sharknado 5: Global Swarming, which wasn’t “so bad, it’s good” so much as it was just straight up bad.

An undisclosed amount of time after the events of Sharknado: The 4th Awakens, Fin Shepard (Ian Ziering) and his family are summoned to London to speak with NATO about the Sharknados. Almost as soon as he arrives, Fin is contacted by Nova (Cassie Scerbo) and asked to explore a passage underneath Stonehenge to look for an ancient artifact that may be connected with the Sharknados. After a sequence ripped straight out of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Fin and Nova retrieve the artifact, which triggers a collapse that sinks Stonehenge before summoning a Sharknado that devastates part of London. As Fin battles the Sharknado, his son, Gil (Billy Barratt), who is wearing a helmet that protects him from sharks and severe weather, becomes trapped in the storm and vanishes along with it. With Nova’s help, Fin and his wife, April (Tara Reid), follow the chaotic storm around the world in an attempt to rescue their son and prevent the Sharknado from growing stronger.

The story is painful to watch, as it not only starts with the protagonists unwittingly creating the initial Sharknado, it also relies on poor logic to move itself forward. There are a lot of inexplicable conveniences made solely to protect Fin from dying, such as the Sidney Opera House transforming into a battle station, or give him additional power, such as the Pope (Fabio) giving him a super powerful chainsaw. When the protagonists are given the solution, they don’t use it and instead opt for one which involves a severe anachronism and there is a subplot where someone steals the artifact (for no discernable reason) that only exists to create unnecessary drama. This concludes with an ending that, while surprisingly dark, rips off another famous movie and somehow manages to set up a sixth installment. It’s also hard to care about any of the characters during the movie, as it’s painfully obvious that Fin is going to survive the whole ordeal and that nearly anyone else who shows up is most likely going to get squashed or eaten by a random shark.

On top of the painful story, there are the obligatory cameos from mostly lower-tier celebrities. While any of the cameos are subjective in their enjoyment, I personally liked the cameo by Tony Hawk, especially since he is one of the few who isn’t directly killed by a shark. There are also more appearances by real-life news anchors, who seemed to trade some of their dignity for a chance to report on the chaotic Sharknado devastating the globe. In spite of anyone’s ability, however, just about everyone still falls under the plague of stiff and wooden acting that permeates the film as a whole.

On a technical level, it’s a given that the CGI is terrible and the special effects are incredibly fake-looking. In the case of Sharknado 5, there is possibly an overabundance of special effects, even for a Sharknado movie, which adds to the feeling of a completely unbelievable story, even by Sharknado standards. The only notable music is a reappearance of the official theme song at the beginning, coupled with animated footage referencing famous movies and the “Left Shark” internet meme.

Sharknado 5: Global Swarming is simply a bad movie. With a dumb and unbelievable plot line, bad acting, forced references and horrendously bad special effects, it’s hard to recommend this to anyone apart from the diehard fans. We’ll likely still watch Sharknado 6, teased during the ending, but more out of obligation, as the setup gives the impression that the writers have completely run out of ideas. Only time will tell if a franchise that already jumped the shark can possibly recapture what made the first one so enjoyable.

Stubs - Shield for Murder

Shield for Murder (1954) Starring: Edmond O'Brien, Marla English, John Agar, Emile Meyer, Carolyn Jones, Claude Akins, Larry Ryle, Herbert Butterfield, Hugh Sanders, William Schallert, David Hughes, Richard Cutting, Richard Deacon. Directed by Edmond O'Brien, Howard W. Koch. Screenplay by: Richard Alan Simmons and John C. Higgins. Based on the novel Shield for Murder by William P. McGivern. Produced by Aubrey Schenck. Run Time: 82 minutes. USA. Black and White. Film Noir, Drama, Crime

While the name William P. McGivern might not be a household name today, he was a prolific writer in the 1940s and 1950s, publishing about 20 novels, most of them mysteries and crime thrillers under the pseudonym Bill Peters. The films Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), The Big Heat (1953) and Rogue Cop (1954) were all based on his books, which dealt with crooked lawmen. One more novel he wrote, Shield for Murder, dealing with similar themes, was also made into a movie.

The story attracted the attention of Aubrey Schenck, the nephew of Joseph and Nicolas Schenck. Aubrey, like his more famous uncles, was also involved in the film industry, having begun producing films with Shock! (1946) starring Vincent Price. Aubrey was no stranger to film noir, having produced T-Men (1947), so his interest in the novel should come as no surprise.

When it was announced in April 1952 that he intended to produce the film, actor Dana Andrews was in the leading role. That all changed over time. When it was announced in December 1953 that the film was going into production in January, Schenck had a producing partner, Howard W. Koch.

Koch had begun working for Universal Pictures in their New York office before moving to Los Angeles and debuting as an assistant director in 1947. Koch’s first job as a producer was the film War Paint (1953). But before the film would actually go into production in May 1954, Koch would move to behind the camera as the director. Actually co-director, with Edmond O’Brien, who was also signed to star in the film. It was the first time in the director’s chair for both men.

Originally a stage actor, O’Brien first got the attention of producer Pando S. Berman, who offered the actor the romantic lead in RKO’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), which starred Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara.

O’Brien’s Hollywood career took a bit of a hiatus during World War II when he served in the Air Force. He would appear in films, though, during the war years. In Winged Victory (1944), he was credited as Sgt. Edmond O'Brien.

After the war, he would appear in such films as The Killers (1946), White Heat (1949), D.O.A. (1950) and The Hitch-Hiker (1953). He would actually receive an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Oscar Muldoon in the Humphrey Bogart film, The Barefoot Contessa (1954), released the same year as Shield For Murder.

The film opens with the murder of bookmaker Perk Martin (John
Beradino) by Detective Barney Nolan (Edmond O’Brien). 

In the film, O’Brien plays crooked police detective Barney Nolan. When we first see him, Nolan is in the shadows, putting a silencer on his revolver, waiting for a bookmaker, Perk Martin (John Beradino), who gets dropped off in front of him. Nolan wastes little time before he accosts the man and, pretending to be under an official cause, takes him into a nearby alley. The bookie, who knows Nolan, tries to find out how much of a bribe it will take to let him go when Nolan shoots him in the back. He then robs the body of $25,000, before removing the silencer from his gun. He then shouts out a warning, before firing two shots into the air, trying to make it appear that the bookie was shot trying to escape.

After killing Martin, Detective Nolan robs the body.

It seems like the perfect crime, but Nolan is unaware that an elderly deaf mute, Ernst Sternmueller (David Hughes), a resident in the next building, saw the entire episode.

The witness, an elderly deaf mute, Ernst Sternmueller (David Hughes).

The police arrive soon afterward with the investigation led by Sgt. Mark Brewster (John Agar). Brewster happens to not only work in the same division as Nolan, University, but is also Nolan’s tutelage and his partner. When he asks Nolan about the killing, Nolan replies that it was an accident, an excuse Brewster is willing to believe.

But Capt. Gunnarson (Emile Meyer), the new precinct commander, is not so willing to accept it, considering Nolan has been involved in two previous killings. He questions both Brewster and Nolan, telling the latter to use better judgment.

Patty Winters (Marla English) is Nolan's girlfriend.

Barney then leaves to go meet his girlfriend, Patty Winters (Marla English), who works at the nightclub. But he is not prepared to see her dressed in the outfit of a cigarette girl. While she considers it a step up, he becomes enraged at her very revealing outfit. Barney hits the club’s owner when he tries to explain and then leaves with Patty.

A couple of PIs, Fat Michaels (Claude Akins-r) and Laddie O’Neil (Larry
 Ryle), show up at police headquarters looking for Nolan, but instead
talk to his partner, Sgt. Mark Brewster (John Agar).

Meanwhile back at the police station, two private detectives, Fat Michaels (Claude Akins) and Laddie O’Neil (Larry Ryle), working on behalf of gangster Packy Reed (Hugh Sanders), come to collect the $25,000 of Reed’s money that the bookie was carrying at the time of the murder. Brewster informs them that the police only found around $300 dollars on the man when they arrived. But the detectives remind him that Nolan was already on the crime scene when Brewster arrived, suggesting he might have the money.

Cabot (Herbert Butterfield), a crime reporter, thinks there is a story.

Cabot (Herbert Butterfield), a crime reporter who hangs out in the detective room, overhears the conversation. Even though he already has a low opinion of Nolan, Brewster convinces him not to write about the situation until Mark can investigate.

Nolan takes Patty to see a model home he wants to purchase for them to live in.

Meanwhile, Nolan tells Patty that his financial situation is improving as he takes her to see a furnished model house in a new development called Castle Heights. After showing her the modernity of the house, he leaves Patty alone inside and goes into the backyard to bury the cash.

After Nolan drops Patty back at her apartment, Fat Michaels and Laddie O’Neil pay her a visit. They are interrupted though by Brewster, who is also waiting for her. After scaring them away, Brewster tells Patty about Nolan’s behavior. When he asks about where they went that night, Patty tells him about the model home but denies she was ever left alone.

Brewster talks to Patty about Nolan's behavior.

At about the same time, Nolan goes to see Packy in what would pass as a 1950’s man cave, complete with a full bar and television. The gangster makes it clear he wants the money back, even offering Nolan the job of ensuring its return. Packy knows Nolan shot Martin, but Nolan is uncooperative, telling Packy Martin only had small bills on him. Packy’s bodyguard (Gregg Martell) prevents Nolan from leaving only long enough for Packy to tell him there’s no place to hide, even in the big city.

Gangster Packy Reed (Hugh Sanders) tells Nolan he wants his money back.

The next day, when an assistant district attorney (William Schallert) is interviewing Nolan, Sternmueller comes to the office and hands the DA a note, who in turn gives it straight to Nolan. In the note, Sternmueller writes that he witnessed the entire incident and it did not happen the way it's reported in the newspapers. Sternmueller doesn’t recognize Nolan, who after reading the message hands back a written reply that someone will come to interview him.

Sternmueller comes to report to the police what he had seen.

While he waits for a policeman to arrive, Sternmueller puts to paper how he saw the events play out that night. He is still in the midst of his statement when Nolan arrives. He closes the tablet he’s writing in when he sees the detective. Nolan looks out the man’s window and sees the alley where he killed the bookie. At that moment, Sternmueller recognizes Nolan’s overcoat as the one worn by the assailant.

After killing Sternmueller, Nolan throws his body down the stairs.

Nolan tries to offer Sternmueller a bribe, but becomes frustrated when the old man can’t understand him. He pushes him back and Sternmueller falls to the ground. It is only afterward that Nolan realizes the man has hit his head on the bed frame and is fatally injured. Nolan then tries to make the death look like an accident by throwing the body down a flight of stairs.

Joe the Bartender (Vito Scotti) and Proprietress (Grazia Narciso)
 run the Italian restaurant Nolan takes refuge in.

Nolan takes refuge at an Italian restaurant/bar run by Joe the Bartender (Vito Scotti) and Proprietress (Grazia Narciso), where he makes the acquaintance of Beth (Carolyn Jones), a blonde barfly. They drink until she convinces him to buy her dinner. While they’re eating, Nolan comes to realize that she is cheap, as she can’t recall who gave her a bruise on her arm. Michaels and O’Neil arrive and put a damper on the party. As horrified customers watch, Nolan beats both men brutally with his service revolver.

At the restaurant, Nolan befriends Beth (Carolyn Jones).

Meanwhile, Brewster is investigating Sternmueller’s death and discovers the tablet with his written statement. He knows now that his death was no accident.

Brewster goes to Nolan's to arrest him for the bookie's murder.

When Nolan returns home, he finds Brewster there to arrest him for the bookie's murder. After Nolan implicates himself in Sternmueller’s death and pleads for time, Brewster draws his gun to arrest him. But Nolan knocks the gun out of his hand and takes charge of the situation. He momentarily considers killing his partner, but cannot bring himself to do it. Instead, he knocks him out and leaves.

Nolan considers killing his partner, but just knocks him out instead.

Nolan runs to Patty, who is already in bed. After he wakes her up, he informs her they are leaving immediately. Suspecting that this is about the money that actually belongs to Reed, she begs him to stay and let his partner help straighten things out. Angered that his girl has been talking with Brewster about him, Nolan slaps her, knocking her down to the bed. Suddenly shocked by his violence towards her, Nolan flees.

Meanwhile, his partner, having recovered, delivers his report to Gunnarson. The captain brings everyone from the detective room into his office, including Cabot. He hates bad cops and orders that Nolan be arrested. He also gives Cabot permission to print the story.

Captain Gunnarson (Emile Meyer) can't stand bad cops.

Knowing he’s a wanted man, Nolan heads back to his apartment and to a basement storage room, where we know his patrolman’s uniform is stowed. Donning the uniform, he blends in with the other patrolmen who have arrived at his apartment looking for him. He manages to walk away, pretending to be the beat cop.

For a fee, The Professor (Richard Deacon) lets Nolan hide out.

Nolan hides out with the Professor (Richard Deacon), who is busy studying for a test at night school. He has arranged with a man named Manning (Richard H. Cutting) to smuggle him out of the country for a fee. But it is far more than Nolan has on him, so they arrange for a drop. The Professor mentions the high school where he takes classes and they agree to make the exchange in the Men’s Locker Room. Manning also arranges for a car so Nolan can retrieve the money.

Meanwhile, Patty tells Brewster more about the visit to the model home and that she had been left alone in the house. Brewster suspects that is where the money has been hid.

Later that night, in a very crowded locker room, Manning’s messenger (Frank Marlowe) arrives and they make the exchange, money for the tickets and a new passport. But a heavily bandaged Michaels is also there and has the messenger look in the envelope Nolan gave him. Instead of money, there is only cut up newspaper.

Michaels and Nolan carry their gunfight into a crowded swimming pool.

Michaels then chases Nolan through the gym to the crowded swimming pool. In the ensuing gunfight, Nolan kills Michaels and escapes in the car Manning had provided. Nolan then drives to the model house, but is met by numerous police units blocking the streets of the development. After shooting an officer, Nolan runs to the house and retrieves the cash, but is surrounded by police, including Brewster and Captain Gunnarson. Not willing to give up, Nolan fires at the officers and they respond with a hail of bullets, killing him.

Nolan goes down in a blaze of gunfire as he refuses to surrender.

The film was released on August 27, 1954, and while the reviews were mostly positive, it’s hard to know how well it did at the box office. According to the producer the film "grossed a lot of money, you wouldn't believe how much; on television, it's made a fortune." So, the numbers are pretty vague.

This is the second time I’ve seen this film. The first was years ago, during TCM’s first Summer of Darkness, the most recent was watching the film on Blu-Ray. As far as that goes, it was cleaned up for this release. While MGM owns the rights, the Blu-ray was from Kino Lorber. I’m guessing MGM has given up trying to sell their library on discs and has given that task over to others.

While the film is good, it’s really far from great. You can tell the production was done on a low budget, using locations around Los Angeles, rather than a studio. The Castle Heights development is real and not too far from where 20th Century Fox calls home. Somehow, I doubt it is still the middle-class starter neighborhood it is shown to be in the film.

For the most part, the production qualities are pretty good considering. There is one shot early on, when Nolan is taking Perk to his death in the alleyway, that you see the shadow of the boom microphone, but that is the only obvious error that I remember seeing. It does, though, at least temporarily take you out of the film.

One of the joys of watching the film is to see all the actors you recognize from TV. Actors like Richard Deacon, best known for his role as Mel Cooley on the Dick Van Dyke Show in the early 1960s, plays it about as tough as he can in this picture. Willian Schallert, Patty Duke’s TV dad, has a small role as the Assistant District Attorney, so I don’t think it really challenged his range. Carolyn Jones, forever remembered as Morticia on TV’s The Addams Family, plays Beth, a woman with seemingly low morals, as she lets Nolan ply her with liquor.

Claude Akins is one of those actors that appeared in a guest role on just about every TV series from the 1950s and 60s you can name. A character actor, he could play it tough or he could play it cowardly with just about the same believability. His first appearance was in the film From Here to Eternity (1953) and he made a few films before his career turned more to the little screen. He was well enough known to play himself in an episode of I Love Lucy. Here he plays it tough and mean. You really get the impression he’s the type that likes to knock heads together. It’s a good meaty supporting role.

Emile Meyer, who plays Captain of the Detectives, is another familiar face, having appeared in such films as Shane (1953), The Man With the Golden Arm (1955), Sweet Smell of Success (1957) and numerous TV shows from the 1950s through the 1970s. Here he plays the tough, but fair, Captain, who knows he has a bad cop on his hands with Nolan and when he has the evidence is not only not afraid to go after him but to let the city know as well. Again, another believable performance.

Marla English got an introducing sort of credit, but don’t beat yourself up if you’ve never heard of her before. English was cute, to say the least, but she had a very short acting career, walking away from Hollywood at the age of 21, in 1956, when she married a San Diego businessman. She’s good in this part, but there were probably hundreds of actresses who could have filled the bill.

John Agar is probably best remembered for his roles in John Wayne films Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), Fort Apache (1948) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949); and for being Shirley Temple’s first husband. Otherwise, his career consisted mostly of “B” movies, a category in which Shield for Murder would also fall. He’s good here, not spectacular, but he gives an even performance.

The lead in the film, Edmond O’Brien, almost seems too old for the role, especially since his love interest is, based on the actress’s age, a young adult. This is probably more a problem with the script than anything else. O’Brien is good, but he doesn’t give a performance that would make one think he’s on the verge of winning an Academy Award or any award for acting. O’Brien made a lot of films, but his acting seems to be more on the hammy side. He’s good in this role, though his sudden bad feeling about hitting Patty seems a little out of character. He had, after all, killed a man in cold blood a few days before. Given his character’s wild reputation, it is sort of hard to believe this would have been the first time.

There are some story problems with Shield for Murder, especially seen through the eyes of a modern viewer. After killing a man, Nolan is allowed to walk away with little interrogation about the incident. They didn’t even take his revolver away or assign him to desk duty. Maybe modern procedures are in place now only after years of the police being cavalier about one of their own killing a suspect. Here it is treated just like another day at the office and Nolan is allowed to go on his way.

It’s also interesting that there is only one crime reporter. Back then, especially in major cities, there were multiple newspapers trying to beat one another to the next story. One was probably enough to make the story work, but it shouldn’t have rung true for viewers when the film was released.

Shield for Murder would have worked better as a walk on the dark side of the American dream if Nolan hadn’t already been a bad cop. His killing the bookie for the money seems more par for the course, rather than a desperate move by someone having to do something normally against his nature.

Not a great film noir, Shield for Murder isn’t really all that bad. There are plenty more films that are much worse out there. I would recommend the film to anyone who likes noir. Even though this may not be the best example of the genre, it is still fun to watch.

Be sure to check out our Film Noir Review Hub for reviews of other films in this genre.